2022 New Orleans Saints Season In Review
In his end-of-season press conference New Orleans Saints head coach Dennis Allen laid out the team’s plan in reviewing the season.
Allen said that he, general manager Mickey Loomis and other important members of the Saints brass would spend the week looking through everything.
“We’re going to look at what we do from a personnel standpoint,” Allen said. “We’re going to look at what we do from a coaching standpoint, we’re going to look at medical equipment, the whole…that’s what you do every season when the season’s over. You sit down and you evaluate all aspects of your program and what are the things we’re doing well, and what are the things we have to improve on.”
As we look back on a disappointing 2022 Saints season, we can take the same approach. New Orleans has no shortage of questions that need to be answered over what must be an active offseason that could send them into an entirely new direction when it is all said and done.
To evaluate the state of the team and the results of the season now in the rearview mirror, let’s use the same format the head honchos on Airline drive will this week. Starting with the coaching staff.
When asked if his conversations with Loomis needed specific clarity as to whether or not Allen would be the head coach in 2023, Allen fell that no clarification was necessary.
“And I’m certainly going forward with that anticipation,” Allen said. “That’s the indication that I’ve been given. And I’m excited about it. Look, again, 7-10’s not where we want to be. But we’re not as far off as maybe some might think.”
So, Allen expects to be retained for a second year as the Saints head coach. Which has always seemed to be the case. Moving on from a coach after one year usually requires some kind of extenuating circumstances. Leading the team to a 7-10 record is not what the organization had hoped for, but it was far from as bad as it could have been after a rough 3-7. Allen and Saints closed the year 4-3 including a three-game win streak. But despite feeling secure in his role leading the team, Allen does not go without acknowledging that change is needed.
That leads us to where the most likely change is expected: offensive coordinator. More specifically, offensive play caller. Pete Carmichael has been a fantastic member of the Saints staff for over a decade. He’s even seen past success as the team’s primary play caller when he led the 2012 Saints to becoming the No. 2 overall offense and No. 3 overall scoring team in the league. However, in 2022, he did not find the same success. The Saints would instead end up ranking No. 22 in scoring and No. 19 in yardage on that side of the ball despite starting the season with immense talent.
Now, injuries were a culprit here. They ended wide receiver Michael Thomas’ season after just three games. The team also sat quarterback Jameis Winston after three games opting to go with Andy Dalton at signal caller first because of injury then because the team was making an “offensive decision.”
Another injury then kept wideout Jarvis Landry out of action for the majority of the season, before eventually ending it late in the year. The offensive line saw several players on and off of injured reserve and running back injuries struck the team unit well.
Despite all of that, young stars like rookie receivers Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed, tight end Juwan Johnson and the team’s best playmakers, Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara, were all mostly available. Still, the offense found its worst finish in terms of points scored since the pre-Sean Payton era.
It seems likely that the lack of offensive output will embolden the team to make a shift at this position on the coaching staff. Further questions have been raised in regard to play calling tendencies, personnel decisions and situational ineffectiveness.
The Saints became a team that heavily relied on running the ball on 2nd and 10 or longer, a game situation they actually faced the fewest times in the NFL. But following incomplete passes on first down, New Orleans had an outright habit of running and putting themselves in 3rd and long situations. On those runs, they averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and had the lowest first-down rate in the league.
Curious decisions like not having some of their best players on the field in pivotal moments, situational issues such as carrying the NFL’s No. 21 red zone to touchdown conversion percentage and ranking No. 15 in 3rd down conversion rate add to the criticism the Saints offense was met with all season long. Whether Carmichael is moved on from or moves on himself, possibly even to a different role with the team, it feels like some change there is very possible. With the NFL not allowing interviews for coordinator positions until January 28 though, don’t expect the organization to operate too hastily.
On the defensive side of the ball, the co-defensive coordinator role for Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard seemed to work out well. The Saints ranked No. 9 in scoring defense and No. 5 in total yards allowed this season.
