In the fifteen years that Sean Payton has been the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, his teams have had an offense ranked in the top-five of the league in either points scored or yardage fourteen times.
Payton has had one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history to run that offense during his tenure with the Saints. Drew Brees owns a chapter of NFL records and fueled the historically productive New Orleans attack.
Brees retired this offseason, leaving many experts to believe that the New Orleans offense will no longer be among the league's elite. The New Orleans offense had their struggles in 2020 with Brees injured and in decline, along with several injuries to their receiving corps.
Jameis Winston is expected to replace Brees as the starting quarterback for the Saints in 2021. The 27-year-old Winston was the first overall pick of the 2015 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Winston has completed over 61% of his career attempts and threw for a league-high 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2019, but has also thrown for 88 career interceptions.
All eyes will be on Winston as he faces the monumental task of trying to replace Brees. He’ll have plenty of talent around him, more than what he ever had in Tampa Bay.
Here are four reasons to believe that New Orleans will continue to have one of the NFL's most effective offenses, even without the incomparable Brees in charge.
1. OFFENSIVE LINE
Most football coaches at any level believe that the biggest key to building a consistent winner is to dominate in the trenches. The Saints have had arguably the NFL's best offensive line for the last four seasons.
Left tackle Terron Armstead and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk are among the league's best at their positions and make up the best tandem of tackles in the NFL. Erik McCoy is a Pro Bowl-caliber interior lineman.
Guard Andrus Peat has been voted to three Pro Bowls. G/C Cesar Ruiz was a Number 1 draft choice in 2020 and is expected to be even better in his second season.
New Orleans has bullied opponents and imposed its will on defenses in recent years. They are the best pass-blocking unit in the NFL and routinely shut down the league's elite pass rushers.
The New Orleans rushing attack has also been an underrated part of the team’s success and has ranked near the top of the league over the last few seasons.
2. MICHAEL THOMAS
Another major reason for the struggles of the New Orleans passing attack last season was because of a serious ankle injury suffered by All-Pro WR Michael Thomas in the season opener.
Thomas missed nine games last season. He was severely limited when able to play and was not nearly the same player when he was on the field, catching only 45 passes for 511 yards.
When healthy, Thomas is an unstoppable weapon through the intermediate zones of a defense. He has elite hands and route-running ability with the physicality to overwhelm most defensive backs.
The 28-year-old Thomas set NFL records for productivity over his first four years and led the league in receptions in 2018 and 2019. He was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 when he led the league with 1,725 receiving yards and an NFL-record 149 receptions.
Thomas had unbelievable chemistry with Brees but showed that he is just as effective without his Hall of Fame quarterback. In nine games without Brees in 2019 and 2020, Thomas has 72 receptions for 894 yards.
3. ALVIN KAMARA
Kamara was the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and has made the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons, but was at his best in 2020.
Coming off an injury-plagued campaign in 2019, Kamara rebounded to rush for a career-high 932 yards and 16 touchdowns, adding a career-high 83 receptions for 756 yards and 5 scores.
Often the team's primary offensive threat, Kamara remained effective even under extra attention from opposing defenses. With injuries depleting the team's receiving corps last season, he was often the primary receiver for the passing attack.
Kamara has amazing balance and vision, enabling him to break through traffic and into the open field. His elite receiving skills make him the most versatile offensive weapon in the National Football League.
Kamara, who turns 26 in July, is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He has proven to be an effective runner between the tackles and is one of the league's most dangerous receivers not just out of the backfield, but from anywhere along the offensive formation.
4. SEAN PAYTON
The Saints had the luxury of Drew Brees behind center for fifteen seasons, but their coach is considered one of the best offensive minds in NFL history.
Sean Payton is a master at putting together game plans specifically designed for exploiting an opponent's weakness on defense. His system highlight what his players do best, and his personnel packages keep defenses on their heels throughout a game.
Payton is one of the NFL's most aggressive play-callers. His game plans keep pressure on the opposition, often even affecting their own offensive game plans to keep pace with New Orleans.
An expert innovator, Payton's system helped develop the versatile talents of a weapon like Taysom Hill and has made several undrafted and overlooked talent into productive and effective players for the Saints.
The 2021 New Orleans offense will revolve around the elite skills of Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and their bruising offensive line.
Complementary players such as Hill, RB Latavius Murray, TE Adam Trautman, and wideouts Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, and Tre'Quan Smith will also have bigger roles.
Replacing a once-in-a-lifetime player like Drew Brees is a daunting task. The New Orleans offense is well-equipped to maintain its status as one of the NFL's best units.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.
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