The dark clouds have taken their place once again, and the collective groan you heard around 10 pm Sunday night was the realization that football is no more for a while. For many of us football junkies, this can be a time to become melancholy and even despondent for some: no more high school football, no more college football Saturdays, no more NFL, and not even any more fantasy football. It’s in the books for another year, and won’t re-emerge until September (215 days to be exact, but hey, no one’s counting). Even though the clouds of No Football have hovered in, it is also a time of renewal on a new season. After the parade on Bourbon Street passes and the ticker tape is swept up, all 32 teams are officially back in the hunt once more. Don’t fret football addicts, the Scouting Combine is only 2 weeks away, Free Agency soon follows, and the Draft is a mere 2 months in the future.
The Saints-Colts Super Bowl was everything many thought it would be and New Orleans finished off a miraculous and impressive run, made even more remarkable due to the fact that they finished dead last in their own division and were below .500 the last two years. Even though it may be hard to root for the Saints since their the Falcons oldest rival, it has to be acknowledged if nothing else, how far they came in such a short amount of time. The Saints blazed through the regular season, lost a little mojo for a couple games, but used their hard earned home-field advantage to a great strength. Upon reaching the Big Game, they played inspired football and came back against a great team to win the Lombardi Trophy. Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints, their coaches, players, and fans on a job well-done.
Sean Payton deserves obviously deserves much of the credit for winning the Super Bowl, but even more so since he was the main play-caller for the Saints record-breaking offense. Payton was intent on providing a plethora of weapons for Drew Brees to work with, and that game-plan couldn’t have worked out any better. The Saints offense disproved many theories commonly held about having to win in the NFL, chief among them that you have to run first and often to win big. Granted, the Saints still were ranked as the 6th best rushing offense, but they put the rest that you must always run first and establish the run to set up the pass, instead of the other way around. The head coach had enough confidence in his quarterback to fling the ball around early and often.
Payton may not can be matched in his inventiveness in the passing game, but the Saints showed that a creative passing attack can eat the clock just as good as a tough running game can. Even though they mastered the short and intermediate passing game in the Super Bowl, the Saints would usually find ways of getting the ball down the field. Compared to the Falcons and Mularkey’s fairly predictable play-action passing attack, the Birds can certainly learn a lot from the Saints and their very creative and unpredictable passing game. Matt Ryan surely is no Drew Brees, but comparing him to where Brees was at year two, Ryan deserves the chance to sling the ball around as well (thanks to WR and BT, among others).
Perhaps the biggest strength of the Saints offense was its amazing depth of offensive talent and Payton’s decree of including almost all of that depth. On the Saints winning drive, Brees hit 8 different receivers/running backs to march down the field. The Saints offensive distribution was well-known throughout the year with the Saints using any number of the following without any tells Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Reggie Bush, Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, Lynell Hamilton, Jeremy Shockey, and David Thomas. Its likely that the Saints won’t be able to keep their entire roster together, but they’ll probably scout and draft some talent to take their place. Compare the options just listed above to the ones the Falcons found consistent during the year Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and………? Harry Douglas and Brian Finneran were both injured, but can the Falcons arsenal legitimately be compared to the Saints? Time to significantly upgrade the offensive attack, particularly the receiving corps, through free agency and the draft.
The onside kick in the Super Bowl will be the play that gets the most attention in changing the momentum of the game, but that play-call was simply the product of Payton’s aggressive style that is high risk, but also high reward. Many of the plays that Payton may have called didn’t pan out (fake field goal in Atlanta comes to mind), but the idea that the coach is fearless translated to his players in not fearing any opponent or being scared to make any play. Without the onside kick, the game likely would have had a different outcome with Manning being able to drive down the field, control the clock, and put the game somewhat out of reach. Coach Smith certainly made some overly cautious decisions (failure to go on 4th downs late in the game) that may or may not have worked out for the better, but the Birds surely came out flat and looked to lack confidence at times.
That aggressive mentality transferred to the front office as well. GM Mickey Loomis and the Saints front office deserve as much credit for assembling the team that won hoisted the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night. They weren’t afraid to pull the trigger on giving up draft picks for two high profile players in Jonathan Vilma and Jeremy Shockey. They were masterful in their scouting department, able to find talent in the most uncommon places: Marques Colston (7th round), Pierre Thomas (undrafted free agent), Lynell Hamilton (undrafted free agent), Mike Bell (undrafted free agent and released from Broncos), Bobby McCray (undrafted free agent and released from Jaguars), Remi Ayodele (undrafted free agent), and Garrett Hartley (undrafted free agent). The Saints were in year four of their “process” and it all came together perfectly in their championship run. In all likelihood, Thomas Dimitroff appears to be on that track, but as the Saints showed, significantly revamping the roster or adding major tweaks can be a good thing.
As we are now officially in off-season mode, please submit any suggestions, ideas, or thoughts on what you’d like to see in the off-season. Any and all suggestions are encouraged and welcome. We certainly have time.