New Orleans Saints 2020 Season Recapby John Lepore January 24, 2021 0 comments
The New Orleans Saints’ season ended as it has for the previous three seasons – in disappointment. This looked like one of their best, and final, shots to get back to the Super Bowl. Alas, it isn’t happening, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be heading to Lambeau Field instead.
The 2020 season started off with a solid 34-23 win against the division rival Bucs and Tom Brady. The Black and Gold would lose to the Las Vegas Raiders opening their new home and then to the Green Bay Packers the following week. New Orleans then rolled off nine wins in a row including a Week 9 drubbing of the Bucs again to take a solid lead in the NFC South.
Back-to-back losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs would put them behind the Packers for the number one seed in the NFC. The Pack would hold up their end and hang onto the top spot and secure themselves a bye. The Saints, holding the second seed, played the Chicago Bears in the first round of the playoffs and while the offense showed some rust, the defense stepped up allowing just a field goal until a final second touchdown to old friend Jimmy Graham made the score 21-9.
Facing the Bucs and Brady for the third time would prove troublesome in the next round. In the battle of two future Hall-of-Famers, Brady got the better of Drew Brees. The Saints’ quarterback threw three picks and looked off all game. With Brees’ impending retirement and the cap hell the team finds itself in, the window may have closed and a rebuild looks to be in order.
What Went Right
Despite losing Michael Thomas for much of the season and Brees for four games, the Saints finished fifth in the NFL in points scored (482). Taysom Hill stepped into the starting role at QB for those four games and went 3-1. He played well totaling 1,043 yards from scrimmage (209 rushing) and scoring eight times (four rushing). Granted, those games were against the Atlanta Falcons twice and a Denver Broncos team with a practice squad player at QB. The loss came to the Philadelphia Eagles, but let’s take the positives where we can get them.
The defense played very well this season. Trey Hendrickson was a revelation on the defensive line as the 26-year-old had 13.5 sacks. David Onyemata stuffed the middle and had career highs in sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (10), QBHits (16), and tackles (44). Cameron Jordan was his usual solid self with 7.5 sacks and 11 TFL. He often saw double teams which allowed Hendrickson to shine on the other side. It also allowed the Saints to be a top-5 rushing defense.
As far as playing the pass, it was a team effort. The aforementioned defensive front contributed to the Saints having an NFC-leading 18 INTs. They didn’t have anyone in the secondary with more than three. Malcolm Jenkins, Janoris Jenkins, and Marcus Williams shared the team lead.
What Went Wrong
The Saints, and Brees, in particular, were exposed in the playoffs again. Only five of their games this season came against playoff teams – they went 3-2. New Orleans barely beat bad teams like the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Chargers. They also lost to the Raiders and Eagles. In the playoffs, the Saints are 3-4 in their last seven games. In those four losses, Brees has seven TDs and seven INTs. He has also only managed a 65.3 completion percentage (96-147) and 885 yards.
By no means am I laying all of the playoff disappointment at Brees’ feet. It is a team game after all and the future HOFer was banged up. Many fans will also point to the Minnesota Miracle, the non-call against the Rams, and those “bleeping” Vikings again last year. The only thing I would say is that if Brees would’ve played up to his usual self – 67.7 completion percentage, 280 passing yards, and a 2.35/1 TD/INT – those plays wouldn’t have mattered.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Alvin Kamara
This is a pretty obvious pick. Kamara led the team in both rushing and receiving. He had 1,688 yards from scrimmage and had an NFL-leading 21 TDs. With Thomas missing significant time Kamara set a career-high with 83 receptions. He also stood out as fellow NFL workhorses, Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey missed most of the season. The Saints need a new face of their franchise and Kamara showed he is ready to step into that role.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Cesar Ruiz
The first-round pick out of Michigan missed the first game of the season and only played six snaps in Week 2. After that Ruiz became a fixture at the right guard position. He played every snap in seven regular-season games as well as both of the Saints’ playoff matchups. He meshed well with his fellow linemen and got better in run blocking as the year went on. Ruiz also didn’t hurt the team with penalties. He was flagged only twice in 827 total snaps.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Malcolm Roach
The UDFA out of Texas fit in nicely with the defensive line rotation. He managed 16 tackles, two QBHits, and two TFL. While there weren’t many players to choose from here – Zack Baun being another rookie – Roach played well and got his feet wet in his limited time. With the Saints defensive line possibly looking at some cap casualties heading into next year, Roach could find himself in the mix for a significant increase in snaps.
Biggest Surprise – Trey Hendrickson
Another one here that is an obvious choice. Hendrickson had just 6.5 sacks coming into this season despite playing in 30 games from 2017-2019. Granted, 2020 saw him as a starter for 15 games while he only started three games previously. Nevertheless, Hendrickson turned it up a few notches and finished tied for the NFC lead in sacks with Aaron Donald (13.5).
Biggest Disappointment – Michael Thomas
After setting the single-season reception record just last year, Thomas had an up and down season. That’s somewhat understandable as he was injured in Week 1 and didn’t return until Week 9. He just wasn’t the playmaker the Saints were expecting. Thomas caught a career-low 72.7 percent of his targets and didn’t have a single TD this season. He scored once in the first-round playoff game against the Bears, but then was shutout completely against the Bucs. Much of Thomas’s value comes from him “catching everything” and being a reliable and consistent receiver. He did neither this season even in limited action.
One Burning Question
Who will be on the field for New Orleans next season?
This question has many levels. One thing that will surely have a profound effect on the answer is how the Saints navigate the huge deficit to get under the cap. Depending on where you look, the Saints are projected to be around $100 million over the cap. There will be plenty of cap casualties between the lines, but New Orleans has some depth especially on the defensive line. Another transition will be on the sidelines. Dan Campbell is now the head coach of the Lions and he brought along Aaron Glenn to be his defensive coordinator. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi could be on his way out as well as he is interviewing with the Seahawks and Chargers.
Things will have to fall into place for the Saints to still be a playoff squad in 2021. Sean Payton will need to draft well which he has shown he can do. He will also need to surround himself with solid coaches. Loomis will need to work his money magic to hang onto some integral parts. Luckily for New Orleans, they have some stars who won’t be going anywhere and a core they can build around. Obviously, the elephant in the room is who will replace Brees. Hill looks like the choice here. He gained some experience this season and is fairly cost-effective as far as starting NFL QBs go. They could also bring back Jameis Winston and/or sign a cheap backup.
Whatever unfolds in the Big Easy will be interesting. One thing is for certain – there will be a lot of new faces wearing Black and Gold next year.
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