22 December 2014

Half Past Dead

The 2014 Saints' season was screwed when ...

... Jairus Byrd signed the largest-ever contract for an NFL safety, then had back surgery

... the Saints checked in to flowery wallpapered rooms in West Virginia

... Rob Ryan trimmed his hair before training camp

... the Saints cut all of their kickers during final roster cuts

... Champ Bailey didn't make the team

... Junior Galette was named captain of the defense

... the special teams didn't really have a punt returner

... the Tom Benson statue was unveiled

... Grandpa Sean showed up on the sideline 

... Marques Colston fumbled in overtime in week 1

... #FakeFans were maligned

... the offense struggled to score twenty points in their opening home game

... the defense (and Drew Brees) gagged away a 13-point lead in Detroit with < 4 minutes remaining

... prized free agent Jairus Byrd tore his knee and ended his season

... the 3rd down siren was born

... The Joker fondled Jimmy Graham

... the Saints gave up 51 yards to Michael Crabtree on 4th and 10

... roster shenanigans and splash reports dominated the headlines

... the offense scored just ten points in home games versus each of the Bengals and Panthers

... the team crash-landed into five-straight home losses to end the season

... Sean Payton got swept, for the first time, by a low-rent Falcons' team 

A proper summary can be found here:


04 December 2014

State of the 2014 Saints

It's the mark of a poor leader, one captaining a defense ranked 31st in points per drive and 32nd in yards per drive, during one of the more disappointing seasons in Saints' history, to take cheap shots at two Saints' defensive players instrumental in the Saints' lone Super Bowl title.

If you're looking for reasons why the Saints have underachieved this year, this is a good place to start:


18 November 2014

A Cold Shower

The Saints 2014 season has been a long, cold shower.

What was once championship promise has been all but been extinguished, the result of inevitability coupled with an old, familiar problem.

Sprinkle in what appears to be an undercurrent of torpor, and you get 4-6.  

First, the new issue:

Drew Brees is no longer great enough to elevate the Saints.

This isn't to blame Brees for the Saints' misfortunes this year. But it's a primary reason why the Payton-era Saints have started to noticeably fade. Over their last 20 regular season games, the Saints have produced a middling record of 10-10. This year, they've done almost nothing to live up to the ample preseason billing granted them.

For years prior, during his otherworldly prime, Drew Brees masked many of the Saints' flaws: unreliable defense, a toothless return game, a periodic indifference to running the ball, injuries, a shady kicking game, and turnover on the coaching staff among other issues.

These days, the masking's not so simple or effective.

Brees's dominance for, say, a four-year stretch vaulted the Saints from average to good, from good to great. For a team comprised of perceived afterthoughts, Brees was a sublime ingredient in a dish of leftovers. He almost single-handedly transformed the Saints into contenders. He helped fortify Sean Payton's reputation as the league's best offensive mind. He played perhaps the best half of football any quarterback ever has in a Super Bowl (18/19 to eight different Saints, 124 yards, 2 TDs, a two-point conversion, and 0 INTs for a 128.9 passer rating). Brees actualized for Saints' fans something that never seemed more than an afternoon daydream.

But that was always fleeting. So here we are, face to face with a new reality.  A lesser Brees, and a lesser Saints' team. It is the natural, inescapable course of events.

With Brees's decline in dominance, the Saints have struggled to regain their championship form.

In 2013 this was most noticeable on the road, where Brees's performance vacillated wildly from his masterful efficiency in the Superdome. These road struggles came in sharp contrast to a Saints' team that compiled the NFL's best road record from 2009-2011; they were reflective of a team, naturally less competitive on the road, unable to carry its weight absent the absolute primacy of its star player.

In 2014, this trend has continued. Brees has been at less-than-his-best; his teammates can't compensate; and as a result, the Saints have perfected the art of mediocrity.

As it relates to Brees, there are a few examples that stand out. The end-zone interception in week one in Atlanta. A brutal pick-six in week two at Cleveland. Three interceptions, and another mindless pick-six versus Tampa. A damning interception at Detroit. And two maddening turnovers at home versus the Niners. (Sometimes the other team makes great plays too, so some of this is to nitpick.)

