New Orleans Saints 2014 Season Review: A Story of Disappointment and Frustration

The New Orleans Saints had high hopes enterering the 2014 season. It didn't go quite as planned, and they missed out on the playoffs all together. What went wrong?

A popular pick to be the NFC representative in Super Bowl XLIX, saying the Saints’ season was a disappointment would be an understatement. Everything that could go wrong did.

I wrote an article after Week 10 detailing the disastrous NFC South. At that time, we gave the Saints a 70 percent shot at making the playoffs. The Panthers, on the other hand, were only at about 11 percent. The Saints had every advantage –- a more favorable schedule according to our nERD metric, better efficiency on both sides of the ball and more weapons. And yet they found a way to squander it.

The most frustrating part for Saints fans was that they couldn’t even lose correctly. Going in to the final game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- with nothing to play for -- the Saints were down by 13 going into the final quarter of play. They ended up winning that game in the final minutes, and in doing so, they cost themselves five crucial draft spots.

Now, of course, I’m being a little factitious with my previous sentiments (although not really). As Herm Edwards says, “You play to win the game,” and these guys are competitors who aren’t in the business of losing. But still, it just encapsulates the season perfectly –- after a downtrodden year, they had an opportunity to have some good come out of this season and at least get a top-10 pick, and they failed to even do that.

Life of the Party

Even though I may not make it sound that way, there were actually some positives to take from the Saints’ 2014 season. They still finished as the seventh-most efficient offense according to our Adjusted Offensive Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. Drew Brees still finished as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in 2014. He posted a mark of 119.68 Passing NEP, good for sixth in the league. He also threw for 4,952 yards, which was tied for the league lead with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Jimmy Graham finished top five among all tight ends with a 73.56 Receiving NEP, doing so while playing injured through the latter part of the season.

Joining Graham and Brees in the individual success category is running back Mark Ingram. Ingram rushed for 964 yards in 13 games, and finished with a 4.3 yards-per-carry clip and 9 touchdowns. Among the 17 running backs with 200 or more carries in 2014, Ingram ranked 7th in Rushing NEP per attempt. It was easily his best year in the NFL, but it'll be questionable if the Saints re-sign him this offseason due to the money he may ask for.

Another bright spot for the Saints this season was the exterior lines on both sides of the ball. Left tackle Terron Armstead looks to be a solid piece at the position for years to come, and although right tackle Zach Strief started off shaky, he finished the second half of the year on a high note.

On the defensive side, both Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan had productive years on the line. Galette finished with 10 sacks, 45 total tackles and 3 forced fumbles. Jordan, while not as spectacular as the year before, still put up 7.5 sacks and 51 total tackles to go along with six passes defended and an interception.

The Saints also have talented members in their secondary. Keenan Lewis has proven to be a top-flight cornerback in this league after another solid year. The Saints are also anxiously waiting to see what highly-sought-after free agent safety Jairus Byrd has to offer, as he was placed on season-ending IR very early in the season.

Son, I'm Not Mad. I'm Just Disappointed.

Where do we begin with the negative aspects of the 2014 Saints? The Saints regressed from 2013 to 2014 in every major Adjusted NEP category, except for offensive rushing, as shown by the following:

Adjusted Offensive NEP177.20 (2nd)118.26 (17th)
Adjusted Offensive Passing NEP184.39 (2nd)85.79 (10th)
Adjusted Offensive Rushing NEP2.80 (15th)16.87 (5th)
Adjusted Defensive NEP9.84 (10th)141.13 (32nd)
Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP-16.76 (8th)103.69 (29th)
Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP10.25 (20th)47.76 (32nd)

Now remember, when talking about any Adjusted Defensive NEP category, the lower the number the better. To put this into perspective, our first-ranked defense in 2014, the Houston Texans, had an Adjusted Defensive NEP of -53.43. So the Saints’ 2014 mark of 141.13 is atrocious. In fact, it’s the fourth-worst total since the turn of the century.Except for his two seasons in Cleveland (when his defense was ranked 29th in his first year, so there was nowhere to go but up anyway), Rob Ryan’s defense has always regressed from year one to year two in terms of NFL rank. However, the one time Ryan was given a third year to right the ship (Oakland 2006), his defense jumped from 24th to 8th. So the Saints got that going for them, which is nice.

The other glaring number that pops out is the regression in passing efficiency. While they remained in the top 10, New Orleans dropped almost 100 Net Expected Points over the course of the season through the air.

A lot of that can be attributed to the play of the interior offensive line. Guard Jahri Evans, who’s due $6.8 million plus bonuses next year, wasn't strong this season, allowing a league-worst 34 quarterback hurries among all other guards. He’s going to have to restructure -- as his play does not fit his contract -- or be in danger of being released.

Avoiding the Hangover

The Saints have given Rob Ryan that elusive third year, something he’s struggled to obtain in his previous two stints with the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns. That, plus a healthy Jairus Byrd, should hopefully do some good for that struggling defense. The Saints are also going to need to-be third year safety Kenny Vacarro to return to his rookie form after struggling mightily in his sophomore campaign.

As I said earlier, Mark Ingram will most likely be too rich for the Saints this offseason. And unless he’s willing to take modest pay, fellow free agent Patrick Robinson could be following him out, after a less-than-stellar tenure with the Saints.

It’s no secret the Saints are in a bind in regards to the salary cap. And the play on the field just isn’t matching that. There are some players with big contracts that are going to need restructuring, or risk being released. The two main guys on the radar? Jahri Evans and Marques Colston. It also wouldn’t hurt if you restructured too, Drew.

Going into free agency and the 2015 NFL Draft, the top needs for the Saints (in no particular order) are interior line help on both sides of the ball, inside linebacker (preferably one that can actually cover), cornerback and a versatile edge rusher with pass coverage abilities (such as Alvin “Bud” Dupree from the University of Kentucky).

The Saints have a lot to work on this offseason.