How the Saints Win With Weak O-Line: Take Page Out of Patriots’ Book


Though it’s too early to make a judgement based only on two Preseason games, one thing seems almost certain abut the New Orleans Saints at this point: they are more than likely going to see some very sub-par performances on their offensive line this season.

I’ve heard the weak support from optimists, that the unit hasn’t had enough time to develop chemistry, or that Andrus Peat hasn’t had time to settle in at right guard.

Unfortunately as a sports journalist, I have to go by what I see — not what I want to happen.

Zach Strief is not magically going to wind the clock back a decade by the start of the regular season, and there’s no way Tim Lelito pulls a “rope a dope” on us and elevates his caliber of play to that of a starting NFL guard.

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And perhaps — just perhaps — if Peat hasn’t shown it by now, maybe it’s because he just doesn’t have it.

When you need 3 of your 5 starters on the line to DRASTICALLY improve, you have a bad line. Maybe one of the three will improve enough that they can be average as a unit.

I would be happy with that, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

However, all is not lost.

For inspiration on how to win with a below average line, the Saints need look no farther than last season’s New England Patriots team.

Aug 22, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is hit by New Orleans Saints defensive end Akiem Hicks (76) during the first quarter of a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Patriots made it all they way to the AFC Championship, only to have their Super Bowl hopes dashed by a missed extra point.

The funny thing is that the Pats managed to achieve this success, despite having the 25th ranked offensive line according to our friends at Pro Football Focus.

The formula for winning with a bad O-Line has already been written, and the Saints have the talent to follow it.

Unleash C.J. Spiller

The Patriots got out to an incredibly hot start last season, and a big reason for that was the play of satellite running back Dion Lewis.

In the seven games Lewis played, he combined for over 600 yards rushing and receiving and accounted for 4 touchdowns.

He was a favorite target of Tom Brady, and was on pace for his best season ever before being shelfed for the year with a knee injury. The Patriots might have made the Super Bowl if Lewis had stayed healthy.

Saints RB C.J. Spiller has looked explosive and fast in his limited action in uniform this season. If he is fully healthy, and he appears to be, he represents the type of weapon at running back the Saints haven’t had since the days of Darren Sproles.

Oct 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back C.J. Spiller (28) stiff-arms Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) on his way to a game-winning, 80-yard touchdown in the first overtime against the Dallas Cowboys at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Stop Pretending to Run the Ball

A year ago, the Patriots were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL, ranking dead last in rushing yards per game.

What set them apart was they made peace with that fact, and didn’t try to make it part of their offensive identity. They ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing attempts, running the ball just 38% of the time.

That’s hardly offensive balance.

With the way the Saints line has looked to start the year, the Saints would do well to take a page from the Patriots playbook.

Lining up in a power formation and running the ball for a half yard gain on first down over and over is hardly the “offensive balance” the Saints are looking for.

Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) runs as Atlanta Falcons strong safety Kemal Ishmael (36) and middle linebacker Paul Worrilow (55) attempt to tackle during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve long been a proponent that the Saints need to run the ball more, but after looking at the success the Patriots were able to achieve by essentially abandoning it, the strategy makes a lot more sense.

If the Saints lack the talent to pound the ball the way they want to, they must adapt and do something different.

Spread the Field

The Patriots are famous for their “empty set” formations. This means that Tom Brady is alone in the shotgun, with 5 targets at his disposal.

Because of the lack of protection, the set is usually accompanied by quick passes, which serve as a substitute for the running game.

The Saints have the depth and talent at receiver to adopt this approach. Imagine C.J. Spiller motioning out of the backfield, paired with Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Michael Thomas, and Coby Fleener.

Dec 21, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) makes a 27-yard touchdown catch while defended by Detroit Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson (24) in the third quarter of the game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

That immediately puts a lot of stress on a defense, due to the unique combination of size and speed the Saints possess. I’m a lot more excited about the possibilities from that formation than lining up Kuhn and Ingram in the “power-I” formation.

I’m sure Andrus Peat and the other members of the offensive line would appreciate the reduced pressure of Drew Brees getting the ball out of his hands quickly.

Next: Saints vs. Steelers: 6 Saints Starters to Watch

Good teams overcome their weaknesses –and the best teams like the Patriots, evolve to hide them completely.

Even if the Saints can’t make the Super Bowl this way, an NFC Championship game would be a hell of an improvement………….