The most noticeable example, however, came in the Saints' loss to the Bengals in week 11.

Brees played well, but his non-dominance generated only ten points in a game the Saints badly needed to win. At home. It wasn't a poor performance from Brees that doomed the team. In the past, that's mostly what it took to beat the Saints, especially in the Dome. Yet Sunday, on top of everything else that's happened this season, a perfectly worthy performance from Brees in the friendly confines of the Superdome wasn't enough for victory. Instead, it resulted in a 17-point loss.

And that, of course, says as much about the supporting cast and coaching staff as it does about Brees.  

This was a statement loss, persuasive and resonant: a Saints' team, as presently constituted, devoid of championship aspirations. That's not necessarily shocking, but it is a wholesale departure from the sentiments of just three months ago.

I'll say again, Brees does not solely shoulder the blame here. But he's no longer great enough to compensate for the shortcomings. And his teammates haven't been much help.

Which brings us to our second, and major, problem ... the defense.

Save for Keenan Lewis and Curtis Lofton, it's all gone wrong for the Saints' defense this year. Lack of pressure. No-shows. Blown assignments. Injuries. Hell, even Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper have salted the wound.

Anyway, there has been a seemingly endless series of crippling defensive breakdowns this year.

An inability to stop the Falcons with 1:20 remaining. Brian Hoyer blindly heaving the ball 30 yards downfield to a wide-open Charles Hawkins to set up a Saints' loss. A 73-yard touchdown by Golden Tate on 3rd and 14 when the Saints had the game all but won. The Tecmo Bowlish 51-yard completion to Michael Crabtree on 4th and 10. 3rd and 18 to AJ Green last week.

A. Cold. Fucking. Shower.

This is not a team plagued by bad luck, or an unlucky run of variance in close games. Believing that is to deny reality. This is a team that's been mind-numbingly bad at situational football, and has lost many close games as a result. That is attributable to both the players and the coaches. It's a systemic problem, not a sample size fluctuation.

Maybe the most frustrating part is that the defense has steadily improved as the season's worn on. But they've been beset by untimely lapses that have proved their undoing, time and again.

With consideration to a now-depleted secondary, will the defense make due over the final six games? 

And what about the Saints' coaches? Are they out of answers? Or is there life yet for the 2014 season?

Quite enjoyably enough, at 4-6, the Saints are still ideally-positioned to win their division and host a playoff game. Only a season this puzzling could produce such a now unfathomably joyous end-result. And that's why, despite the heartache and frustration and advent of a new reality, there still remains the lingering hope of "well, maybe if ..." for the remainder of the season.

If 2014 has taught us anything, it's that we have little clue about what's going to happen.

With that in mind, we'd all be wise to stay tuned.        

28 September 2014


Nothing kills quite as assuredly as does apathy.

And right now, the Saints are an apathetic mess.

After four weeks, it's difficult to maintain hope that it will get significantly better for the Saints this season.

On offense, the Saints look passive and nonthreatening. On defense, they look confused and unmotivated.

And overshadowing the whole affair is whether we're now watching the slow death of the Payton/Brees era. Nine seasons in, and it's a fair question to ask. If that's the case, what exactly are we witnessing right now? A temporary bump in the road? Or the inexorable fade to black?

Of particular note this season is the Saints' coaching, or lack thereof.

The defense has fallen off a cliff. A season after being the backbone of a resurgent 2013 squad, the Saints' defense is lifeless in 2014. The pass rush is non-existent, and stands out among this team's shortcomings through four games. A year ago this was a defensive line productive, youthful, and imposing. Today, it's little more than a picket fence.

Whether this is attributable to complacency among the players, or the exploiting of Rob Ryan's schemes after a year's worth of film, is up for debate. Regardless, the defense is surrendering a near league-worst 6.1 yards per play and that starts with a lack of impact up front.

In the secondary, far too often have we seen opponents roaming free in friendly swaths of inviting turf, as if left alone to graze idly at their leisure. It's like opposing offenses are conducting operations on a Canadian Football League field. As much space as you need.

There have been blown assignments and bad angles, an unwillingness to tackle, and an inability to turn the ball over. Defensive adjustments come too late, or seem pointless.

