The Saints’ stunning improvement over the last two seasons is cemented by the numbers. In 2015, the Saints’ point differential was minus-68. It improved to a plus-15 one year later, and, in 2017, the Saints scored 122 more points than their opponents in 16 regular-season games.
That means, on average per game, the Saints were eight points better than the opposition.
In that three-year stretch, the Saints have retooled their offensive and defensive lines, and that philosophy has paid handsome dividends.
Since 2015, center Max Unger and guard Larry Warford have joined via free agency. And, the draft has yielded guard Andrus Peat, tackle Ryan Ramcyzk and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
The same tack was taken in another NFC locale, and it paid off last February with a Super Bowl title. In the week before the win over the Patriots, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman spoke with nfl.com’s Gregg Rosenthal. The topic was the Eagles’ insistence on being outstanding on both lines.
“Thirty-two teams say they believe in lines, but sometimes you have to go overboard in that,” said Roseman. “It has been our priority, certainly the last two years, to build along the lines.”
With a withering and deep pass rush and the ability to run the football, the Eagles won the Super Bowl, despite losing starting quarterback Carson Wentz to season-ending knee surgery.
In 2017, the Eagles led the NFL in regular-season points with 457. Philadelphia was one of five teams to allow fewer than 300 points. The Eagles’ point differential of plus-162 was 140 points higher than the Dallas Cowboys, who finished second in the NFC East.
In the first 10 picks of the 2017 draft, two were defensive ends, three were wide receivers and two were quarterbacks. One year later, as many as six quarterbacks are expected to be selected in the first round. So, there figures to be plenty of opportunity for the Saints to draft a talented big man.
Some of the best Saints’ selections have been big men at positions where there was not a “need.”
In 2004, the Saints had what appeared to be an overload of talent at defensive end but still selected Ohio State’s Will Smith. And, then there’s the case of Ryan Ramczyk.
When the Saints drafted Ramczyk with the last pick of the first round, the hue and cry was palpable. The Saints acquired the pick from the Patriots in a trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
What one reporter heard was the following: “I guess the Saints got fleeced by the hoodie (Patriots coach Bill Belichick).”
Or … “How could the Saints trade Brandin Cooks for an offensive lineman?”
One year later, Ramczyk is an anchor on the Saints offensive line, and Cooks was traded to the Rams, his third team in three seasons.
So, next week, while some teams hunt eye candy, the Saints should continue to cultivate what wins. And, that is plenty of talented, big people.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.