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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Playoffs Preview: New Orleans Saints

Offensive MVPs: QB Drew Brees

I understand 2010 was considered a "down year" for Drew Brees (throwing at least 1 interception in each of his last 12 games) having thrown 22 interceptions. Nevertheless, withstanding injuries at the tailback position, and at tight end, Brees still found ways to win football games. In 11 of 16 games in 2010, Brees threw 2 or more touchdowns, totaling 33 in the 2010 season. Brees' leadership has been the most valuable of all his contributions. 

Defensive MVP: FS Malcolm Jenkins

If you ask anyone who truly watches the New Orleans Saints, the biggest impact on defense has been the play of Malcolm Jenkins. Replacing last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Darren Sharper who was a spark plug to the turnover hungry Saints defense. This year has been much different however following the loss of Sharper. Not as many turnovers forced, more turnovers given, but a defense that legitimately is one of the best in the NFC. Last season a ton of yards were allowed, but turnovers masked the weaknesses. This season, Jenkins insertion into the lineup has improved the defensive secondary, especially in pass coverage as he can cover sideline to sideline. A late season injury to Jenkins could deeply hurt the Saints chances at a 2nd Super Bowl, and Jenkins great impact will be realized.

Drew Brees at Atlanta on MNF
Best Win: Week 16 - At Atlanta on MNF

A defining moment in the Saints season, people across the nation saw that the Saints can actually play defense against top notch teams. Atlanta, the number one seed in the NFC, struggled versus the Saints secondary particularly until late in the ball game. A forced fumble at the goal line by the Saints D turned the tide, and Drew Brees proceeded to put the team on his back and lead them to victory. The Saints believe in themselves that they can beat any team, anywhere, at any time.

Rookie Grade: B+

Injuries throughout the season at the running back and tight end positions, forced rookies Chris Ivory and Jimmy Graham into vital roles within the Saints offensive scheme. Chris Ivory, undrafted rookie from Washington St. had numerous off field issues involving a criminal record, performed remarkably well; Ivory averaged over 5 yards per carry, rushing for over 700 yards, and amassing 5 touchdowns.

Jimmy Graham versus TB, injured his ankle
Jimmy Graham, drafted in the 3rd round by the Saints, was counted upon by Brees following Jeremy Shockey's rib injury. Graham proved very productive with 31 receptions, 356 yards receiving, and 5 TDs. Graham who recently injured his ankle, must be healthy in the playoffs in order that the Saints return to the Super Bowl.

How Can They Make It To The Super Bowl: Saints need to fill in holes left by injury and Drew Brees needs to stop throwing picks 

There are several key injuries to impact players, Malcolm Jenkins, Jimmy Graham, Anthony Hargrove, and Danny Clark; each of these players have been unable to practice and will need to get back to health before the playoffs begin. If either these players get healthy or backups step up and perform at a high level, then the Saints have a great opportunity to get to where they were last season.

Drew Brees must play at a similarly high level as he did last postseason, cut down on interceptions, and ultimately put the team on his back. Brees' play will determine the success/failure of this Saints offense in the 2011 postseason. All in all, its tough to bet against a competitor or winner like Drew Brees. This Saints team, despite its weaknesses, has one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and certainly has a shot at returning to the Super Bowl.

UPDATE (1-6-11 7:00 p.m. CT) : Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas placed on IR, ending both players seasons officially.

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