There's ... just ... nobody in charge on the defensive side of the ball.

Combine the ineffectiveness of Rob Ryan's schemes with a dearth of on-field leadership, and you're left with a defense that, thus far in 2014, has shellshocked us back to the wretched haunts of 2012.

At this point, it's tough to dismiss the void of leadership and intelligence created by the departures of Vilma, Greer, Will Smith, Harper, and Jenkins in the offseason. There has to be something to that.

It's not that the defense lacks talent. Instead, it appears to lack for direction, preparation, motivation.

This extends, too, to the offensive side of the ball.

As an example, on offense, the Saints expended a noticeable effort involving Travaris Cadet in Sunday's game. Cadet had more touches than PT, Stills, Cooks, and Colston. It felt like some dopey rehash of the 'Mike Karney ... SURPRISE!' game from 2006 in Dallas, a desperate twist on an old trick from an aging dog.

Along those same lines, you had the most fruitless and depressingly comical of all fake punts, at the most critical of times, in a spot where they'd fool nobody, the last wilting move of a group devoid of direction, a lounge act befitting of Jake LaMotta.

The advancing age on the Saints' offense is noticeable. That's understandable and easy to accept. What's confusing is the slow pace to adapt to those changing conditions, to alter their approach to better fit the resources available.

Here, just let Wang explain from last year. This rings more true than ever:
They're older, they're slower, they're not as explosive, they're not as powerful up front, their weaknesses are becoming easier for opponents to exploit, and Sean Payton's schemes have gotten a bit stale. After all, they've been doing pretty much the same things, with pretty much the same guys, for eight years now. That's a long time.
But eventually, patching it up with duct tape to restore it to 90% of its previous functionality for the umpteenth time is no longer gonna be sufficient. Because it's still degrading, slowly but surely. Better to "fix" it for real at the first sign of a significant leak — when it's not really "broken" per se, just aging and weakening — than after your basement is already flooded.

I think that's where the offense is at this point. It's still "elite" but not nearly as elite as it once was, and it won't be "elite" for much longer without something a little more aggressive than just another couple layers of duct tape.
Or, to put it another way, it's not just the hardware, it's the software. Both are still functional, but both are overdue for an update or three."

And yet here they are four games in to 2014, this piece of wisdom from last year stinging with renewed truth.

An uninspiring, journeyman kicker. Meachem instead of Morgan. An endless loop of ineffectual bubble screens. Seam routes lobbed into heavy traffic. An offense resigned to making adjustments instead of forcing them.

The question now, for 2014, is whether this will all come crashing down. This just a month removed from what seemed like legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

My, how the tables have turned.

One of these years the Saints were going to face the end of an era. Is this it, in all of its dulled glory? Or will they right the ship and contend for a division title?

I don't have an answer, but I'll be watching with rapt attention one way or the other. There's some sort of history to be made here, it would seem.

I will leave you on a high note, with this gleam of hope from the Black and Gold Review:

The Saints are in a mess right now. But if anybody’s going to get them out of it, it’s Sean Payton. The 2014 season has been a spectacular disappointment, and the Saints are probably at their nadir. They could stay here for a while. But they might not. This is a new era, with new rules, and nobody has any damn clue what happens next.


14 September 2014


I don't have much to say about the Saints' first two games, as those games seem relatively self-explanatory.

Mostly, I am floored to the point of being nearly speechless. What in the everliving fuck is going on?

Anyway, the Saints have been outcoached, underprepared, and indifferent in both games; moreover, in the waning moments of each half in both games, the defense has cowered and surrendered in a manner that would offend even the French.

If you watched the first two games, it's no surprise the Saints are 0-2. They're not very good right now. Anybody--whether the fans or Drew Brees--can rationalize how the Saints might've just as easily won both games. That, though, ignores the fact that the Saints have been outplayed in each game. The last-minute field goals only obscure reality.

Regardless, nobody gives a shit about sample size at this point. It is what it is.

It's all been bizarre so far in 2014, a theme that not's unfamiliar to the Payton-era Saints. I guess we shouldn't be surprised. This should almost feel expected at this point.

