The 2011 Saints is practically a mirror image of the 2009 Saints. It is important to note that the Saints pass slightly more this season than they did in 2009. That may be attributed to having an even more credible running personnel than in 2009. The addition of Sproles and Ingram, despite the Sean Payton’s pass-heavy game plan, makes defenses honor the run regardless. Further, the emergence of Jimmy Graham makes Payton pass more as well (can’t say I blame him for that). Sproles and Graham, both causing matchup problems for defenders, are unstoppable go-to guys on third down. More on that later.
Despite creating fewer turnovers, the defense is virtually as effective as it was in 2009, with no significant decrease in production. It can be argued that the 2011 offense is better due to the lack of turnovers created on defense. The Saints haven’t enjoyed consistently being granted a short field and have regularly had to drive the length of the field to score. Also, the 2011 defense has not scored like the 2009 Saints defense yet they are on pace to surpass their 2009 scoring total of 510 regular season points. Therefore, the Saints points are scored almost entirely on offense which, given that fact, indicates that this year’s offense outpaces the 2009 offense. Here’s the comparison:
OFFENSE – #1 overall
#1 in passing(331.4yds/gm-41.8att/gm) and
#9 in rushing(125.4yds/gm-26.6att/gm).
DEFENSE – tied for #24 overall
(366.1yds/gm allowed) (8INT-1TD, 5FUM-1TD)
#13 against the run(109.9yds/gm allowed) and
#28 against the pass(256.1yds/gm allowed).
OFFENSE – #1 overall
#1 in passing(272.2yds/gm-34.0att/gm) and
#6 in rushing(131yds/gm-29.2att/gm).
DEFENSE – #25 overall
(357.8yds/gm allowed) (26INT-5TD, 13FUM-3TD)
#21 against the run(122.2yds/gm allowed) and
#26 against the pass(235.6yds/gm allowed).
The Saints will likely end the 2011 season with the same record as the 2009 Saints, and are primed to make a run to Super Bowl XLVI. Even as the NFC third seed going into the playoffs, I like the Saints’ chances. They’re undefeated at home this season where the wild card game would be played, and the defense appears up to the task of going on the road. The offense is operating at a high rate of efficiency and special teams play has been solid. I like the 2011 Saints a little better than the 2009 Saints for four reasons in particular:
1. The 2009 experience of winning 13 straight games before losing to the Cowboys, losing the final three regular season games, and understanding what it took to win Super Bowl XLIV will go a long way for players and coaches in preparing for the 2011 playoffs. In 2009 the Saints didn’t possess this kind of meaningful experience.
2. Darren Sproles is a better version of what Reggie Bush was supposed to be. I’ll simply put it like this: What Sean Payton hoped Reggie Bush would bring to the table, Darren Sproles does with proficiency and consistency. Darren Sproles leads the entire NFL in all-purpose yards with 2292yds!!! (496rushing-2TD, 659receiving-5TD, 888KR yds, and 249PR yds-1TD) Darren Sproles is arguably one of the best off season free agent acquisitions in the history of the NFL! In 2009 the Saints didn’t possess a consistent, versatile, productive matchup nightmare such as Sproles.
3. Jimmy Graham is a younger, faster, bigger, healthier, more athletic, more dominant version of Jeremy Shockey. By the time Shockey joined the Saints he could no longer dominate the way Graham does. Although he was a very productive and reliable tight end, he could never take over games the way Graham does. In 2009 the Saints didn’t have such an athletic, big target possession TE like Graham who could also stretch the field.
4. Third Down. The Saints boast an NFL best 55% third down conversion rate on offense. The second best are SD/GB at 48%. Defensively, the Saints have the sixth best opponent third down conversion rate of 33%. The best is the ravens at 30%. Those numbers are staggering because it means the Saints can control games. The Saints can manage to extend drives and stay on the field while forcing opponents to give the ball back to Brees and company. That’s why the offense’s numbers are up, Drew Brees’ numbers are up, and why the Saints are on their way to a Super Bowl XLVI victory. In 2009 the Saints were 5th on offense with 38% third down conversion rate and 19th on defense with opponents converting 45% of the time. Simply put, in 2009 the Saints were allowing opponents to convert third downs at a higher rate than our offense by 7%. In 2011 the Saints are converting on third downs at a 22% higher rate than our opponents.
Improved third down efficiency was a point of emphasis for Sean Payton because of how extremely crucial it is to winning games. The Saints’ improvement is a staggering statistical reversal of offensive and defensive efficiency. And for these reasons I believe the Saints have found the formula, are hitting their stride, and poised to go marching in to another Super Bowl victory.