The New Orleans Saints team that will be coming to Orchard Park this Sunday to play the Buffalo Bills is substantially different from last year’s team. Just how different? Below are three aspects of the team that have seen some major changes from what Bills fans will remember from last season.
The Passing game
When you think of the Saints, the first thing that comes to mind is a high-powered passing offense. For the past decade, New Orleans has sported one of the most prolific passing attacks in NFL history, powered by a combination of quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton. This year however, the team has become a much more balanced offense. Despite featuring dynamic players like Michael Thomas and now Alvin Kamara, Drew Brees is on pace for his lowest passing yards-per-game output since 2007 at 276. He’s only passed for over 300 yards twice this year. As his completion percentage (71%) and his yards-per-attempt (8.1) are both around his career average, it’s safe to say that he’s been just effective as he always been on a per-play basis. The Saints are passing less, but just as effectively.
The Running game
As the Saints offense has become more balanced, the primary beneficiary has been the run game. The Saints are on pace to attempt 50 more rushes than they did all of last year. The addition of Alvin Kamara to the Saints rushing attack has given the team something it has been lacking the past few years; a home-run threat. While he only averages six rushes per game, his yards-per-rush is 6.0. His yardage comes in chunks. When paired with his contributions in the passing and return game, the Saints have themselves a dangerous multi-purpose weapon. Mark Ingram has continued to be the work-horse back, often pounding the ball in between the tackles. He has been matching his averages for the past few years.
Although they may be beneficiaries of facing weak offenses to begin the year, the addition of players like Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and Alex Anzalone have helped to completely turn around the Saints defense. In 2016 they were among the worst defenses in football in both yardage and points allowed. This year, they are ranked 8th in points and 13th in total yardage. Improved coverage in the back end of the defense has led to a dramatic rise in the team’s sacks-per-game (2.8) from last year (1.8). Unlike the Bills, this turnaround cannot be attributed to taking greater care of the football, as the Saints only have a +3 turnover differential. If you’re looking for a reason this team is on a six-game winning streak, it’s the defense.