Saints Special Teams The loss of Darren Sproles may be felt the most on returns, but the Saints believe they have their answer in the combination of third-year pro Travaris Cadet and rookie Brandin Cooks. The kicking game could come down to 36-year-old kicker Shayne Graham and free agent Derek Dimke. Graham, a 12-year veteran, replaced Garrett Hartley with two games remaining in the regular season and was the hero of the Saints’ Wild Card win at Philadelphia, ignoring the elements and nailing his fourth field goal of the game, a 32-yard game-winner as time expired. The kickoff and punting duties are secure in the hands sixthyear pro Thomas Morstead, a six-year veteran, who averaged 64.7 yards per kickoff, with 52 of his 86 kickoffs going for touchbacks (tied for fourth in NFL). He also was among the NFL’s top punters, booming the ball 46.9 yards per punt (a long of 61), while dropping 25 of his 61 punts inside the 20 with nine coming to rest inside the 10. Prediction The Saints have seen plenty of success with Payton holding the clipboard and Brees under center. They are only five years removed from their Super Bowl victory and they’ve also alternated 13- and 11-win seasons—winning the South in those 13-win seasons. The Saints went 11-5 last year and will continue the trend, winning 13 games and the division. SCOREBOARD 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 PLAYOFF FINISH DIV - DIV WC SB REGULAR SEASON W-L 11-5 7-9 13-3 11-5 13-3 POINTS PER GAME 25.9 28.8 34.2 24.0 31.9 POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME 19.0 28.4 21.2 19.2 21.3 YARDS PER GAME 399.4 410.9 467.1 372.5 403.8 YARDS ALLOWED PER GAME 305.7 440.1 368.4 306.3 357.8 TURNOVERS 19 24 19 31 28 TAKEAWAYS 19 26 16 25 39 Key Additions: S Jairus Byrd, CB Champ Bailey, FS Erik Long Key Subtractions: RB Darren Sproles, T Charles Brown, DE Kenyon Coleman, FB Jed Collins, C Brian de la Puete, CB Jabari Greer, S Roman Harper, LB Will Herring, S Malcolm Jenkins, DE Tom Johnson, WR Lance Moore, DE Will Smith, LB Jonathan Vilma Rookies: WR Brandin Cooks (1st, No. 20), DB Stanley Jean- Baptiste (2nd, No. 58), ILB Khairl Fortt (4th, No. 126), SS Vinnie Sunseri (5th, No. 167), OT Tavon Rooks (6th, No. 202) Jimmy Graham CHRIS GRAYTHEN/GETTY IMAGES SPORT also improved dramatically against the rush, allowing 111.6 rushing yards per game and finishing 19th in the NFL, up from 32nd the year before when they were gashed for 147.6 yards per game. Things got better against the pass as well, as New Orleans gave up 194.1 ypg, second in the NFC and down from 292.6 from 2012. A major factor in the improvement was the big-time push up front led DE Cameron Jordan (12.5 sacks) and OLB Junior Galette (12), who frequently lined up as a rush end. The duo ranked third and fourth in the NFC in sacks and accounted for exactly half of the team’s sack total, which ranked fourth in the conference. Inside linebackers Curtis Lofton (a team-best 125 tackles, 82 solo) and David Hawthorne (91, 60) anchor the middle but also penetrate, as they tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (7). The secondary will look different, as longtime Saints cornerback Jabari Greer, and safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins are gone (New Orleans will still see Harper twice a year, however, as he signed with NFC South rival Carolina). But the Saints did well in addressing those departures, signing free agent free safety Jairus Byrd and 36-year-old, 16-year veteran corner Champ Bailey, who will likely start at left corner. Byrd and Bailey bring a combined 74 career interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries to “The Big Easy,” which should help a defense that managed only 19 turnovers last season. The Saints’ leading interceptor Keenan Lewis (four picks), the big free agent pickup from last off-season, is back at right corner, while 2013 firstround pick Kenny Vaccaro will start at strong safety. Defensive Player to Watch Jordan, 25, begins his fourth NFL season as one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers, after making a team-high 12.5 sacks in 2014, (third in the NFC). The former first-round pick of the Saints in 2011 (No. 24), has seen his sack numbers jump in each of his first three seasons (1.0 to 8.0 to 12.5), and is hungry for more. The 2013 Pro Bowler has proven to be durable, having yet to miss a game in his three seasons on the Bayou. He has a nose for the ball, having forced five fumbles and recovering five more in his career, including forcing and recovering two each of the last two years.
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