After a season that saw the Saints establish the run (second-highest overall rush rate and second-highest rush rate when playing from behind), primarily due to injuries to Jameis Winston and a pass-catching corps consisting of Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, Tre’Quan Smith, Kenny Stills, and Ty Montgomery (all of whom are either no longer with the team or running with the second unit), we should realistically expect a more aggressive stance through the air from the Saints this year. It seems to have been lost in the turnover with this team that offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael once led this franchise to 14 consecutive seasons finishing in the top 10 in total offense. It also seems like a distant memory, but the Saints ranked top 10 in overall pass rate and third in pass rate when trailing in 2019 with an aging Drew Brees and Pete Carmichael at offensive coordinator. The promotion of previous defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to head coach means we’re likely to see Carmichael regain control of offensive play-calling duties. Another little-known fact surrounding Carmichael is this won’t be his first stint calling plays as Sean Payton routinely relinquished control of those duties throughout their time together, dating back to 2006. All of that should come together to form a situation where we can be confident in Carmichael designing (and calling) an offense best suited to maximize the talent on the field, and that talent on the field now includes wide receivers Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, rookie Chris Olave, running back Alvin Kamara, and tight ends Adam Trautman and Taysom Hill. Final note – the Saints offensive line has fallen all the way down to 21st overall in preseason rankings, per PFF.
Primary running back Alvin Kamara averaged a paltry 3.7 yards per tote in 2021, which was a full 0.9 yards per carry less than his previous career low (all the way back in 2018, when he averaged 4.6 yards per carry). That dip in efficiency is much more likely to be attributable to the one-dimensionality of the offense and the predictable nature of play calling, allowing additional emphasis to be placed on stopping the run. As in, there’s a higher percentage chance we see Kamara regain his per-touch efficiency rather than it is that Kamara has reached his career cliff. We can’t rely on net-adjusted line yards metrics (my primary indicator of a team’s matchup on the ground) for the first month of play, leaving us with the makeup of the opposing defense and defensive archetype as our fallback for analysis. The Falcons were ranked dead last in defensive line metrics in 2021 and were dealt an early blow this offseason with the retirement of Eddie Goldman. Other than star Grady Jarrett, there is a lot left to be desired from this defensive front. Primary nose tackle Anthony Rush will be charged with lead run-stopping duties, a player that has bounced around the league during his career. In all, consider this a plus matchup on the ground for the Saints. Behind Kamara, expect veteran Mark Ingram to reprise his role as the primary change of pace back. What remains to be seen is the workload distribution between the two, but I would tentatively expect we see Kamara in the 12-14 rush attempt and 4-6 target range on a standard week.
I alluded to the changing dynamics of this team through the air above, but it bears repeating here. The Saints are one of if not the team with the biggest improvement to pass-catchers in the league. They legitimately played every game last season with players that could barely crack NFL rosters; they now have three pristine route-runners in Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and Chris Olave, the latter of whom is probably the most polished route-runner to come out of this year’s draft. They also see the return of perennial gunslinger quarterback Jameis Winston, who missed 10 games last season with a torn ACL and accompanying MCL damage (suffered in Week 8). I would surmise that this team is going to approach winning games far differently than what we saw last season. The general composition of the offense should see Michael Thomas as the “X’ receiver, Chris Olave as the “Z” receiver, and Jarvis Landry as the “Y” receiver, but Olave’s ability to play both perimeter and slot snaps gives Carmichael a good deal of flexibility when it comes to offensive alignments. The relative lack of talent at the tight end position also should funnel expected production primarily through the wide receivers and Alvin Kamara, which, depending on health, could lead to relatively condensed targets in most weeks.