The post-Drew Brees experience in New Orleans has been nothing short of miserable for a fanbase fresh off four-straight promising playoff appearances. While Jameis showed flashes of franchise potential, his 2021 performance still warranted the addition of veteran QB Andy Dalton for the 2022 campaign. The result was a third-place finish in a truly abysmal NFC South. With the offseason well underway, it’s time to examine the offense position-by-position.
There are few football fans, coaches, owners, or players who would deny that the most important position on the football field is quarterback. Aside from a few dominant defenses carrying the likes of Jim McMahon, Brad Johnson, and Trent Dilfer to Super Bowl victories; the salary, performance, and leadership of a quarterback are the greatest indication of a franchise’s ceiling in any given season. Entering 2022 with any combination of Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, and Taysom Hill was bound to end up somewhere south of .500.
The most prominent memory of Andy Dalton’s 2022 performance was a TNF matchup in late October against the Arizona Cardinals. Overcoming an early interception, Dalton kept the Saints ahead until the two minute warning. At this point, the national audience witnessed Dalton pick-sixes on two consecutive drives to go into the half. What had been a great primetime matchup disintegrated quickly into a blowout undeserving of a second half.
Unfortunately, that was one of the more productive games Dalton would have in 2022 (361 YDS, 4 TDS, 3 INTs). In fourteen starts, Dalton managed just eighteen touchdowns, threw nine interceptions, and wrapped the season with a QBR of 50.7 (21st in the NFL).
Jameis Winston’s season was shut down after just three games. Following a promising week one 2 TD, 0 INT performance in a win over the division-rival Falcons, Jameis threw 5 interceptions over the next two weeks before being pulled for spinal injuries. Whether or not his back eventually healed, Dennis Allen and company decided to not put Winston back into the starting lineup.
Alvin Kamara has been widely regarded as one of the league’s best running backs for the majority of the half-decade since he was drafted in 2017, but he quietly has yet to record a 1,000 yard rushing season. Usually this short-coming would be accompanied by a dominant receiving performance, but for the second year in a row, he fell short of 500 receiving yards.
The two-time second-team All-Pro took the league by storm with a twenty-one touchdown performance in 2020. In 2021 he more than halved that touchdown total down to nine. He repeated the process in 2022, finishing with just four.
Kamara’s decline resulted in the addition of Eno Benjamin and Mark Ingram who each put up a combined 546 YDS and 3 TDS.
How much of Kamara’s relative drop in performance can be blamed on the departure of Sean Peyton and Drew Brees is unclear, but the position group is a fraction of what it was just a couple seasons ago.
For the first couple weeks of the 2022 season, it looked like Saints fans would get to experience a Michael Thomas and Chris Olave duo. Thomas, after missing the better part of two years with an ankle injury, began the season reeling in three of Jameis Winston’s only four touchdown passes of the season. Him and Jameis both left the week three game against Carolina and neither saw the field again in 2022.
If there is one positive offensive takeaway from the Saints 2022 campaign, it’s the performance of Chris Olave. The first-round rookie caught 72 passes for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns. It may not have been a pro bowl performance, but the 1,000 yard mark is a big ask for a first-year receiver, especially with Andy Dalton at quarterback.
With Thomas’ injury, the Saints ended up relying on undrafted rookie Rashid Shaheed to be their #2 receiver. Shaheed’s deep ball ability was underutilized this year, and should see his role expand in 2023. Coaches and fans should be excited to see him not have to make adjustments to off target balls from the Dalton-Winston-Hill conglomerate.
The Saints relied heavily on Juwan Johnson, a third year tight end who had only seen thirty-two targets in his first two seasons. Johnson finished the season with over 500 yards and 7 touchdowns. At 6’4″ and 231 lbs, Johnson is just one inch shorter and five pounds lighter than Calvin Johnson, and plays like a true hybrid TE.
Early in the season against the Falcons he took flight with a hurdle that fully cleared cornerback A.J. Terrell. The Saints liked to put him in the slot and target him on 10-15 yard curls and out routes. Whoever the quarterback is for the 2023 season, there is no doubt that Johnson will see his targets increase.
The Saints other third-year TE, Adam Trautman, struggled with injury early in the season and his role was quickly filled by Juwan. Still, he contributed 207 yards and a touchdown on one of the NFL’s least impressive offenses.
While the Saints have felt the void left by Terron Armstead, their offensive line shouldn’t have to absorb much of the blame for the offensive ineptitude in 2022. The line shifted before the season even began after losing first-round rookie Trevor Penning in August to a multi-month injury. When Penning returned late in the year, he allowed zero sacks on 124 snaps taken (PFF).
The Saints offensive line allowed thirty-eight sacks in 2022, placing them in the better half of the league average (40.5). They also allowed 11 of those sacks in the first three games while Winston was at quarterback.
Beginning 2023 without an injury to the starting left tackle could be enough to bring next year’s sack total down into the low thirties-high twenties.
Nobody, not even the Saints, were fooled by Hill’s in-name-only transition to tight end ahead of the 2023 season. Hill’s production came mostly as a running back, finishing as the team’s second leading rusher behind Kamara, and led the team in rushing touchdowns for a second consecutive season.
Three of his seven rushing touchdowns came in a week five win against the Seahawks, a game in which he also threw a twenty-two yard touchdown to actual tight end, Adam Trautman.
With Sean Peyton taking the head coach position in Denver, keep an eye on Hill and his recently restructured contract this offseason.
The Dennis Allen led Saints finished 2022 with their lowest win percentage since 2005, the year before Sean Peyton’s arrival (.410). They are saddled with two quarterbacks who wouldn’t be considered starters on more than a handful of NFL teams.
At the moment, they benefit from simply existing within the NFC South, where their rivals are quarterbacked by Kyle Trask (?), Desmond Ridder, and Sam Darnold. They deserve credit for moving up to draft Chris Olave, finding the upside of Juwan Johnson, and quickly replacing Armstead with a promising young left tackle, but quarterback talent will always decide a team’s ceiling.
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