Maybe my (or our) expectations were inverted this year, and the Saints are just circa-2008 mediocre. But it doesn't quite feel like that yet. It moreso feels like they've been fucking off and admiring themselves in an ever-foggy mirror, and now they're backed into an unenviable corner in the third week of the season.

It doesn't seem like it should be this way, but this is where they are. 0-2, staring down the barrel of the most-embarrassing 0-3 start in franchise history, and equally relevant, all but eliminating themselves from postseason contention with a loss.

Just two weeks ago, only the Seahawks, Broncos, and Patriots had better (technically, worse) Super Bowl odds than the Saints.

I refuse to believe this is suddenly post-peak-Sean-Payton-era Saints, or the "closing of the window," or whatever the fuck. This just seems like a group of dudes that doesn't really give much of a shit.

Criticize Mark Ingram as we Saints' fan have over the years, but if every player on this team gave as much of a shit as Ingram (and Jimmy Graham) does, I can't help but to think this season would have unfolded much differently.

What's even worse is these lightweights on the team--specifically, Junior Galette and Khiry Robinson--calling out fans on fucking Twitter after the Browns' game. Are you shitting me? What kinda chumps are dotting the Saints' roster? You don't see Drew Brees or Jimmy Graham or Jahri Evans or Marques Colston or Pierre Thomas or Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Demarcus Ware or Patrick Willis crying about "fake fans" after a tough loss. Give me a fucking break, you buncha amateurs.

You wanna be a leader right now, Junior Galette? Maybe start by shutting the fuck up every now and again. You want a Superdome that produces the league's best homefield advantage? Then don't shit on the people who make it happen.

These same "fake fans"? These are the same people who spend their hard-earned dollars, money that's incredibly valuable to them, to support you, to contribute to a framework that enables you to secure a $40 million contract after years of hard work. So lucky should all people be after many years of busting their asses.

You're not special. And we're not impressed. So can it, hero.

They elected this dude the captain of the defense? What kinda second-rate, overmatched leader resorts to something so weak? Look in the mirror, big fella. Say all you want about Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. In spite of the endless disdain heaped upon them both as Saints, neither saw fit to deflect their own shortcomings on to the fans who support them. That's because neither one of them is fucking weak. What about you, Junior?

And maybe that goes a long way in explaining the importance of the "Captain" designation, and why to this point, the Saints' defense has looked utterly bereft of any direction, whether through the defensive captain, his teammates, or the dude in charge, Rob Ryan.

They don't have much time to get it straight.

Here's to hoping they will.

03 August 2014

Great Expectations

Over the past two months, the budding hope for the Saints' 2014 season has only intensified.

courtesy of nola.com

Where the offseason--through free agency signings, a promising draft, and the retention of key players--built on the strong returns from 2013, this year's training camp has thrown more gas on to the now blistering fire of great expectations for the 2014 Saints.

Still a week removed from the team's first preseason game, there's an enveloping sense of championship-season-in-the-making. Though these expectations are similar to other preseasons of the Sean Payton era, this year feels just a bit different.

During the 2009 preseason, there was confidence and hope after a few seasons of falling short in a variety of ways. In 2011 there was intrigue amidst the chaos of the lockout, yet one that failed to hint at the dominance we'd eventually witness during that season.

Now? I can't shake the feeling there's a deep-rooted, impenetrable belief that this season is destined to be a defining moment of the Sean Payton era, at least from a purely 'football' perspective. That, of course, offers needed context considering the impossible-to-predict renaissance of 2006, the enduring beauty and joy of 2009, and the face-melting thrill-ride of 2011.

In spite of the regression that was a side effect of Bountygate, there remains the hope that what once seemed inevitable--Lombardi Gras II--still has a heart that beats on, one that refuses to recede into history with a listless fade.

There's a finality to the Payton-Brees Saints that's yet to be determined, and if the abundant evidence from this preseason is any indication, that resolution portends something inescapably special. Forgive me for refusing to let it go completely, but Roger ain't getting the last word here. Fuck that. You know it's what they're all thinking.

If you think this all sounds like hyperbole that's a result of my bias as a Saints' fan, well, you're probably right. But you should know that I am not alone.

