The first Sunday the Saints spend in training camp will be six Sunday's away from the regular season opener in Atlanta. And, while the Saints seem to have all the tools they need to make a championship run, a word to the wise. The Falcons, Carolina and Tampa Bay will all be improved football teams making life in the division as rugged as usual, if not more so. That said, here are four things I think absolutely, positively have to have to reach have successful 2014 season.
1) Keep Drew Brees clean and upright. Quarterback Drew Brees hasn't missed a single Saints game since joining the Saints in 2006. That's both a blessing and a minor miracle. Brees Is obviously the unquestioned leader of the offense, and an extension of head coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. on the field. But, he's also the player the team looks to when it finds itself in an impossible hole and needs to dig itself back into contention. If I had a buck for every time a player said to me that they never think they're out of a game with Brees at the wheel, I'd be thinking about taking early retirement.
2) Balance the offense. With Brees working the offense, it's easy to think it's a pass-happy team at all times, but that's not exactly true. In fact, the offense passed the ball in about 65% of their offensive snaps last season. Remember, bubble screens to the likes of Pierre Thomas and perhaps rookie Brandin Cooks, who'll hopefully, among other things, help fill a Darren Sproles type role, there should be no balance issues. However, improvement will be demanded of running back Mark Ingram, as exhibited by the team's choice to not exercise Ingram's 5th year option.
3) Play takeaway football. The Saints turned the football over 15 times last season while Seattle, which beat the Saints twice en route to the Super Bowl championship gave it up 17 times. The difference? The Saints took the ball away only 19 times compared to 39 times for Seattle. Not impressed yet? Consider the Saints took the ball away 39 times in 2009, en route to a Super Bowl championship of their own. The addition of Safety Jarius Byrd with his 22 career picks, and the experience of Hall Of Fame bound corner Champ Bailey should help achieve that end.
4) This is the big one. The Saints need to win 13 regular season games … minimum. Why? That puts them in the hunt for the home field edge throughout the playoffs. That was the magic number for the Saints when they won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season. The Saints also won 13 games in 2011, but the San Francisco 49ers were better, had the home field advantage, and eliminated the Saints in a division playoff game in dramatic, late game fashion. The Niners went on to lose the conference championship game to a Giants team the Saints had beaten 49-24 in the regular.
So, there you have it. Four sure fire keys to a successful run at a Super Bowl. That is, unless something unforeseen happens. And, during the course of an NFL season, something always does, doesn't it?