After going 7-9 last year and losing Jimmy Graham in the offseason, the New Orleans Saints enter 2015 with quite a few question marks. Yes, Drew Brees is back, and yes, Sean Payton is back, but there will be a lot of new faces in a lot of new places.
What is the expectation and excitement level in the Big Easy this season?
“It’s kind of mixed depending on who you ask,” Saints sideline reporter Kristian Garic said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “There’s optimism, but then there’s also skepticism at the same time. At wide receiver, there’s a lot of unanswered questions. At outside linebacker in terms of pass rusher – because listen, when you say outside linebacker in this league and you say defensive end, it’s all about really getting after the passer, and they don’t have that right now after they parted ways with Junior Galette – and he was their best pass rusher. They have a lot of unknowns on this team. They’ve got some talent, but it’s unproven at wide receiver and outside linebacker. The offensive line should be better this year, the running back corps should be better – but there’s some questions when you talk about this team, in particular at wide receiver and outside linebacker in terms of pass rushing. They’ve got one sack in three preseason games. I know it’s just the preseason – so there’s not a lot to be made of that – but man, trends seem to find their way from the preseason to the regular season, and that’s something that Saints fans are certainly paying attention to.”
They’re also paying attention to the team’s red-zone struggles. If the preseason is any indication, losing Graham – who caught 46 touchdowns over the last four seasons – will be as big as pretty much everyone thought it would.
“When they’ve gotten in the red zone, they’ve kind of bogged down a little bit because they don’t have Jimmy Graham,” Garic said. “He was pretty much automatic. That was a mismatch that Sean Payton and Drew Brees capitalized on a lot. We just don’t know yet (who’s going to fill that role). It is the preseason, but also when you look at it, they don’t have that distinct advantage or mismatch in the red zone – and that’s why I think the biggest impact is going to be felt by the loss of Jimmy Graham.”
As a result, the Saints may lean more on the ground game this year, especially on Mark Ingram, who rushed for 964 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
“He’s kind of rounded into a little bit more of an every-down running back, which surprised me,” Garic said. “Listen, I was highly critical of him the last couple of years because I thought he was predictable. I thought the offense was predictable when he was in the game – it was going to be pretty much a run or a play-action – but he’s been more involved in the passing game than I thought he would be. Some of that has to do with C.J. Spiller being out in the preseason and also the emergence of Khiry Robinson, but look, if you’re a fantasy player, I think you can realistically expect 800 to 1,000 yards from Mark Ingram on the ground this year. He’s going to be their bell-cow running back – and typically under Sean Payton and Drew Brees, they haven’t featured a running back. But he’s going to be the closest thing to a featured running back that they’ve had here since maybe Deuce McAllister in 2006.”