Pro wrestling legend Ric Flair had one of the greatest mottos to live by when it came to being a successful wrestler; “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” Due to their successful 2017 season, the New Orleans Saints find themselves with a very difficult 1st place schedule this year; but yet I find myself believing this team is ripe for success and will be able to keep their fan base smiling in the upcoming season.
After a heartbreaking last-second loss to the Vikings abruptly halted the Saints’ chances for a Super Bowl run, Saints fans have a reason for optimism as the 2018 season approaches. Beginning with the draft this year, it was easy to see that the Saints front office believes they are very close to getting back to the promise land.
Needing another pass rusher opposite Cam Jordan, New Orleans pushed all their chips in play to select Marcus Davenport from the University of Texas San Antonio. Davenport impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl with his “raw” talent and get off on the ball.
I certainly do not fault the organization for selecting him. He has all the ability necessary to make him a great complement to the Saints front four. I believe not only Jordan will benefit, but also Sheldon Rankins. He will become the monster in the middle looking to push the pocket and become a quarterback’s nightmare.
The Saints are improved defensively, when you add Davenport to the mix, along with free agent signings Patrick Robinson, Demario Davis and Kurt Coleman. The Saints need to find a way to stop the run. Davis — a signee from the Jets — has made a reputation as being a run stopper. When you pair him with Tyeler Davison, the run defense will be improved.
The linebacking corps may be the best it’s been in the Sean Payton Era. Craig Robertson has been a pleasant surprise since donning the black and gold. He has overachieved what most fans expected of him. Add in Manti Te’o, Alex Anzalone, and AJ Klein, and I feel confident that this group has the potential to be the strength of the defense.
Moving on to the secondary, Robinson left the Saints after disappointing play. After a few years with the Philadelphia Eagles, he has proven to be a great slot corner. Marshon Lattimore proved himself a valuable piece last year and the sky is the limit with his ability as a shutdown corner.
Marcus Williams has had a bad taste in his mouth since the “non-tackle” in the Vikings game. He will rebound and prove to Saints fans that he is out for revenge.
It was Mike Triplett — the Saints beat reporter for ESPN — who summed it up well when asked what he thought about this year’s team: “They are capable of winning games with their defense when the offense is underachieving, and the offense is more than capable of winning games when the defense is not having its best performance.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The two teams that finished ahead of the Saints in the NFC, the Eagles and Vikings, both appear on the Saints schedule this year. Added to those games, the Saints also host the Rams who gave the Saints one of their losses last season. Combine that with NFC South games and games against the AFC North, the Saints have an uphill battle facing them.
I do like the fact that the Saints face some of their more challenging opponents in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Along with hosting the Browns, Buccaneers, Falcons, and Panthers, the Saints also lay out the welcome mat for the Rams, Eagles, Steelers, and the Redskins.
It is critical that the Saints control their home turf in order to have the success they are capable of. Building off a 7-1 home record last season, I am confident the Saints will be up to the challenge.
Now on to discussing the offense, the Saints will be locked and loaded and will continue to be a nightmare to defensive coordinators around the league. Drew Brees continues to be a surgeon with the football in his hands. He is the best quarterback in the league at distributing the ball to his teammates. Despite the fact the Saints will be without starting #1 RB Mark Ingram the first four games, the offense will continue to thrive under #9.
Additionally, the Black and Gold welcomed back veteran tight end Ben Watson, who was a key piece of offense his first go- round and will look to build off impressive years with the Baltimore Ravens. Third-round pick WR Tre’Quan Smith will look to make a name for himself along with Cam Meredith, whose big-play ability could prove to pay off huge. He is another big, athletic target similar to Michael Thomas. IF his signing pays off like I believe it will, this team could very well have one of the best receiving corps in the league.
And of course: Alvin Kamara already made a big impression last year and will look to continue having success his sophomore year. I expect the offense to continue to thrive under Payton.
Make no mistake about it, the offense is and will continue to be the strength of this team. As long as Brees is under center, there is no team in the league that should truly frighten them.
Having trailed the ferocious Vikings team by 17 in the playoffs, Drew’s cool and calm manner led the Saints back to a heroic 2nd half performance, ultimately having it dwindled away by a last-second defensive mental lapse.
Not only Marcus Williams, but the entire team still has that nightmare in mind, and they will look to wreak havoc on any and every opponent they face in 2018.