One of the most exciting aspects of watching the New Orleans Saints franchise over the course of the last decade, has been the brilliant display of offensive efficiency put on each and every week by the duo of head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees.
With the announcement a few weeks ago that Payton would be returning to at least finish out the remainder of his current contract that expires at the end of the 2017 season; and Brees expected to sign an extension sometime in the near future — the Saints offense will more than likely be one of the NFL’s best once again in 2016.
In fact, you can count on it.
Since the Payton-Brees Era began back in 2006, the Saints have not had their offense ranked lower any lower than the Top 6, including being the number one offense in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2014.
Most of those years had really big significance to the Saints, including an NFC Championship appearance in ’06, and the club’s only Super Bowl title in ’09; so it’s no surprise that this was Payton’s goals for the offense this past year.
Even with the down year the Saints had in 2015, they finished with the 2nd best offense overall in the NFL, only behind the Arizona Cardinals. The Saints finished second in total offense and first in passing yards. This was amazing when you take into consideration the slew of injuries and the variety of new faces / 1st year players that the Saints had on offense this year.
Oct 19, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) huddles the offense against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Lions defeated the Saints 24-23. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
When the Saints traded away Jimmy Graham to Settle for Max Unger in the 2015 off-season, the NFL had a field day mocking the Saints’ alleged idiotic decision to trade one the best tight ends in the league.
The house-cleaning continued as the Saints traded away up and coming wide out Kenny Stills to Miami. Then some of the last remaining veterans like Pierre Thomas, Robert Meachem, Joe Morgan, and Ben Grubbs (traded to Chiefs) packed up their gear, leaving their glory days in New Orleans behind.
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This was supposed to be an offense without their star tight end, lacking depth in receiver corps, a risky proposition at the running back position, and an a very suspect offensive line.
Going into the 2015 season, everyone declared Sean Payton crazy; and no one knew how he would be able to repeat the offensive output that had been seen in previous years. Then as the season inched closer, it also didn’t help when Saint fans were shocked that neither the tight end or the wide receiver positions were addressed in last year’s 2015 NFL Draft.
According to the national pundits who thought they had it all figured out; this was an offense that was going to be led by an “old” quarterback rumored to be in full-blown regression and rapid physical decline who was also rumored to be on the trading block.
Even worse, they had only two starting receivers returning (Colston and Cooks), a rough-looking offensive line, and an eclectic mix of running backs who it was said would be going back to a “ground and pound” offense, so the Saints could give Drew Brees some breathing room and not have to rely on his alleged “weakening” arm.
Heading into the 2015 season, this looked like a completely different team that brought with it a huge chance of flopping, and flopping miserably (one writer whom I won’t name, picked the Saints to finish 3-13).
As we know now, the result was a little bit better than what everyone was expecting; and while everyone doubted the direction Sean Payton and Micky Loomis saw for this team, Payton knew exactly what he was doing.
Even with all the surrounding doubt and the big trades, Payton’s plan unearthed the discovery of some young impact players like Willie Snead; and the sudden rejuvenation of 35-year old tight end Benjamin Watson who flourished in a starting role following Graham’s departure, continued to keep the offense among the League’s best.
Jan 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson (82) catches a touchdown pass behind Atlanta Falcons free safety Charles Godfrey (30) during the second quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
But where would this offense be without Drew Brees, is unfathomable.
Not only did Brees show all the naysayers that he still had plenty of gas left in the tank and proved everyone who doubted his ability wrong, but he also responded with one of the best seasons of his 15-year NFL career.
Brees broke some amazing records in 2015, including:
- 400 TD passes (Week #4), now at 428
- Tied most TD passes in a single game, 7 (Week #8)
- Broke Dan Marino’s 420 TD record (Week #12)
- 4th QB to reach 60,000 passing yards in 215 games, fastest ever (Week #15)
- broke 94 300 yard games, now at 96 (Weeks #13-17)
- 10th straight 400 yard games
- 100 wins as a Saint
Looking back at 2015 and ahead to 2016, is it remotely possible that Payton and the now 37-year old Brees could lead the Saints offense to even greater heights than ever before ?
For Brees to still finish first in passing yards with a ten-year veteran in WR Marques Colston, an expected but unproven star in 2nd year WR Bradin Cooks (who was coming off an injured thumb), two 1st year receivers in Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman, and a 35-year-old starting tight end was fantastic to watch and, not to mention, unexpected.
With how great these guys played, there is no reason we can’t see more progress next year. Both Cooks and Snead had over 900 receiving yards; Cooks lived up to the previous year’s hype with 1,138 yards and 9 touchdowns, and WR Willie Snead had a “break out” season with 984 yards and 3 touchdowns.
That’s not even including the ageless wonder in Watson, who hauled in 825 yards and 6 touchdowns. These were impressive stats, especially for some like Snead and Watson who were players that had been doubted or other teams overlooked.
With all of those insane offensive numbers in 2015, a year where everyone was worried about the Saints offense plummeting; the Saints now have a huge opportunity to build upon that momentum in 2016.
Jan 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) greets head coach Sean Payton moments before their game winning field goal in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Saints won 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Clearly there will be opportunities via Free Agency and the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft, and one shouldn’t expect the Saints to simply stand pat and not make any attempts to further upgrade the offense.
Offensive guard, a WR to replace a possibly retiring Marques Colston, and a new TE to eventually replace Watson (who turns 36 soon but has said he would like to return in 2016) are all possibilities.
And as smart Saints fans already know: that even though addressing the defense first and foremost is their top priority, that Payton can (and most likely will) make some moves or picks that will address the needs of his offensive scheme that can be beneficial for the future.
Although there will be a lot of further questions that will be asked and eventually answered this off-season, one thing that we can be certain of is that Payton and Brees will have the Saints offense among the best in the NFL once again in 2016.
In fact, you can count on it…………