We asked JR Ella of Canal Street Chronicles five questions about the New Orleans Saints and their 2015 season. Check out his answers below:
1) The Saints have been all over the place this season with three and four-game losing streak, but a 4-1 stretch in the middle of the season. Where do you place this team in the entire scope of the NFL right now?
"All over the place" is a good description. In the entire scope of the NFL, the Saints are a mediocre team. They're the quintessential 7-9, 8-8 team, which is where I expect them to finish this season. One side of the ball is very good: the offense, with Drew Brees. They haven't been as dominant as in years past this season, yet they're still top five or top 10 in the NFL in most offensive categories. Unfortunately, the defense has just been so abysmal the past two years now that it has dragged the whole team down. In 2013, when New Orleans' defense was ranked in the top 10, the Saints made it to the divisional round of the playoffs. The way they've been playing the past two years, it's hard to believe that it was just two seasons ago that the Saints were one game away from another third trip to the NFC Championship game under Sean Payton.
2) New Orleans fired their defensive coordinator Rob Ryan a month ago, has the Saints defense looked any different since Dennis Allen took over?
Ryan's firing was an inevitability, and it couldn't have come soon enough. The defensive problems in New Orleans were not all on Rob Ryan, but at some point, if it's broke for too long, you gotta fix it. In their third game under the full tutelage of Dennis Allen, the Saints' defense produced their best effort of the season last Sunday in Tampa. For the first time in their last six games, the Saints held an opposing quarterback to a QB rating under 100 (83.1 for Jameis Winston). They gave up only one passing touchdown, after allowing 20 (twenty!!!) in their previous five games. They also held a hot Tampa Bay offense to 4-11 (36%) on third down on the road. Allen also used much-maligned cornerback in different ways, sometimes sending him on blitzes and lightening his pass coverage duties (where he has mightily struggled). Is the Saints' defense fixed? Far from it, too many holes and issues, but it seems to at least be going in the right direction. Monday night should provide one of the season's stiffest test with Stafford, Megatron, Tate and Abdullah coming to town.
3) The Saints offense seems to be humming despite trading Jimmy Graham in the offseason. Who has emerged as Drew Brees' favorite targets?
Brandin Cooks has finally started living up to his offseason hype, after he was touted as the Saints' number one receiver coming into the season, but had quite the slow start. Cooks now sits at 64 catches on 103 targets, 869 yards, 13.6 yards-per-catch and seven touchdowns. While Cooks was struggling in the early part of the year, undrafted second-year receiver Willie Snead really stepped up (52 receptions on only 79 targets, 798 yards, 15.2 ypc and 3 touchdowns). The other guy who has had a rejuvenated NFL career is tight end Ben Watson (61 catches on 86 targets, 712 yards, 11.7 ypc and 4 touchdowns) who has taken full advantage of the departure of Jimmy Graham. Drew Brees has somewhat rediscovered "the art of spreading the ball around" with Graham gone to Seattle and although it took him some time to gel with his new favorite targets, the Saints' offense has claimed back its spot into the ranks of the NFL's elite.
4) What is the best way to slow the Saints' offense?
Pressure over the middle, pressure over the middle and more pressure over the middle. The Saints' offense is a completely Brees-centric unit. It starts and ends with him and most of the time, it is with him passing the ball rather than handing it off. Brees absolutely loves to step up in the pocket to throw. Because of his size (or lack thereof), he needs a clear path over the middle to scan the field. Brees is deadly when the offensive line can redirect rushers to his left or right and he can thus freely move up to find the open receiver. Despite is age, Brees is still very athletic and is often able to evade sacks coming from edge rushers; however, over the middle is where teams that have successfully thwarted the Saints' offense have wreaked havoc.
5) What is your prediction for Monday night's game?
Primetime games in the Superdome have been very favorable to the Saints under Sean Payton. I'm not sure what kind of voodoo they're working with in these games, but they're often high scoring, very entertaining and usually end with New Orleans winning, even with Payton's lesser teams. Already this season, these mediocre Saints are 2-0 in primetime in the Dome (albeit against the similarly mediocre Cowboys and Falcons), and I expect that we will see them go 3-0 on Monday Night. I also expect the game to be a shootout, because I don't think that either defense will be able to slow down the opposing offense all that much. This will likely be one of those: "whoever has the ball last wins," kind of games, and I somewhat expect the Saints to find a way to score on the last possession of the game to secure a 31-28 victory.