In early July, the venerable (and hopefully not senile) Archie Manning said of this Saints' team: “I think the Saints’ line-up on paper to start the season is maybe as strong as I’ve ever seen before.” A week or so later, Albert Breer, the striving heir apparent to Peter King, referenced the Saints' "supreme confidence." 

Confidence is at such a peak level that Drew Brees indicated he wanted to play football for another ten years. He wasn't joking. Not to be outdone, Sean Payton said he's ready to coach until age 80.

Sensing the moment, Thomas Morstead pondered punting a football over a mountain, or a hill, or something.
Drew Brees then went on to call Pierre Thomas "the best all-purpose back in the league."

And for good measure? Brees has been doing stuff like this when practice ends:

As an aside, while we're hyperbolizing, it's not implausible to think that Brees is set for a career year, in spite of how good he was in '08, '09, '11, and '13. Favre did it at 40. Peyton did it at 37, after several neck surgeries. Let's not go kicking dirt on Drew Brees's prime quite yet. Haven't you been paying attention these past fourteen years?

Terron Armstead, who has apparently had a standout camp, will play a central role in helping Brees maintain the otherworldly benchmarks Brees has set. Here's Brees on Armstead:
“You love everything you see. Not only just his talent, but you see it in his eyes ... What I see with him is intensity and confidence, and that is what you love to see in a left tackle, ready for any type of challenge.”

Remember, Armstead ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any lineman in the history of the NFL Combine. You should probably read that sentence again. This dude is quite an athlete. He also has the Pine Bluff, AR-connection with Willie Roaf. That seems like some kind of affirming fate.

And in case you missed it, Armstead also appears to be rather strong:

If all that not's enough, Brandin Cooks has wholly captivated his Saints' teammates, media, and fans more so than any other player. Ben Watson said of Cooks, "this kid is at a different speed."  Keenan Lewis has since dubbed Cooks "Lightning."

Darrin Gant of Pro Football Talk, after watching Cooks effortlessly outrun Saints' defenders, commented: "... the video of [Cooks] pulling away from the Saints defense is frankly alarming."

Frankly. Alarming.

Thank you for that, Darrin. We'll all be sure to run that into the ground by week four. But for now, thanks!

In an interview this past week, Jim Henderson said Cooks hasn't dropped a pass thrown his way at camp.

And finally ...

Are you paying attention, Atlanta?

Because this is what's coming in week one, against a team that owns you.

Brees, Graham, Cooks, Khiry ... Junior, Akiem, Cam, Vaccaro ...

I hate to leave out Colston, Stills, Jahri, Jairus, Bush, and Keenan. But there are almost too many good players to name right now. Meantime, Matt Ryan is probably futzing over what to wear for his HBO debut on Tuesday.

You know what this is shaping up to be? Elephants versus pissants, in the parlance of Thomas Pynchon. I wonder if Hard Knocks, as it chronicles the Falcons' buildup to their season opener against the Saints, will remind its audience that Sean Payton is 12-2 versus Atlanta? You know, just for context, and for shits and giggles too.

One thing I'm sure HBO won't mention, but bears repeating, is that Sean Payton has not lost a game in the Superdome since October of 2010. 2010! The opposing defensive coordinator in that last Dome loss? None other than Rob Ryan.

Now Payton and Ryan are teamed up again for another crack at a Super Bowl title. Hyperbole aside, a 6-2 road record in 2014 and things will be looking swell for homefield advantage and another Super Bowl appearance for the Saints.

Last season, they pried the door back open a little bit.

This year, let's hope they kick that motherfucker down.

18 May 2014

No Simple Highway

As it turns out, getting back to the Super Bowl isn't quite so easy.

Now five seasons removed from their greatest moment, the Saints, older and wiser in ways, younger and more promising in others, approach 2014 with the residue of a championship increasingly faint, the present challenges perhaps greater, the fleeting nature of opportunity threatening, yet the hope of a new day once again beaming in the distance.

Navigating their way back to the Super Bowl has been a circuitous, and at times torturous, route for these Saints. They've been turned away and denied repeatedly, by Seattle, San Francisco, Commissioner Goodell, and Seattle again.

