Wednesday, January 15, 2014
New Orleans Saints season wrap-up
By Mike Triplett
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 6
Preseason Power Ranking: 14
Biggest surprise: Definitely the defense. Heading into this season, I was one of many who wrote that the Saints would be contenders this year if their defense could just get back to being a middle-of-the-pack unit after a disastrous 2012 performance. Instead, they were one of the NFL's best -- and they were the driving force behind several victories. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was as valuable as any coach in the league, bringing energy and innovative schemes that became especially important in the wake of several injuries. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was among the NFL's top free-agent additions. And young players such as end Cameron Jordan, outside linebacker Junior Galette and safety Kenny Vaccaro had breakout seasons that helped to instantly transform this unit.
Biggest disappointment: The road losses. OK, so we beat this storyline into the ground by the end of the season. But any other candidate you'd want to consider for this category (the run game, the turnover ratio, the pass protection, the run defense) only seemed to be a problem when the Saints played away from home. The dreary performances at the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams were especially disappointing. And it was so maddening to watch because every time the Saints played inside the Superdome, they looked like the new "Greatest Show on Turf." Ultimately, the Saints did prove they could win a big game on the road in the first round of the playoffs at Philadelphia. But their season ended a week later across the country in Seattle.
Biggest need: I'm torn between cornerback and offensive line. The Saints could use another top corner because Jabari Greer's future is uncertain after a major knee injury. But maybe that's their top want. They need to address the offensive line, because right tackle Zach Strief and center Brian De La Puente are unrestricted free agents. I actually think the Saints would be fine if they brought back the same starting five (they played much better down the stretch than people may realize). But I'm not sure the Saints can afford to bring both guys back. I could possibly see backups Bryce Harris or Tim Lelito stepping into those roles. But the Saints need to start restocking with young talent.
Team MVP: Sorry to be so obvious, but it's Drew Brees, who actually had one of the best seasons of his 13-year career. Everything from his yards (5,162) to his touchdowns (39) to his completion percentage (68.6) to his passer rating (104.7) to his low interception total (12) ranked among his three best performances since he has been in New Orleans. Behind him, I'd go with tight end Jimmy Graham. Even though he was kept quiet in the playoffs, his monster start was a huge reason the Saints started 5-0, and he barely let up after suffering a significant foot injury. Then it would be a tie between end Jordan and cornerback Lewis for leading the defensive revival.