2005 preview: Saints
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports
July 29, 2005
Head coach: Jim Haslett, sixth season
2004 record: 8-8
2004 rankings: Offense, 15th (324.6 yards/game); Defense, 32nd (383.8 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 26th (tie)
From SportingNews.com: NFC South overview
Four years and counting. That's how long we've been waiting for the Saints and their talented roster to return to the playoffs.
The 2004 season was dreadfully similar to the three previous ones, with unrealized potential, internal bickering, failed expectations, and coach Jim Haslett under fire. But as usual, the Saints did just enough to torture the New Orleans faithful, keeping playoff hopes alive until the final game.
To his credit, quarterback Aaron Brooks has put up some decent numbers since he became a starter during the 2000 season. But his play is far too volatile. And he has always been dogged by whispers that he isn't the leader the Saints need at quarterback. His quarterback rating consistently hovers around the high 70s to mid 80s, while his touchdown passes always slightly outnumber his interceptions.
But the prevailing feeling is that the surrounding talent is good enough to make Brooks an elite quarterback and that his lack of intangibles or "feel" has kept him from attaining that level of play. This has been a knock on Brooks for a couple of years, and there's no reason to believe it's going to change at age of 29.
Losing a good offensive mind like coordinator Mike McCarthy hurts, but there are still loads of talent for new coordinator Mike Sheppard to work with. Deuce McAllister had a strong season despite having to deal with an ankle injury, and he remains one of the best running backs in football. Receiver Joe Horn is consistently good, while Donte Stallworth finally played a full season.
Although Az-Zahir Hakim had a poor showing with Detroit, he still has something to offer as a No. 3 receiver. It would be a good thing for the Saints if Hakim was beaten out by Devery Henderson, who needs the development.
The only good news about last year's defense is that it is in the past. The Saints hope late-season improvements were indicative of what they can expect this year.
The playmaking in the secondary picked up considerably when cornerback Mike McKenzie finally got into the lineup. He and safety Dwight Smith should make an imposing pair this year. If cornerback Fakhir Brown can pick up where he left off last season, the group would be the strength of the defense.
Up front, the defensive tackles are average, and it has become clear that Johnathan Sullivan is never going to live up to the high draft choice the Saints spent on him. Defensive ends Charles Grant and Darren Howard should be worth a minimum of 20 sacks a year between them, and don't be surprised to see Will Smith push for a starting job.
Punter Mitch Berger was a Pro Bowler last season, while kicker John Carney remains strong despite being 41 years old. Receiver Michael Lewis still has explosive ability and should remain one of the league's best kick and punt returners.
The Saints will finish 6-10 and third in the NFC South.
Updated on Friday, Jul 29, 2005 3:21 pm, EDT