It's a harsh reality, but there's a huge void without Saints football for quite a while. 2021 holds a lot of uncertainty for New Orleans, but some of that is very exciting in a way. After another successful regular season campaign, the Saints were looking to make a deep postseason run. However, it stopped way short of expectations after being upset by the Bucs in the Divisional Round. The Super Bowl is coming, and a long offseason helps us reflect on things and look forward.
Bob Rose is doing a great job grading the defense in his series breakdowns, most recently looking in on the linebackers. We start with the offensive series today, focusing on the quarterback room.
Heading into 2020, we were just waiting on the Drew Brees returning announcement. That came in mid-February, as Brees was ready to make another run at it with the Saints. New Orleans started in a 1-2 hole after looking fairly strong in the season opener, but then started to figure some things out to go on a run like they've done over the past several season, winning nine straight games.
The run came with a cost, as Brees would be lost after the first half in the game against the 49ers. It was later revealed that he was playing with some fractured ribs suffered against the Bucs the week before, but also got more (11 total) in that game that was paired with a collapsed lung. Up until then, Brees played fairly well, dismissing the air yards infatuation in the process. He gave us more than a few memorable moments up until getting hurt, and was instrumental in the team winning games.
Enter Taysom Hill, who finally got a shot to start for New Orleans while Brees was out on injured reserve. Originally, some belief led many to think Jameis Winston would step in, especially after he came in during the second half against the 49ers. As Sean Payton explained, it was more due to him being the primary replacement option on game days, and a commitment was made to Hill prior to the new season on getting the chance to start. After all, we had been led to believe that he was the future quarterback of the team.
Hill came in against to beat the Falcons twice and the Broncos in an unorthodox type of game, but lost the Eagles. Overall, his games weren't bad, but the ball security was a problem. He fumbled 10 times in 2020, losing 5 of those. What was concerning for Hill's sample size was the decision-making and ability to go through reads and progressions. He held onto the ball a bit too long at times, and there were moments he had big plays on his hands. Although some of the things he did seemed like a carbon copy of Brees, like the cadence, it just didn't seem to have the effect like Teddy Bridgewater did the season before.
Brees eventually returned to play against the Chiefs in an important game for the Saints, but came up short. They'd close out the season with back-to-back wins and knock off the Bears in the Wild Card Round. The whole time we had been waiting for and building up to the offense getting back to full strength, and that's what they needed to keep going in the postseason. Unfortunately, it didn't happen for New Orleans, and led to their undoing.
Final Grade: B-
It was hard to watch how Drew Brees played in what was likely the final game of his illustrious career. He just didn't have it. His wife Brittany later revealed that Brees was playing with some injuries that didn't help his on-field performance. However, assessing the group overall isn't that difficult. When you win 12 games, something is working at quarterback. Whether it was through a Hill scramble or Brees pass, the Saints still had the league's 12th-best offense at 6,023 total yards (376.4 yards/game). They were 8th in the league on 3rd Down at a 44.7 percent conversion, averaging 30.1 points/game (5th). That simply doesn't happen if you don't have a good field general, and New Orleans did.
Going into the new season, it's uncertain what the Saints will do at quarterback. We gave some thoughts on it, which essentially concludes a quarterback battle ensuing for 2021 between Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston. Of course, we'll know that for sure in the coming weeks or months, but it certainly feels like New Orleans will be a different team with whoever leads them in the new year, and that's a bit exciting.