Saints 2014|17

Dec 28, 2014 by

Saints LogoChristmas has come and gone and after last weeks worthless showing by the New Orleans Saints so has the 2014 season and my desire to plug this afternoons game. Today we shall see just how much Sean Payton wants to give Tampa Bay the first pick of the 2015 NFL draft. If the Saints win one might wonder if Payton has already finalized the details for his move to take over Lovie Smith’s job on the Buc’s sideline.

But of course, I jest. Smith is just finishing his first year in Tampa and has at least one more year to go before management considers granting fan wishes for his entrails and Sean Payton won’t be getting his hands on that particular early draft pick. (unless…) Payton himself is polishing off his second year of five on his current contract and despite Big Sports Media blowhards questioning his time left in this city, Sean isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Sean most certainly wants to stay here considering the apparent “hands-off” management style of Clan Benson-Leblanc and it would be almost impossible to do worse than this season. Trust me, Sean is safe here for at least one more year.

Likewise, I think Rob Ryan is here for another year as well, for better or worse. Ultimately it will come down to availability and cost of replacement weighed against scrapping the entire defensive playbook and starting over, and at this point I think the offense will be a more pressing focal point in the offseason. Besides, Ryan can always be dumped mid-season if the D starts tanking. I think this line from NFL’s Kareem Copeland on Feb. 09, 2013 probably still haunts him. And Rob. And Sean.

“Ryan won’t have to win games with his defense, since Drew Brees runs one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL.” 

Sounded plausible at the time but two years later? Oy. If the Saints truly want a change on D, they need look no further than Special Teams coach Greg McMahon and his assistant Stan Kwan. What’s that? You didn’t know we had a coach for ST? Not surprising, considering. While the incessant meddling of Roger Goodell has virtually destroyed kick returns, McMahon and Kwan have all but abolished them.

The NFL’s safer, kinder, gentler KR rules took effect in 2011, moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line from the 30. This resulted in the KR average dropping 37.5% from 64 (average between 2006-2010) to 40 (2011-2014) per team, per season. The Saints kept pace in 2011 (42) and exceeded it in 2012 (51), but last year faltered with just 22 kick returns while the NFL average was 40.28. Worse yet, the NFL average is at 33.44 this year, (through week 15,) but the Saints have just 17 kick returns! An average barely above one kick return per game! While McMahon has nine seasons coaching the Saints ST, (seven as coordinator,) Kwan arrived two years ago at the exact time our return game disappeared…

The new rule doesn’t affect punt returns at all which average 36 per team, per year going back to 2006. This year, (through week 15,) the NFL average is at 29.06 and the Saints… again, fucking 17. Clearly Stan Kwan has some twisted kneeling fetish which he’s spread to McMahon. And while the Saints kick return yardage consistently averages out at 23.73 yards per return since 2006, (beating the NFL average of 22.98 by almost a yard,) we’re losing those extra 3.73 yards on every knee we take. You can argue that four yards aren’t really going to change a drive, much less a game–I would argue differently–but what about the returns knelt that might have gone the distance for a score? Or even just an extra ten or twenty yards? Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” True dat.

Now I don’t know Kwan’s actual duties as McMahon’s assistant but his arrival coincides with the disappearance of our return game. Similarly, though I’ve had just a cursory glance at the numbers, our return coverage has also faltered since Kwan arrived. Between 2006-09 in Detroit, Kwan’s units came under fire for being lazy, unmotivated, playing without heart and simply going through the motions. Sound familiar? It got him bounced to assistant ST in Buffalo. And we all remember the great Bills ST from 2010-12, right? Right. If just one Saint gets the axe this offseason I’m betting on Stan. If it’s two, hopefully he’ll take McMahon with him.

And I suppose I should mention Joe Vitt. Good linebacker coach. Great connection. Sucks at everything else. Why is he still listed as Assistant Head Coach? Yeah, exactly.

Of course, beyond coaching there’s the salary cap. At present, the team is a City Park oak planted in an Airstream trailer and there’s going to be some serious pruning. While the 2015 draft will dictate many of the final cuts next year there are some easy guesses. There are ten players in one-year contracts expiring this year including QB Luke McCown, WR Robert Meachem, LT Bryce Harris, ILB Moise Fokou, G Senio Kelemete, ILB Ramon Humber and OLB Parys Haralson. Of course, these are also the smallest contracts and don’t do much to alleviate the cap situation. Still, I’d hunch that McCown (did you hear… Ryan Griffin has been activated for today…) and Meachem are guaranteed gone next year.

