The New Orleans Saints finished the 2021-22 season at 9-8. Despite a late season surge, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
The Saints have annually been one of the league's most productive offenses since head coach Sean Payton took over in 2006. In Payton's first 14 years on the sidelines, his Saints were ranked in the top-10 in total offense 13 times, including nine seasons ranking first or second.
That was not the case in 2021. Already dealing with the retirement of legendary QB Drew Brees, the Saints lost QB Jameis Winston to a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game. All-Pro WR Michael Thomas and K Wil Lutz never played a down this year because of their own injuries.
New Orleans also lost LG Andrus Peat for the year in Week 7. Star C Erik McCoy missed four games early in the year and elite tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk missed a combined 16 outings down the stretch of the season.
With a normally dominant New Orleans offensive line often short-handed, the entire unit was crippled. Making matters worse, skill positions short on talent also had to do without key players. Alvin Kamara, WR Deonte Harty, RB Mark Ingram, WR Tre'Quan Smith, and TE Adam Trautman all missed at least five games.
A battered offensive unit short on talent at crucial spots led to the worst production in Payton's tenure. Here is how the 2021 New Orleans offense ranked.
- Yards = 28th (304.5 yards per game)
- Points = 19th (21.4/game)
- Red-zone = 18th
- Third Downs = 30th
- Turnovers = 6th (18)
- Yards = 32nd (187.4/game)
- Completion Percentage = 58%
- Touchdowns = 29 (11th)
- Interceptions = 13 (11th)
- Sacks = 37
- Yards = 15th (117/game)
- Average per carry = 28th (3.9)
- Touchdowns = 12 (24th)
- Jameis Winston: 59%, 1,170 yards, 14 TD, 3 INT.
- Trevor Siemian: 57.4%, 1,154 yards, 11 TD 3 INT.
- Taysom Hill: 58.2%, 978 yards, 4 TD, 5 INT
- Alvin Kamara: 898 yards (3.7/carry) 4 TD
- Taysom Hill: 374 yards (5.3) 5 TD
- Mark Ingram: 260 yards (3.8) 1 TD
- Alvin Kamara: 47 receptions, 439 yards, 5 TD
- Marquez Callaway: 46 rec. 698 yards, 6 TD
- Deonte Harty: 36 rec., 570 yards, 3 TD
- Tre'Quan Smith: 32 rec., 377 yards, 3 TD
- Adam Trautman: 27 rec., 263 yards, 2 TD
For the first time since 1999, the Saints started 4 quarterbacks in the same season. Winston was coming along until his injury. Siemian was effective late in his four starts, but made crucial mistakes early in games.
Hill broke a finger on his throwing hand in his first start against Dallas and still needs work on his mechanics. Incredibly, the Saints were the only NFL team without a 300-yard game through the air in 2021.
As expected, Kamara often carried the offense. He wasn't as effective as a receiver as he'd been through his first four seasons, but that was mostly because of inconsistencies at quarterback. He's still the NFL's most versatile offensive weapon and had a season-high 10 receptions for 128 yards in a win at Seattle.
Because of extra defensive attention and the lack of weapons around him, the Saints had difficulty getting their explosive playmaker in space. Kamara averaged a career-worst 3.7 per carry. He also had five games with at least 80 yards on the ground, including three 100-yard outings.
Hill’s best attribute is still his legs and physical running style. At quarterback, he adds a critical dimension to the rushing attack. Ingram was a valuable addition as a mid-season trade and became the franchise's all-time rushing leader this season.
The Saints receiving corps was easily the worst in the league. New Orleans had just one 100-yard game from a wideout or tight end, by Callaway in Week 15. They were one of only three teams in the league to get just one 100-yard outing from the position.
Callaway and Deonte Harty both showed better route running and consistency as the season progressed. The rest of the position needs a major upgrade this offseason, even with the return of Michael Thomas.
New Orleans also got abysmal production from their tight ends. Trautman, Juwan Johnson, and veteran Nick Vannett caught 7 touchdowns, but combined for a meager 49 receptions and 555 yards. Nineteen teams had a single tight end with more catches or yards by themselves.
Injuries and ineffectiveness caused the Saints to have their most unproductive offensive season under Sean Payton. The team still needs to answer questions at the quarterback position and should be expected to address the receiver position and offensive line this offseason.
Payton is too good an offensive mind and the Saints have too much talent already in place to see another dismal offense in 2022.