Since the Payton/Brees era began in 2006, the New Orleans Saints offense has been a constant presence in the top 5 across all major offensive statistics. This year was no different. As we watched the high-octane offense feed off of opportunities created by a revamped and entertaining defense, an excitement arose among the fanbase comparable of that 2009 Super Bowl team. As we move ahead to the city’s first home playoff game since 2011, I want to delve deeper into the kinship between the 2009 and 2017 Saints teams and discuss what makes this team different, for better or worse. We’ll start with team statistics and then go into individual/group comparisons.
In terms of team league rankings, the offenses land in the same general area – within or just outside of top 5. In the chart below, you’ll see that the 2017 team did not finish with as many first place rankings as they did in 2009, but kept within the top 5 in as many major categories. The 2017 team only really strayed away from their 2009 productivity in points scored and point differential, other than that their passing game kept pace and the improved rushing attack improved on the 2009 landing point despite not blossoming until 5 weeks in.
When we look at the stats, you can clearly see that both years’ offenses produced similarly in teams of yardage. The largest deficit being a mere 202 yard difference in total yardage. Though it should be noted that Drew Brees only played 15 of 16 games in 2009. So these deficits might have been different had he not been able to sit out the final game that season. The other two glaring differences can be found in scoring and giveaways. The 2009 Saints scored quite a bit more on offense than the 2017 Saints did, a difference of 9 and 32 points. (Both offense and PAT/2-pt only) Meanwhile, the 2017 Saints were much more protective of the football, differing by 10 giveaways.
2009 – Drew Brees
2017 – Still Drew Brees
Drew Brees has been, save Sean Payton, the most important player to the Saints franchise the last 12 seasons. He revitalized the organization in 2006, led the club to its first ever Super Bowl appearance and victory, has set record after record after record, and is now leading the way once again to another promising playoff appearance while continuing to do wonderful things for the city of New Orleans. When comparing his play this year with his 2009 output, there are a lot of similarities. However, there are some interesting differences.
It’s easy to see that Drew’s productivity in passing game hasn’t lost a step at all. In 2009, he was 6th in passing yards but was 4th in 2017. Both years he topped 4,300 yards passing and completed more than 70% of his passes. Both of those marks set the NFL record for completion percentage in their respective years, a record for which he owns 3 of the top 4 spots. I was surprised to see that he threw 22 more passes this year despite the improved run game. Even though he played a full game more this season than in 2009, I expected fewer attempts. Brees was a big part of the aforementioned team ball security after never losing a fumble all season and throwing less than 10 interceptions for the second time in his career when attempting more than 350 passes. That led to a 9 turnover swing in the right direction in 2017. Another stat that stood out was the number of passes at or beyond 20 yards. In 2009 he threw 58 which was good for 7th in the league. This year: 72, 1st in the league. So much for all that regression talk. Brees did throw 13 fewer TDs this season, but that speaks more of the defense, which I’ll write more about in my next article.
2009 – Mike Bell, Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush
2017 – Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara
It’s plain to see that this year’s running back corps was a major factor in the passing game seeing a 46% increase in targets and a 91% increase in receiving yards. The rushing stats are pretty close despite having almost 40 fewer carries between the two 2017 backs. All-Purpose yardage was a huge deal this year as the duo of Ingram and Kamara became the first pair of RBs to combine for over 3,000 yards since Walter Payton and Roland Harper in 1978. Ingram and Kamara are also the first ever RB duo to each amass more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. This is an obvious advantage to this year’s group.
2009 – Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachum
2017 – Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon Coleman
This is as obvious as the running back situation, but in favor of the 2009 team. With the success of the running game this year, the passing attack sort of took a back seat until needed- and sometimes longer. But still, that’s a skewed perspective considering that Alvin Kamara adds 100 targets, 81 catches, 826 yards and 5 touchdowns in place of Brandon Coleman’s 37, 23, 364, and 3 respectively. The game completely changes with the rookie from the backfield gets thrown into the mix. That being said tough, the trio of Colston, Henderson, and Meachum combined for 2,701 yards from scrimmage, 41% of the Saints’ total offense. This year, Thomas, Ginn, and Coleman combined for 39%.
2009 – Jeremy Shockey
2017 – Coby Fleener
I mean, there’s not a ton of comparison here. Both Fleener and Shockey missed some time, but Shockey was targeted more often than Fleener, thus gather more catches and yards. However, Fleener had a great catch %, which should come as a surprise to Saints fans. Fleener also had the upper hand in yards per catch 13.4 to 11.9.
Saints Tight Ends this year played the role of pass blockers for the most part. Likely having to do with the lack of pass-catching ability across the board. That lack is more heavily defined by the style of play in New Orleans than it is by the personal abilities of the players.
2009 – Jermon Bushrod, Carl Nicks, Jonathan Goodwin, Jahri Evans, Jon Stinchcomb, Zach Strief
2017 – Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, Ryan Ramczyk, Zach Strief, Senio Kelemete
Both of these offensive lines were some of the best of their year. This year’s line ranked top five in rushing yards (5th), avg. (T-1st), rushing TDs (1st), 20+ yard rushes (T-2nd), and 40+ yard rushes (1st).The have also given up the 2nd least sacks and QB hits. The 2009 team finished in the top five for two stats; rushing avg. (T-4th) and rushing TDs (T-2nd). They also have up the 2nd fewest QB hits and 4th fewest Sacks.
The fact of the matter is that both years had fantastic offensive lines. It leaves no wonder at all that they paved the way to the success of each team. The 2017 team had a bit more shuffling to do. In 2009, every player on the O-line started every game except for Jermon Bushrod who was spelled by a young Zach Strief for two games. Both teams ranked 4th in the league when it came to 1st downs to the right side, but the 2017 team was first in 10+ yard rushes to that side, which was mostly manned by rookie Ryan Ramczyk who turned out to be an absolute steal at the 32nd overall pick.
I’d score this in the 2017 team’s favor. 2017: 3 (QB, RB, Oline) and 2009: 2 (WR & League Rankings) Now that the playoffs begin for the Saints in just a couple of days, all of this will be moot unless the 2017 can bring home another Lombardi trophy. The stats, productivity, and records are great, but these teams are focused on getting to and closing out a single game in February.
Soon, I’ll run through another comparison of the defenses of both squads. Which, I suspect, are skewed quite a bit to one direction.