Perhaps the fifth try will be the proverbial charm.

Over the course of eight seasons since Sean Payton arrived, including the asterisked one, the Saints have relied on a unique resiliency to make their mark.

In 2006, it was an unexpected ascension to the franchise's first NFC Championship Game after the tumult of Katrina and wholesale renovation of the team. Three seasons later, the Saints unleashed a torrent of fire on the NFL in winning their first 13 games, shrugged off a three-game losing streak, and then historically dispatched three Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks in the postseason en route to their first Lombardi trophy.

Remember-me shots, still ringing out.

Two seasons later in 2011, behind an offensive machine of mythic proportion, the Saints, primed to double-down on championship glory, endured the most bitter of postseason defeats against the most bitter of rivals.

From that point forward, it's been a process of reconstruction for the franchise.

The Saints' resiliency has continued to be tested in ways unforeseen: that crushing postseason defeat, Bountygate, interim-interim coaches, the Spagnuolo disaster, and an aging roster among other factors.

After being reinstated in early 2013 from a season-long exile, Sean Payton, wasting time no more, immediately fired Steve Spagnuolo, hired Rob Ryan, and set out to fix the team's Achilles heel: its defense.

A bit more than a year later, and Payton has accomplished that particular task.

Rob Ryan and his marauding band of pillaging Huns have helped the Saints transition into a new era against newly-competitive foes, reformulating the team's identity, re-energizing the fanbase, and--most importantly--setting the table for a championship run in 2014 after a highly-promising beta test last season.

The Saints' defense is on the precipice of busting the "window" wide open or, better yet, opening for the franchise a completely new window from which to dream.

Building on the newfound strength of their defense, the Saints targeted and signed Jairus Byrd as their priority free agent this offseason. At the time of Byrd's signing, Mickey Loomis handed Byrd the NFL's largest-ever contract for a safety, making a mockery of the notion that the supposed "cash-strapped" Saints would stand pat this offseason.


Loomis, of course, continues to do what smart businessmen have done throughout the history of enterprise: anticipate.

Understanding that the salary cap isn't so restrictive as it's set to continue ballooning in the coming years, facile at restructuring contracts to fit the team's current needs, and realizing that available cap space on a championship contender is the most foolish of gold, Loomis did again what he does best: he improved his team with a thundering stroke of mastery while the pretenders gawked with exasperation and dismay.

How ya like them apples, haters?

Listed by some as the #1 free agent available in 2014, Jairus Byrd brings to the Saints hawkish range at free safety as one of the NFL's best takeaway artists. As it stands, Byrd is set to become the Darren Sproles to Malcolm Jenkins' Reggie Bush.

Byrd's signing was made all the more enjoyable because:

1.) The Falcons had pursued Byrd as their "big target in free agency" and whiffed in favor of the Saints, forgetting that top-level players who toil away in obscurity for years aren't keen on rebooting their careers with perennial also-rans. Well, except for Tony Gonzalez, I guess.

... This was soon followed by ...

2.) buffoonish Falcons' fans celebrating like they orchestrated some third-rate coup when the Falcons signed Saints' safety Rafael Bush to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent. Of course, as always, #LoomisMath prevailed, the Saints matched the Falcons' offer, and Bush remained a Saint. Predictably, immense Falcons' butthurt ensued.

Just prior to that, the Saints signed Roland "Champ" Bailey to fortify the cornerback position. Before muddling though injuries in 2013, Bailey produced a stellar 2012 campaign that saw him make second-team All-Pro. A future Hall of Famer, Bailey possesses not only a worthy skill set, but he also offers a veteran presence that will replace, on an otherwise youthful defense, the longstanding leadership of the now-departed Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer, Will Smith, and Roman Harper.

With Bailey in the fold, the Saints now mirror on defense the valuable leadership credentials they boast on offense with Drew Brees.

As if all that wasn't enough, the Saints went out and used four of their six draft picks on defense: a cornerback with massive upside (think Akiem Hicks or Jimmy Graham), two linebackers, and a safety.

If you doubted the Saints were assembling a second championship run on the strength of their defense, may your skepticism now be revisited.

That's not, though, to minimize the importance of the offense in 2014.

