New Orleans Saints: A Blast From the Past

Since a head-scratching Week 1 loss to the Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints have put together ten straight wins. They’ve collected some style points along the way.

In Week 5 Drew Brees broke the all-time passing yardage record on Monday Night Football, and over the course of the season, he’s completed a would-be NFL record 76.4% of his passes. As a team, the Saints are scoring just under 4.4 touchdowns per game, a pace that would break the New England Patriots record of 4.0 in their undefeated 2007 regular season. They also handed the Philadelphia Eagles the worst loss by a defending Super Bowl champion in NFL history.

The laundry list of accomplishments has made them favorites to win the title this year. Should they do so, it would be the franchise’s first since the 2009 season.

With that being said, comparing that Super Bowl team to this year’s team could serve as a good method of evaluating just how far this Saints team can go.

They bear some striking resemblances. Most obviously would be the quarterback and head coach. From the time Drew Brees and Sean Payton united in New Orleans in 2006, the Saints have won more than 60% of their regular season games.

It goes without saying that without them, the Saints would not be able to accomplish the things that they have. So the first thing they have in common is their leaders. But that’s probably nothing the casual fan didn’t know already.

Aside from the fact that the 2018 team runs the ball an average of four more times per game compared to 2009, the offenses look a lot alike. This year’s team averages 4.3 yards per attempt to 2009’s 4.5. Both teams use a mixture of elusive backs and inside runners, with the 2009 team employing Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Mike Bell and the 2018 team using Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.

Both teams also have reliable possession receivers that Brees feels extremely comfortable throwing to in any situation. For the 2009 team that was Marques Colston. For this year’s team, it’s Michael Thomas.

Each has an elite utility player. Bush was more than a running back for the 2009 Saints; he was a player that could line up anywhere on the field and do a lot of different things. The 2018 team’s got a guy like this too: Taysom Hill. While Hill is not quite as elusive as Bush, he’s more versatile. Not only does he play running back, receiver, and return kicks/punts like Bush, but he also plays quarterback in special packages that Payton likes to sprinkle in throughout the game. He’s mostly an option-style running quarterback, but Payton will call a pass play here and there as well. So far opposing defenses haven’t had an answer for this wrinkle in Payton’s offense.

All of this would be moot, though, if it weren’t for solid offensive line play, a critical element of any team’s success. The 2009 team had 3 pro bowl O-linemen in center Jonathan Goodwin, right guard Jahri Evans, and right tackle Jon Stinchcomb.  This year’s team will likely have multiple pro bowl offensive linemen as well, as they’ve only given up 11 sacks in as many games and have been able to open up running lanes against even the stingiest of defenses.

On the flip side, defensive success for both teams was/has been largely due to the ability to produce turnovers. The 2009 team finished the regular season with a +11 turnover ratio and the 20th ranked scoring defense. This year’s team is currently at +8 with the 13th ranked scoring defense.

Both have one game-changing edge rusher (Will Smith 2009, Cameron Jordan 2018) along with stout interior defensive linemen, although merely calling Sheldon Rankins “stout” feels like an injustice—he’s been nothing short of dominant this season.

Both Saints teams also have ball hawks in the secondary, with All-Pro free safety Darren Sharper in 2009 and Marcus Williams currently, although Sharper had an incredible season in 2009 with 11 picks and probably made a larger impact than Williams. The 2018 team also has a lockdown corner in Marshon Lattimore, though, something the 2009 team lacked.


Where this year’s Saints defense separates itself from the Super Bowl winners is at the linebacker position. Demario Davis is the best run-stopping linebacker in all of football according to Pro Football Focus. He along with A.J. Klein,  Manti Te’o, and Alex Anzalone have limited opponents to 73.2 rushing yards per game and have forced opponents to become one dimensional. That also leads to more turnovers. The 2009 linebacking corps were able to hold their own, but they were not one of the league’s elite units.

SO WHICH TEAM IS BETTER?

When comparing any team in the regular season to a Super Bowl winner, the Super Bowl team’s playoff success has to hold some weight. Considering this, it should be impossible for a team who is still in the regular season to be better than a team who has won the ultimate prize. However, it is possible to say that a regular season team has the potential to be better than the Super Bowl winning team, and that is the case here.

The 2009 Saints showed moments of dominance throughout the year. Hell, they won their first 13 games. But at no point did they seem invincible like the 2018 team does.

The 2018 Saints have defeated some of the league’s best teams and have looked dominant in doing so. Statistically, they’ve had a tougher schedule, with their opponents win percentage in games not against the Saints being 50.5% compared to 44.2% in 2009.

Obviously, for this year’s team to surpass the 2009 team’s legacy they have to win the title. No questions asked. But if the Saints stay healthy and win the Super Bowl as many expect them to, this WILL BE the best team in the franchise’s history.

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