The New Orleans Saints have consistently been an offensive powerhouse. In 2005, the Saints suffered one of their worst seasons in history, finishing with a record of 3-13. This disastrous season led to inevitable huge changes being made, including the firing of coach Jim Haslett. The following year, Sean Payton was named head coach and quarterback Drew Brees signed with the Saints as a free agent. The team finished the 2006 season with it being their most successful to date, making it all to the NFC Championship for the first time in franchise history. But even that success could not have prepared fans for what was to come.
Under coach Payton, for the past 13 seasons, the Saints have finished as a top 10 team in terms of overall offense, placing in the top three for nine of those thirteen seasons. Brees has finished in the top five for passing yards in 12 of the 13 seasons he has played and has led the NFL for six of those seasons. Further contributing to the team’s top offensive status, the total receiving offense has landed in the top ten for twelve of the thirteen seasons.
What to Expect From the New Orleans Saints 2019 Rushing Offense
Previous Offensive Success
The only offensive area which has shown to be a bit of a weak link for the team is their rushing offense, which has only finished in the top ten for four of the 13 seasons between 2006-2018. New Orleans consistently struggled in this area up until the 2017 season when running back Alvin Kamara was drafted. Kamara’s addition to the team helped New Orleans total rushing offense jump from a ranking of 16th in 2016 to finish fifth for the 2017 season, the highest spot they have held in the last two decades. For the past two seasons, the team has finished with over 2,000 overall rushing yards. And in the 2017 season, Kamara and teammate Mark Ingram became the first running back duo to both finish with over 1,500 yards from scrimmage.
Regardless of recent success, contract negotiation issues led to the departure of Ingram, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens. Ingram had been a crucial part of the Saints offense ever since he was drafted first round in 2011. Through his eight seasons in New Orleans, Ingram earned 6,007 rushing yards, which puts him just 89 yards behind Deuce McAllister for the Saints all-time record. He also holds the Saints franchise mark for the most rushing touchdowns by a player with 50. Dealing with the loss of Ingram is going to actively change the rushing dynamic and possibly prove to be rough for New Orleans.
Alvin Kamara Will Have to Step Up
Despite Kamara being a top running back the past two seasons, his role on the team changes with the removal of Ingram. Kamara made a name for himself by being forceful and creating big plays anytime he was given the ball. No longer sharing the spotlight with Ingram, Kamara could potentially have a much larger role and receive significantly more carries per game.
Although roster moves have been made to try and fill Ingram’s spot, it’s possible Kamara will take over most of the extra workload himself. Ingram’s four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2018 season proved that Kamara could handle being the sole featured back. During the four-game span, Kamara racked up 275 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns, in addition to 336 receiving yards. Kamara is a dynamic playmaker and finished second in the league last season for rushing touchdowns, with 31 total touchdowns to his name in just two seasons.
The bigger issue with Kamara as the sole primary back is just the absence of other offensive options. In addition to being the Saints leading rusher last season, Kamara was the second leading receiver for the team. Apart from Kamara, who finished the 2018 season with 81 receptions, no other player on the team reached even one-third of the 125 receptions that wide receiver Michael Thomas ended the season with. Thomas already must play around being double covered and the absence of Ingram as an offensive weapon on the field only makes it easier for opposing teams to put all their focus on stopping Thomas and Kamara.
Offensive additions such as veteran tight end Jared Cook or rookie tight end Alize Mack will have to step up to give the Saints a third offensive threat. Between these new tight ends and current receivers like Tre’Quan Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., and Cameron Meredith, the Saints just need to hope one or two can fill their offensive needs.
Addition of Latavius Murray
The biggest question of the Saints 2019 rushing offense is if running back Latavius Murray will be able to fill Ingram’s shoes. After the unexpected loss of Ingram, the Saints were quick to seal the deal and sign a contract with the former Minnesota Vikings running back. Murray and Ingram both accounted for six rushing touchdowns last season, but Murray finished the season with 578 rushing yards as opposed to Ingram’s 645 yards. At first look, Ingram’s numbers seem much more impressive since he only played 12 games. However, Murray was playing behind the Vikings 29th-ranked offensive line. The Saints more reliable offensive line combined with working with Drew Brees almost guarantee improved numbers for Murray.
Murray comes to New Orleans with a high potential to stand out for the 2019 season. While it’s still unknown what will come of Murray, he does seem to be a good replacement option for Ingram.
Murray is a very similar type of player as Ingram and shares many of his on-field strengths such as efficiency in short yardage situations and blocking. They both do well in the red zone and both are strong receivers out of the backfield. While Kamara stands out the most for his speed, agility, and versatility as a player, Murray will fill in as the team’s power back. The addition of Murray allows the Saints to continue to have a good balance on the field and the ability to be more flexible. Dividing the workload in the backfield should let Kamara continue to be versatile in his playing style as well.
Filling the Third String Running Back Position
Whoever ends up in the third place slot as part of the Saints 2019 rushing offense may see more opportunities and playing time with the absence of Ingram. The latest addition to the Saints rushing offense is former Ravens running back Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen. Allen will compete with undrafted rookie Devin Ozigbo, former Browns running back Matthew Dayes, and the Saints current number three back Dwayne Washington. Washington, who is going into his second year with New Orleans, rarely touched the ball last season but did finally get an opportunity during the last regular season game against Carolina, where he rushed for 108 yards.
Washington will most likely keep the third-string slot for the Saints. However, additions Allen, Ozigbo, and Dayes all have proved very eager and expressed their willingness to do what it takes to earn a roster spot.
Allen spent four seasons in Baltimore where he totaled 2,063 rushing and receiving yards for 14 touchdowns. His decent numbers combined with his hardworking, motivated personality make him an easy choice.
Dayes is only accredited for a combined 42 rushing and receiving yards in two seasons, one with the Browns and one with the 49ers. However, while in Cleveland, Dayes handled kick returns and averaged 24.3 yards through 18 returns, which makes him a unique option.
Lastly, Former Nebraska running back Ozigbo may be the most interesting candidate. An undrafted rookie, Ozigbo did not attend the Combine or the draft but was quickly picked up by the Saints, possibly due to his impressive testing at Nebraska’s Pro Day. Ozigbo stood out as a power back with the ability to find the hole and break tackles, making him a similar player to Ingram. If Ozigbo were to earn the third running back position, he could provide another option for versatility in replacing Ingram and share some of the responsibilities with Murray, as well as possibly be a more long-term option.
The Saints offense will certainly be different this year. However, while the loss of Ingram is tough, it looks as if the Saints are succeeding in rebuilding their rush offense. Murray should mesh well with what the Saints already have by picking up some of the workload from Kamara. Since they have different strengths this gives Payton and the coaching staff much more freedom in play calling.
Between Washington, Allen, Dayes, and Ozigbo the competition at training camp will be intense. It’ll be interesting to see which back will stand out and earn the third-place spot, and even more interesting to see how Payton will use them and how they’ll affect the Saints 2019 rushing offense.