When asked about the co-coordinator structure, it was consistently met with glowing reviews by Allen and those involved. It does not seem like a shift here has become anything more than curiosity brought upon by the chance Nielsen or Richard could get interest from other clubs to assume any sole coordinator roles available elsewhere. For instance, the Cleveland Browns, who have hired former Saints personnel before just moved on from Joe Woods and could come calling.
There are three major questions on the Saints roster going into the 2023 NFL season. The first is at quarterback. Who will be the team’s signal caller next season? Dalton was the team’s starter for the majority of the season but is not under contract for the 2023 year. At least not at this time. It seems feasible that he could be back in New Orleans next season. He expressed openly in his final postgame presser that he has loved his time in New Orleans and will let the offseason play out.
As for the original starter going into the year, Jameis Winston, it does feel like he and the team are headed towards a split. Frustration built and played out publicly around Winston not getting an opportunity (at least on the field) to win his job back after Dalton took over as the start in London against the Minnesota Vikings. He is under contract in 2023, but it does not seem that the Saints see him as a starting quarterback.
When asked if Allen had gotten a full evaluation on Winston this season, the head coach simply responded “Yes.” If they do have that evaluation and that information led to them not starting Winston, it is hard to see where a change would be on the way this offseason. The Saints could designate Winston as a post-June 1 cut and save a bit of cap space in 2023, allowing the former first overall draft selection to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
The same move could be made with wideout Michael Thomas, the second-largest lingering question headed into the offseason. Teams are allowed to designate two transactions with a post-June 1 tag. Late in Week 18, the team and Thomas agreed upon a reworked deal that lowers his 2023 base salary to veteran minimum thereby opening up a list of options New Orleans could make with his contract. The most likely scenario feels like a split is on the way. But never say never in the NFL.
The third outstanding question will be centered around what will happen with veteran players. Questions outside the facility have been circulating for some time regarding the future of players like Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis. Jordan, if made a post-June 1 transaction (cut or trade) would save the Saints over $13 million this offseason, with dead money deferred into later years. Davis would save $7.5 million if he was designated as such instead. But it is incredibly hard to make any case in favor of either move.
With a roster and team about to undergo a busy offseason, their leadership and knowledge of the organization, system, and staff is remarkably important. What I can tell you is to not expect any news on Jordan’s contractual situations soon. Glue guys like these defensive leaders are invaluable during a transitionary period like what the Saints are set to undergo. Moving on from either would be borderline foolish.
This is a hard one to evaluate from outside the facility. But there is no doubt that the Saints were again ransacked by injury this season. The addition of director of sports science Matt Rhea had its benefits as New Orleans was not impacted by nearly as many soft-tissue injuries as they have experienced in the past. However, they still had to send several players to injured reserve including starters like Thomas, Landry, guard Cesar Ruiz, center Erik McCoy and even watched first-round pick left tackle Trevor Penning bookend his seasons with a toe injury on his right foot and a Lisfranc injury on his left.
It is without a doubt clear that this area needs to continue to see attention if the Saints hope to get back to being competitive in 2023. If the players cannot stay healthy, changes elsewhere are unlikely to be able to make a difference. But other things were entirely out of the medical staff’s control.
Starting cornerback Marshon Lattimore suffered a lacerated kidney. Running back Dwayne Washington missed the majority of the end of the season with cluster headaches. As nice as it would be, the staff can’t make bones stronger, kidneys iron-clad and heads predictable. But the list of injuries over the last few years, and thus the struggles the Saints have endured, has been nothing short of concerning.
Nothing that we can evaluate from here, but this is still worth a moment of recognition. The Saints equipment staff was so integral to their comfort and success against the Cleveland Browns that they received a game ball from the team. In what was the coldest game in Saints history, the equipment staff made sure the players had what they needed to not only win but look like the better prepared team for the elements. That deserves the love it earned the unit from their organization.
