By Chris Lehman
In 2008, it was the Patriots. Last year, it was the Packers. Now, we are seeing a repeat of the 2010 season.
Every week, one defense and its respective defensive coordinator has the misfortune of trying to contain one of the most electrifying offenses the NFL has ever seen. In 2008, Drew Brees threw for 5,069 yards which put him second on the all-time list for yards in a season. He finished the season fifteen yards off Marino’s record.
Now, Brees is on pace for over 5,300 yards, which would crush the current record. I’d argue that this is the most explosive and terrifying offense that the league has ever seen. While the New Orleans Saints do have more passing yards than any other team, what makes them dangerous is their balance. When they won the Super Bowl, it was easy to credit their passing. But the underlying reasons were their defense and the run game. Newly added defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, had the defense playing inspired and causing turnovers. Also, their run game blossomed with the emergence of Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory to go along with the best decoy in the game at the time, in Reggie Bush.
This year, we are seeing something very similar. Once again, the Saints are first in total yards and passing yards. Normally when you see this, there is a non-existent run game (i.e. the 2008 Patriots and the 2011 Packers). The Saints, however, have the 14th ranked rushing offense, which is good enough to balance out their first ranked aerial assault. The signing of Darren Sproles and the decision to trade up to draft Heisman winner, Mark Ingram, were the two best decisions made by the Saints, or possibly any team all year.
So what makes this offense so explosive? There have been teams in the past with more talent but were unable to put it together. If I had my choice of a Pro Bowl team offense or the Saints’ offense for one game, I’d take the Saints in a heartbeat, because in that amount of time, they’ve probably already scored again. The answer, is their balance and chemistry. As we saw last year in the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks shocked the world and won the championship, it all came down to one motto – “Know your role.” While the Mavericks weren’t the most talented team by any means, everyone knew exactly what they were supposed to do; they knew what their job was. The New Orleans Saints are the exact same way, except their captain is a foot shorter.
While the offense has standout players such as Drew Brees, Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham, what makes them successful is their role players. If you put Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, Pierre Thomas or even Darren Sproles on another team and ask them to be the guy, they are just another average, forgotten player. But on a team where they have a defined role, they flourish because they know exactly where they fit in. Devery Henderson is the deep threat who spreads out the defense. Lance Moore serves as the security blanket and a key third-down target, similar to Wes Welker. Marques Colston has established himself as one of the top over-the-middle receivers in the league and is known for his sure hands and ability to take a hit and maintain possession. Robert Meachem provides a mixture of all three of them. He is big, but not as big as Colston, fast, but not quite as fast as Henderson, and isn’t quite as polished of a route runner as Moore, but is very versatile. Then on top of that, there is Jimmy Graham, the best tight end in the game. He is the ultimate matchup nightmare for any defense. Listed at 6’6″ 250, he is too big for any cornerback or safety to guard. At the same time, he is way to fast and athletic for a linebacker to cover. If you try to guard him man-on-man, he will beat you every time.
On the ground, they have a perfect combination of three running backs. Rookie Mark Ingram serves as the up-the-middle back, who you can count on to fight for the tough yards. Ingram hasn’t had his chance to shine yet, but once the playoffs come around, look for Ingram to get more touches and emerge. Sproles replaces Reggie Bush as the change-of-pace back because of his speed. Even though he is also able to run it up the middle. Pierre Thomas is the Robert Meachem of the running backs. He brings a mix of speed, power and a receiver to the table. While none of the running backs will go to the Pro Bowl this year, or probably any year that they play for the Saints, they will go to the most important game of the year, the Super Bowl.
The main piece in this offense, however, is quarterback Drew Brees. He is the ring leader of this freak-show of an offense. He, along with mastermind Sean Payton, work better together than any other quarterback and coach combo in the league. They have an uncanny understanding of what the other is thinking, which is crucial given the amount of trust Payton has in Brees, and vice versa.
As my preseason and mid-season predictions suggest, the New Orleans Saints will win the Super Bowl this year for the second time in three years. They have arguably the most explosive pass offense in NFL history. Plus, the run game is better than given credit for. The similarities to their 2010 team that brought home the trophy are far too strong to just ignore. While the win two years ago was for the city of New Orleans, this one will be for the players.