Saints unleashing greatest offense ever? Most dynamic at least

by | CBSSports.com
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Brees knows just how to use his varied weapons like Darren Sproles. (US Presswire)  
Brees knows just how to use his varied weapons like Darren Sproles. (US Presswire)  

Total yardage may be the most overblown and inaccurate formula to gauge the potency and lore of an NFL offense. The 2010 Chargers were the latest example as they finished as the league's No. 1 offense yardage-wise last season -- and missed the postseason.

Give my statement above, I won't claim the 2011 Saints are the greatest offense to ever play football considering they're on pace to Brees by the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf." I'll ignore how New Orleans is on pace with only two games to pass Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Mike Martz and the rest of the turf burners for the most single-season yards by a team in NFL history.

I'll wipe that silly thought out of my brain. What I will throw at you is this: this Saints offense is the most dynamic offense in NFL history.

Before you start rabidly foaming at the mouth screaming about the 2007 Patriots, 1998 Vikings, all of the Bills' Super Bowl-bound teams, all of the 49ers' Super Bowl-winning teams and a slew of other worthy candidates, read the definition from Dictionary.com of dynamic: "Pertaining to or characterized by energy or effective action; vigorously active or forceful; energetic."

All of that pertains to and characterizes the Saints offense.

Again, total yardage isn't the end-all, be-all of offensive greatness. It sure doesn't hurt the argument, though.

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The Saints currently have gained 6,394 yards on offense. If they remain at the same pace, the Saints would end with 7,307 yards and on pace to pass the 2000 Rams for most yards (7,075) in a season. The Saints' 2009 Super Bowl title team pales in comparison to this year's team in terms of yardage production; the Saints only needs 68 yards to pass that highly prolific offense in '09.

"There are a lot of similarities," said defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who lost to the 1999 version of the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV while serving the in same job with the Titans. "The best offensive player that I've been on the field coaching a defense against is Marshall Faulk. It's unbelievable. In his heyday, it was unbelievable what he could do and how he went about doing it. There are some similarities here. Our speed in certain areas is not as good as they were. We handle some of the other dead spots and concepts and how they create problems for the defense similar to that 'Greatest Show on Turf.'"

Of course, Drew Brees and Sean Payton are the major key masters behind the success of the Saints.

Brees is on pace for 5,463 passing yards, which will shatter Dan Marino's record of 5,084 yards in 1984. It wouldn't stun anyone if Brees passes Marino in Week 16 vs. the Falcons where Brees only needs 305 yards to break the single-season mark. Brees already threw for 322 yards in his first meeting against Atlanta at the Georgia Dome. With this week's game in the Superdome, it should give Brees an added advantage as he's thrown for more than 304 yards four times this season in the home dome.

Brees' records seem endless. His 11 300-yard passing games this season broke a record held by Rich Gannon. Plus Brees has thrown 110 more passes than Aaron Rodgers yet Brees' completion percentage at 71.1 percent is three points higher. If Brees remains above 71 percent, he'll break his own record for completion percentage in a season.

But of course, chasing down Marino's single-season passing yardage record is THE record Brees is staring down. For several weeks now Brees hasn't been ashamed to admit he yearns to pass Marino. He nearly did so in 2008 falling less than 20 yards short.

This time around, Marino is already an admittedly defeated man, and Brees hasn't even passed him yet.

Marino introduced the montage of highlights of last Sunday's Saints romp of the Vikings during the CBS studio halftime show of the Patriots-Broncos game with this message: "My record is going bye bye, y'all."

Points scored can be one of the ultimate gauges for greatness, and the Saints are on pace to score 522 points. That's not on pace to top the 2007 Patriots or 1998 Vikings or even the 1983 Redskins, but it would be more than their single-season total in their 2009 Super Bowl season. And the Saints only sit at No. 2 in the NFL this season in points scored behind the Packers.

So why are the Saints more dynamic than this year's Packers or anyone else? That's because it goes so much farther than Brees' production and Payton's play design architecture.

Unlike Marino, unlike Rodgers and unlike Joe Montana, the Saints actually possess a running game. And that running game isn't dominated by just one piece.

Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory have each led the Saints in rushing in a single game at least once this season. Ivory, the team's leading rusher last season, had been a healthy inactive for two games because the Saints don't have room for him on game day. This is the deepest stable of running backs on a 53-man roster in the league right now. One of Payton's most challenging aspects of the game plan every week is to decide whether to activate Ivory or Ingram, the first-round pick he traded up for in April.

It's all by Payton's design, though, and the results are evident.

The Saints rank eighth in the league, and no individual back has rushed for 100 yards or more this season. But Sproles averages 6.5 yards per carry, while Thomas averages 5.0 yards per handoff. All four backs do something different, and yet all do the same thing, and that's keep every defensive coordinator off kilter early every week in game-planning sessions.

"The only way where we are going to be stopped is if we beat ourselves," Thomas said. "If we play our game, it's going to be a tough out. I'm not saying we're the most unstoppable team out there, but we have to do our job. As long as we do our job, I see a lot of success, but we have to do our job. We can't turn the ball over, we can't get penalties. All of that will hurt us and put us in a bad position. As long as we play our game we'll be a tough out."

The Saints receiving corps doesn't wow you with name recognition like a Jerry Rice or a Randy Moss. Yet Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson might be the best set of wide receivers that no one pays attention to. And that sits fine with them.

But tight end Jimmy Graham is the real X factor none of the great offenses possessed before this season. Graham has 1,171 receiving yards this season, which is 120 yards away from breaking the NFL single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end held by Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow dating back to 1980. And Graham's only played three years of football. Total.

Williams always comes off as the smartest man in the room, and not even he can figure out the Saints offense.

"As a defensive guy, you ask if you're going to keep treating Jimmy Graham as a tight end or are we going to treat him as a wide receiver," Williams said. "You have to decide on your package. I like to say we're going to treat Jimmy Graham as a wide receiver so we can have a defensive back match up on him. All of a sudden, he's not in that wide receiver position and he's down there blocking so they create that hesitation. Then you'll see Sean and Pete [Carmichael] line him back up at a wide receiver. They get that matchup they want on the corner and maybe you're light on the inside and they hammer the run at you with Pierre Thomas."

People fawn all over offenses of the past. Well it's time to fawn all over the 2011 Saints because there's never been an offense like it in the NFL.

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