New Orleans Saints aren’t rebuilding, they’re renovating: Jeff Duncan
The Saints offense must evolve from a wide-open, fast break passing offense to a more balanced, ball-control attack. The days of lining up four wides and a Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles satellite back aren’t complete history, but I suspect you’ll see it less frequently in the future. The Saints won a lot of games and set a ton of records playing this way but the philosophy fell short when the stakes rose and the mercury dipped.
I suspect the Saints’ recent personnel moves are based on this philosophical change as much as they are fiscal reality. Moore and Sproles are terrific talents but neither would be considered a power player. Both are undersized playmakers whose skills are best suited for spread passing offenses.
A similar thought process could be taking place at center, where incumbent Brian de la Puente is an unrestricted free agent. De la Puente is a smart, skilled player but he’s relatively undersized and isn’t a mauler. That might be why the Saints will consider auditioning rookie guard Tim Lelito at center or bringing back Jonathan Goodwin in free agency.
Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention. The 27-16 loss in St. Louis in Week 15, as ugly as it was, served as a philosophical pivot point for head coach Sean Payton and the Saints. Left tackle Charles Brown was benched for Terron Armstead. Kicker Garrett Harley lost his job. And the Saints started running the ball with more intensity.
The Saints averaged 23.6 carries in the first 14 games of the season. After the Rams debacle, they averaged 30.5. In their 26-24 playoff win in Philadelphia, the Saints pounded the undersized Eagles on the ground, rushing 36 times for 185 yards en route to the first postseason road win in franchise history.
"Possessing the ball means something to the defense — it means snaps taken away," Saints coach Sean Payton said in a FOX interview earlier this offseason. "When we finished the regular season and went to Philadelphia for the Wild Card round, we were able to point to 186 less defensive plays (than 2012) which is more than two games."
The Saints’ existing offensive personnel is much more suited to a balanced, ball-control attack than the finesse spread attacks we’ve become accustomed to seeing in New Orleans. Why try to be something you’re not? The Saints’ best offensive players are their tight ends, guards and running backs and a 35-year-old quarterback. Their young offensive core — Graham; Lelito; Khiry Robinson; Mark Ingram; Terron Armstead, Kenny Stills, Josh Hill and Nick Toon — is built different than the previous iteration.
Only Loomis and Payton know whether this is a case of the Saints marrying their philosophy to their personnel or vice versa. But their offseason moves indicate something bigger is at play here.
"We’ve got some good young players on offense," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said this spring. "I know it might seem like we don’t, but we do."
The Saints are a team in the throes of transition. The Super Bowl team has slowly but surely been disassembled. Only eight players remain from the club’s 2009 championship squad in the wake of Lance Moore’s release on Friday. And with the uncertain futures of Pierre Thomas and unrestricted free agents De la Puente, Malcolm Jenkins and Zach Strief, the number could be reduced to four by the start of the 2014 season: Drew Brees; Marques Colston; Jahri Evans; and Thomas Morstead.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the Saints will be worse. In fact, they very well could be better. But they’ll certainly be different, at least when compared to past iterations.
Isn’t that what a renovation is all about?