Throughout 2016 season, the New Orleans Saints would consistently stray away from the game plan that they established early on in games. For instance, Drew Brees would hand the ball off to the running back, and if they gained 5 or more yards on the play, he would repeat the process during the next play. But if they didn’t, he would throw the ball to a receiver on a slant, curl, out, crossing routes or to the flat. The conservative strategy was an attempt to force the opposing team to stack the box which would hopefully give Brees man coverage down field. However, once the team accomplished the goal, they would abandon the running back and focus on the passing game. For example, Brees would throw the ball to a receiver on a seam or corner route as well as continue to implement the short passing game. Due to the abandonment of the running game, the offense spent less time on the field because of incompletions, interceptions, sacks or big plays that result in drives being cut short. As a consequence of this change in strategy, the offense gave the opposing team more opportunities to score on a defense; that couldn’t get around their blockers to generate pressure on the quarterback. Consequently, quarterbacks had ample time to analyze the defense and make the correct throw. In fact, according to teamrankings.com, the Saints offense was on the field for an average of “30:56” thus the defense was on the field for 29:04.
However, I expect the team to make a significant change to the offensive system this season due to the presence of Adrian Peterson. According to pro football reference, Adrian Peterson has amassed 11,747 rushing yards over a 10 year NFL career which currently places him 16th on the all-time rushing yards list. Due to this, the team should implement an offensive system that is centered around the running game and the play-action passing game. For instance, during the first two downs of a series, Drew Brees would hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram or Alvin Kamara in an attempt to force the opposing team to stack the box and set up a manageable third down. If the strategy is successful, the Saints would call a play action pass where Drew would fake the handoff and go in the opposite direction to throw the ball to the flat or the corner route five to ten yards down field. However, on occasion, Drew would fake the handoff to freeze the defense momentarily that allowed the receivers to get some separation as they try to complete a slant, in or out route. As a result of this, the Saints offense can stay on the field for a longer period, which means that the opposing team had less time to feast on their defense.
If this strategy goes according to plan, it should reduce the amount of time the defense spends on the field. As a result, it should lead them towards capturing a playoff spot in the NFC.
10/10/17 update: According to ESPN’s Dianna Russini, “The New Orleans Saints have traded Adrian Peterson to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional pick.” Although I previously stated that Adrian Peterson’s presence would force the team to run the ball, he didn’t have an impact on the Saints’ running game. According to Pro Football Reference, he carried the ball 27 times for 81 yards over four games.