However you prefer to frame it, and as good as the Saints' offense is, it's undeniable that they labored in 2013 like they rarely have since 2006. In weeks 11-16, the crucial six-game stretch of the team's schedule, the Saints averaged 17.8 points per game. For context, over the course of the entire season, that would have ranked the Saints 30th of 32 teams.

Aside from the offense's poorly-timed struggles during that stretch, Drew Brees performed wildly differently in home and road games. Brees' touchdown/interception ratio at home was an absurd 27/3; away from the Dome, it tumbled--precipitously--to 12/9.

In the Superdome, Brees' passer rating was an outstanding 126.3. On the road, it fell to a pedestrian 84.8. The 41.5 differential represented a significant 30%+ swing in efficiency, a deficit the Saints struggled to overcome in going 3-5 on the road (a road record, mind you, that ultimately prevented the Saints from securing the ever-essential homefield advantage for the postseason).

Combine those factors with the Saints' periodic troubles producing points down the stretch, and it represented an area that demanded attention.

Enter Brandin Cooks.

A 5'10 crate of dynamite, Cooks scored 18 touchdowns in his last season at Oregon State, led the nation in receiving yards, returned punts, and ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any wide receiver in this year's draft class.

Good enough?

Unsurprisingly the Saints traded up seven spots to draft Cooks in the first round, a player who compares favorably to both Steve Smith and Randall Cobb. More importantly, Cooks provides an element sorely lacking from the Saints' offense in 2013: a player capable of flipping the field, or scoring from anywhere, with the slightest of openings.

Cooks should pay immediate dividends and, alongside Kenny Stills, inject some additional youth into (what was last year) an aging wide receiving unit.

Here's Cooks' wide receiver coach from college:
“For me, it’ll be that he’s the gold standard of receivers going forward. He was the most complete football player that I’ve ever been around. For there to ever be another one to have all the things that he had … I couldn’t even imagine."

A former scout now with NFL Network, Daniel Jeremiah says of Cooks:
“The entire field is open to this guy. Courage is not a problem.”

Combined with Stills' presence as a downfield threat, Cooks will undoubtedly force opposing defenses to utilize what Bill Belichick calls the G.T.F.B. defense: "get the fuck back."

As a result, this should loosen up the middle of the field where Jimmy Graham dominates, an area Dr. Wang has analyzed and labeled "The Smooth Up In Your Jimmy Zone™."

Regardless, Brandin Cooks is set to play an immediate role in the Saints' offense, presumably inheriting a portion of Darren Sproles' touches and meanwhile looming as a legitimate Desean Jackson-esque downfield terror.


Not since Reggie Bush in 2006, or the raw Jimmy Graham in 2010, have the Saints drafted an offensive player with such potential who fits so seemingly perfect into the offense.

Listen to Mike Riley, a Sean Payton confidant and Cooks' head coach at Oregon State:
"[Cooks'] work ethic is at the highest level. His character is at the highest level. And of course, his talent speaks for itself ...
He is really competitive. I mean, really competitive ... He's always going the extra mile in everything he does. He'll be an immediate pro. He'll always be on time, and they'll never have any trouble with him ...
Everyone in New Orleans is really going to like him once he gets down there. He's just one of the guys and that's what makes him so special because for us he was kind of a superstar, but he never carried himself that way."

Umm. Sold.

The Saints' two key transactions this offseason were: 1.) signing an All Pro-level safety to produce turnovers, an area the Saints' defense struggled with last year; 2.) drafting this year's fastest, most productive wide receiver to kickstart the heart of the offense.

If you're judging the offseason by the addressing of major needs, then the Saints' moves rate as a surefire success.

Now the long march back to the Super Bowl continues.

The current Saints' roster appears to be the most talent-rich group ever assembled in New Orleans.

From a defensive line and secondary that both rate among the league's very best, to multiple future Hall of Famers, to three All-Pros on offense, to the Saints' all-time leader in every meaningful receiving category, to the excellent Thomas Morstead, to emerging talents like Kenny Stills, Khiry Robinson, and Brandin Cooks, the 2014 Saints are undeniably loaded.

What's their destiny?

I can't wait to find out.