Nov 8, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and head coach Sean Payton celebrate after a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
When you think of the term “dominant” and the New Orleans Saints, there are only two times in the team’s entire 50-year history in which that word truthfully was applicable: the 2009 Super Bowl-winning team, and the 2011 team just 2 years later that nearly won another Super Bowl had it not been for a heart-breaking last second loss in the Divisional Playoffs at San Francisco.
Fast forward now to almost five years later; and after another tough loss on Sunday to Denver, it might be easy to write this Saints team off as another loser.
But don’t lose hope — because this current Saints team is closer than you might realize to being DOMINANT once again.
The Saints currently sit at 4-5 a disappointing mark, to be sure. At face value it might appear as though this is yet a repeat version of 2014 and 2015.
However, as the old adage goes: I believe that “the third time’s the charm”.
If you take a look at the Saints early season schedule, it has actually been brutal.
Four of those games came against the AFC West which is actually shaping out to be the best division in football. Against that division alone, the Saints played three playoff caliber teams, all with winning percentages of .700 or better. All three of those loses were by six points or less.
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Their other two losses came against the division leading Atlanta Falcons, (words that cause me much anguish and ire to write), and against the suddenly surging New York Giants, who currently stand at 6-3 and in second place in the NFC East.
All told, the Saints five losses have all come against teams that not only have a winning record, but have a combined record of 33-14, or a combined win percentage of .702.
Over the first half of the season, the Saints offense has once again been explosive but the improvement of the defense has been the most heartening sign.
In their last game alone, the Saints forced two turnovers and garnered six sacks indisputably their best performance of the year.
The defense was so good it allowed the Saints to have a chance to win a game in which they had FOUR turnovers — a remarkable accomplishment, truth be told.
Nov 13, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Denver Broncos inside linebacker Corey Nelson (52) and defensive end Jared Crick (93) force a fumble by New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Broncos defeated the Saints 25-23. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Allen is settling in nicely to his role and he is starting to understand the chess pieces he has to work with.
The defense is also getting healthy again, with the return of Delvin Breaux and Sheldon Rankins. While both are clearly showing signs of rust, they also showed flashes of just how good they can be.
Breaux lining up one-on -one against the Broncos’ best receiver in Demaryius Thomas freed up Dennis Allen to become a lot more creative with his pressure packages.
While Breaux did give up a touchdown, he was in position to make a play, and as he continues to get his feet under him, I fully expect him to return to form.
Another ray of light is that the second half of their schedule has a much different look than the first half.
Only two of their seven opponents remaining have winning records: the Falcons and the Lions.
The better news?
Neither of those teams have dominant defenses.
That means the offense will have an opportunity to do what it does best, electrify fans with an incredible pyrotechnic display, orchestrated by the masterful Drew Brees, who has a chance to put his name in the MVP conversation if the Saints can make a second half run.
Nov 13, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks to throw against the Denver Broncos in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Broncos won, 25-23. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
If I’m being realistic, I have next year circled as a year the Saints return to their place among the NFL’s elite — and dare I say it — DOMINANT teams.
However, that doesn’t mean they can’t make a lot of noise this year, or potentially a surprise playoff run.
If the defense continues to improve and to jell, along with the high-powered offense that Drew Brees is capable of running, then anything can happen.
However, it all starts tomorrow night against Carolina. This will be a hard fought game with two teams desperate to save their seasons.