No Payton, no prob-- Well, OK, maybe a small problem. But they can deal (US Presswire)
The New Orleans Saints enter the 2012 season facing an unprecedented set of circumstances, a unique mess that the organization brought upon itself, via the Gregg Williams bounty program. The team's head coach, Sean Payton, has been suspended for the entire year and interim head coach Joe Vitt will miss the first six weeks. General manager Mickey Loomis is suspended for eight weeks. Defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma are facing suspensions, too. The team was fined, and multiple draft picks have been taken away.
These are not small inconveniences.
Still, Payton's high-yield offensive system remains in place, directed by virtuoso quarterback Drew Brees. This year, play-calling duties fall to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., a coach who's been attached to Payton since 2006 and to Brees since '02. Carmichael actually absorbed a greater share of the game-planning responsibilities for New Orleans last season, after Payton suffered a broken leg in a sideline collision in October. He's not unprepared for the challenges of the year ahead.
As Carmichael recently said, "We have a great coaching staff and a great group of players that have been in this system for the last couple of years. Like we've been saying, we're obviously going to miss Sean. We're going to miss him significantly, but we feel comfortable with where we're at."
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Any coach would be comfortable with where the Saints are at, because last year's offense was the most prolific we've seen in the NFL since ... well, ever.
New Orleans established a new league record for total yards from scrimmage last season (7,474) as well as passing yardage (5,505). Brees set the individual single-season mark for passing yards (5,476) and Darren Sproles broke the all-purpose yardage record (2,696). The Saints averaged an absurd 42.44 yards per drive last season, according to Football Outsiders, and they scored 34.2 points per game. They ranked first in the NFL in passing (344.1 YPG), while also placed sixth in rushing (132.9). In the 10 games in which Carmichael served as the primary play-caller, New Orleans averaged 476.1 total yards.
This is a terrifying, record-shattering offense that returns almost every key skill player. The Saints won't have to match last year's Nintendo-style output in order to finish at or near the top of the league in yards and points. In a nutshell, this group is one of the all-time fantasy juggernauts, an easy choice for the No. 1 spot in the 2012 index.
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