For the first eleven games of the 2018 NFL season, the New Orleans Saints offense was breathtaking. Led by future Hall of Famer quarterback Drew Brees under center, the Saints scored 409 points prior to the Thanksgiving game against the Dallas Cowboys. A stellar defensive battle dominated that game with the Cowboys holding Brees and company to just 10 points and halting a 10-game win streak dead in its tracks.
The offense was not the same going forward, Brees threw five interceptions in their next seven games and struggled to move the ball down the field. After being knocked out in the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams, many wondered if Brees was beginning to turn the corner on his astounding career. While he may have struggled some, there are quite a few reasons to why the offense folded down the stretch.
Wide Receiver Health
Second-year wide receiver Michael Thomas was dominant yet again for the New Orleans Saints offense. Thomas caught 83.9% of the passes thrown to him and had just three drops on the season according to PFF. He also found the endzone ten times and proved to be a deadly weapon for the offense.
However, behind him, there was not much cohesion. The Saints had five receivers miss a majority of the season on injured reserve last season: Dez Bryant, Brandon Coleman, Ted Ginn Jr., Tommylee Lewis, and Cameron Meredith. Michael Thomas had over 100 more targets than any other wide receiver on the roster.
New Orleans had a chance to build the core in the offseason through the draft and free agency, yet they chose to pass on those options and develop the talent they have. According to Saints WR coach Curtis Johnson from Guerry Smith of The Times-Picayune, “It’s very much (a vote of confidence)…I’m very satisfied with the guys we have.”
Tre’Quan Smith showed what he could bring to the offense in the regular season game against the Philadelphia Eagles where he caught ten passes for 157 yards. The team also has other young receivers like Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr, and Meredith who are recovering from various injuries. Barring another injury bug, Brees should be able to develop a consistent connection with some of these receivers.
Injuries in the Trenches
What’s the Achilles heel of any good offense? An injury along the offensive line. While the guards, tackles, and centers often get overlooked, they are vital to the execution of the offense. The Saints offensive line was a solid unit last year, but yet again right around the Thanksgiving game, something changed.
New Orleans best pass blocker, Terron Armstead was out from Week 11 until Week 16 with a pectoral injury. Center Max Unger was the only lineman to play all 18 games with tackle Ryan Ramczyk and guard Larry Warford each playing 17. Behind them, there was some consistency with G Andrus Peat, but his performance was not up to par.
The New Orleans Saints front office drafted center Erik McCoy from Texas A&M to replace Unger, who retired in the offseason. They also brought in some free agents such as C/G Nick Easton, RT Marshall Newhouse, G Ryan Groy, and LT John Ulrick. The franchise noticed the decline in play and chose to invest in the offseason. With some development in training camp and through the preseason, the Saints will see if it pays off or not.
Is it actually Drew Brees?
Brees play did decline towards the end of the season; however, his talent still remains top tier. Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara will always be the top two options. However, with the addition of tight end Jared Cook and running back Latavius Murray, as well as a slew of offensive players coming back from injury, and the team’s investment into the offensive line, the entire offense should see a return to the dazzling performance fans were used to seeing last season.
However, it is crucial for fans of the two time Offensive Player of the Year or the New Orleans Saints to realize, Brees turned 40 this past January. Even with the way penalties are called for quarterbacks, football is a very violent game. It is only a matter of time until Saints fans will have to say goodbye to a player who not only has shown how jaw-dropping an offense can be time and time again but is also a fantastic person within his community. While his play may not be declining, his time in the NFL is, and we must enjoy it while we can. But fans do not fret, with head coach Sean Payton and Brees together yet again; there is very little doubt they will figure everything out.