Six games, almost half a season, is plenty enough time in football to build a sample large enough from which to drawn conclusions. On the other hand, there's still a lot of football left to play, and things may change as the Saints get healthier or as their young defense gets more experienced.
Still, the statistical picture of the year so far is, as you probably expect, pretty, uh, mixed.
The Offense Lives...Sort Of
Sean Payton's Saints are usually, but not always, right up at the top of the league's offensive rankings. There are some exceptions. In 2010, the Saints fell from their usual perch among the top three offenses in football all the way to sixth, by yards, and eleventh by points scored. They averaged 5.6 yards per play, ranking ninth. Solid numbers, all, but not great by their established standard.
The 2015 Saints have been similar. Currently, the Saints rank sixth by years, as they did in 2010, and fifteenth by points scored, just behind their 2010 pace. Their average number of yards per play? Guess. Yeah: 5.6, which ranks ninth in 2015 as it did in 2010.
The 2010 Saints struggled to run the ball, ranking 28 by rushing yards and 22 by yards per attempt. I'll give you one guess where the 2015 Saints rank. Yeah. They're at 28 too.
As unprecedentedly terrible as 2015 has felt at times, the truth is the Saints have been here before, at least on offense, and that they are, relative to the league at large, not so bad at moving the football and scoring points. It's only compared to themselves that they suck at those things.
So What's the Difference?
If the Saints' offense is similar to the one they had in 2010, when they went 11-5 against a weak schedule, why are these Saints so comparatively bad? Why have they already lost four games?
Defense, of course. The 2010 defense may not have been as good as its overall ranking — they were fourth — but it was certainly a more sound unit than the one the Saints have had so far this year.
In 2010, the Saints allowed just 306 yards per game. In 2015 so far, that number is at 410, which is awful. In 2010, the Saints allowed 5.2 yards per play, good for sixteenth in the league — probably a fairer representation of that defense's overall quality. This year, that number is a league-worst 6.4. The Saints have given up a lot
of big plays.
And yet if you ask most Saints fans which side of the ball they're more optimistic about, they'd probably say defense because of its boatload of young players and rookies, who have made plays like Delvin Breaux's, pictured above.
Even with Breaux, the Saints have allowed a spectacularly bad 8.6 yards per opposing pass attempt — but they proved capable of limiting the likes of Julio Jones.
If there's any single statistic to watch over the remainder of the season, it's that yards allowed per attempt number. The Saints need to get it below eight if they're to have any chance at all to compete this year. Preferably, they need to get it lower than that: The lower it goes, the more games they'll win. In 2010, they allowed 6.8 yards per attempt, good for tenth.
Back then, that was good enough. It would be good enough this year, too.