Things that worked
• Rookie wide receiver Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed look like the real deal. Olave said that a big part of his offseason focus was to bulk up a bit while noting that finishing plays stronger would be a big next step in his development. Shaheed took the bull by the horns when presented with an opportunity this year and made the best of it. The two should continue to be dynamic and explosive pieces in the team’s future plans.
• The linebacker corps for the Saints defense was outstanding in 2022. Led by Davis, Peter Wener and Kaden Elliss took huge steps forward in their development. Linebacker coach Mike Hodges did a phenomenal job with an area of the defense many assumed would be weak to start the season. Instead, it ended up being one of the most steady and productive across the entire roster. After Werner went down with injury, Elliss approach Hodges about meeting for an additional 30 minutes per day to work on his game. Other linebackers like Chase Hansen, Andrew Dowell and Nephew Sewell joined in and before you know it, this meeting became a regular part of their preparation regimen. That extra hour and a half a week clearly paid off.
• Rookie cornerback Alontae Taylor turned out to be one of the best corners in the NFL. Not just rookies. One of the best at his position across the entire league. While being one of the most targeted players in the NFL on a per snap basis (5.4 snaps/target) he forced second-lowest completion percentage by a tenth of a point (45.3 vs. Sauce Gardner’s 45.2) and the NFL’s fourth-lowest passer rating (58.3) when targeted. That’s among all cornerbacks that took at least 300 coverage snaps per Pro Football Focus.
• Tight end Juwan Johnson’s development into his role was outstanding as well. His 7 touchdown receptions tied him on the season with big-name wideouts like Tyreek Hill and DJ Moore and put him one above Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans.
• Special Teams is not usually at the forefront for most. But along with Shaheed, another addition that paid dividends was that of cornerback Isaac Yiadom. He, in random with one-time All-Pro J.T. Gray were an excellent pairing in special teams coverage. Particularly at gunner with the punt unit.
Things that need to be improved upon
• Though the usage of Alvin Kamara in the offense got better as the season went along, there were major question marks throughout the season. Some of it came down to Kamara simply having to do it all as the lead back and without a consistent change-of-pace presence. Other bits were centered around the lack of opportunities he was being given in space and being off the field in pivotal situation such as red zone and third down plays. This will be a large piece that will need to be examined and reworked this offseason. Part of the solution could be to bring in a power back to match the previous success of tandems like Kamara and Mark Ingram or Kamara and Latavius Murray.
• Kicker Wil Lutz had a tough season. He missed the most kicks he’s missed in a single year in his career thus far (8) and had one of the lowest field goal percentages across the league among kickers that booted at least 25 tries (74.2). The Saints should not be in any haste to move on from Lutz, who has been consistently reliable up until some injuries set in through recent years. But bringing competition in to camp may be a good way to go.
• The Saints run defense performed well below expectation and standard in 2022. With no defensive tackles currently set to be on contract in 2023, there is a major need to address the middle of the defensive line, which could inherently help benefit the rush defense. Interior defenders David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach all clocked in with average depth of tackle numbers at 3 or more yards upfield. Free agent additional Kentavius Street checked in a 2.3. Bringing the same unit back would be far from an issue for New Orleans. All four players are immensely talented. But a big, punishing nose tackle much like they had in former players like Taylor Stallworth and Malcom Brown could be all the addition necessary to help generate better push by the middle of the line.
• Playcaller and quarterback have already been covered here, but are worth reiterating.
• Improving health would go an extremely long way for this team. Particularly toward the ends of seasons, being the most healthy group around can win you games. The Saints have only been able to realize the wrong side of that in recent years. You would love to see their fortunes turn heading forward in this area.
- < PREV Louisiana Tech announces complete 2023 football schedule
- NEXT > REPLAY: East Jefferson scores on set piece, holds for win over Patrick Taylor
Ross Jackson has been the host of the daily Locked On Saints podcast, covering the New Orleans Saints since 2018. Since then, his host role has expanded to include co-hosting Locked On NFL on Tuesdays with a focus on in-depth analysis on the biggest stories across the NFL and fantasy football. Ross is also a contributor for Saints Wire, part…