Longer contracts ending either this year or the next cover TE Ben Watson, K Shayne Graham, RBs Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet, C Tim Lelito, CB Corey White, WR Nick Toon, S Rafael Bush, DE Cam Jordan, RB Mark Ingram, and CB Patrick Robinson. Of these players bet on Graham, Ingram, Toon and Jordan to stick around. I give Khiry a 50/50 chance and Travaris 40/60. Maybe 30/70. Seriously, it’s going to be a depressing offseason for fan favorites!

But still, we’re gonna need more cash-on-hand to fill the cut spots and there are few places it can come from. First, the team is going to blitz straight up the middle at Drew Brees and ask him if he’d rather have $20-million/yr and continue eating the turf or $16-million/yr with a chance of staying upright to make a play. Bet on Drew being a team player and taking a salary cut with heavily loaded benchmarks to improve his offensive line and QB rating!

Then there’s Marques Colston. Pretty much relegated to an afterthought this season, Colston continues to prove he’s still got it. Most of the time. He has more yards than Jimmy Graham, (on fewer receptions,) but fewer TDs. He still has two years on his contract at $7-milion/year and while he can still play, he’s clearly not the go-to guy he once was but mostly because Drew is trying to force-feed the ball elsewhere. Bet on some restructuring to keep Marques here to at least guide the young-uns or else he might find himself in the ATL. Those punks love to pick our bones.

By far the easiest pot of gold you can find on offense is Jimmy Graham who still has three $10-million contractual years left. Throughout the offseason and preseason Graham fought for a WR designation and the compensation that comes with it, but became a sulky child when it didn’t happen. It irrevocably soured his relationship with Sean Payton who didn’t take Graham’s side in the battle. Did he deserve the tag and the money? Probably. Did he have the slightest chance at getting it? No. But it’s too late to cry now. Graham still has the third-highest paycheck behind Brees and Junior Galette who makes just 375k more per year than Graham and recently fumbled the team relations ball, though doubtfully enough to lose his job. Pair that with his sub-par year though and Gallette could possibly be taking it on his heels, though I still doubt it.

Graham leads the team this season with 79 catches but with 117 targets that puts him at 67% effectiveness, a mark only better than Colston’s 61% for players with over 50 catches. Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills are the only other two players in that category this season and they both rate at 76%. Conveniently Graham’s shoulder was a favorite target of every defense we played this year so there’s doubt as to whether the injury or sour grapes affected his season. My guess and my bet is that the Saints are going to secretly shop Graham around for draft leverage, a flat-out trade or both. (Are you reading, Tampa Bay?) It will only sting for a little while, like the next ten years, but it may be the only way to fix more than one difficult situation.

Oh, yeah, the game. OK, the Bucs are sucking wind at 2-13 and lead the Tennessee Titans by a witch’s wart for top pick in the 2015 draft. The Saints are back to playing Mora-style football: beating post-season contenders but vacuuming their nuts into their pelvic bones the minute a sub-par train wreck team enters the stadium. The one thing in our favor? We’re on the road! Of course, I’ve been so incredibly wrong prognosticating this damn season it hardly matters what I think. I’m just going to agree with The Machine and say…

Saints: 25
Bucs: 22

Meanwhile, here’s last week’s frippin’ for ya!

Drew Brees (206-3rd) is now just three sacks away from Aaron Brooks (209).

Mark Ingram (114-33rd) untied Ricky Williams and Archie Manning (108) on the points list and passed Torrance Small (110) and Shayne Graham (112). Ingram (19-24th) also untied Williams, Manning and Torrance Small (18) on the total TD list. Ingram (19-9th) broke his tie with Archie Manning on the rushing TD list.

Nick Toon (1-t-199th) became the 228th Saint to run the ball. Toon (4-t-182nd) also joined the rushing yards list.

Kenny Stills (1490-35th) passed Jeremy Shockey (1460) in receiving yards.

Jalen Saunders (1-t-248th) became the 288th Saint to catch a pass.

Jimmy Graham (306-8th) tied Joe Horn on the points list and untied Horn (50) on both the total TD list (51-4th) and receiving TD list (51-2nd).

-M Styborski

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