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Koh Knows: Saints run-heavy offense and fantasy

Death, taxes and the Saints slinging it around the yard.

These were things you could put check marks next to come fantasy draft season. Drew Brees was going to toss it 600 or more times and you wanted a piece of this passing volume and touchdown upside.

It's a big reason Michael Thomas was a top-15 pick this offseason. It's why people spent high draft picks on past studs like Jimmy Graham and Reggie Bush. Why there'd always be a rush to the waiver wire to pick up randos like Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Ben Watson. Not only was the offense good but you were going to get a lot of it.

But this year? We're just not seeing it.

Pass attempts are way down, rush attempts are up slightly but in the end, the overall number of plays the Saints are running per game is down.

And you want crazy? I'll give you crazy. Not only are the Saints one of the heavier run-percentage teams in the league for the season, over the last three weeks New Orleans is throwing less than 50 percent of the time, the fifth-lowest percentage during that stretch.


So here's the question, is this just a mid-season blip on the radar or could it be that the Saints offense has fundamentally changed?

Could it truly be that the big volume in the Big Easy is gone? That the Saints are ... wait for it ... a run-first offense?!??


For years Sean Payton kept trying to sell us on, "playing better defense," blah, blah, blah ... "run the ball more," blah, blah, blah ... "run-pass balance," blah, blah, blah.

Surrrrre Sean. (Wink, wink.) We got you.

The story for the past decade has been largely the same regardless of personnel or coaching staff. Bury your opponents in points, defense optional.

But this year, it's still the Saints ... but ... different. It's like when Angle made his first heel turn. It was still existentially Kurt Angle, but different.

Just 49 percent. That's the percentage of pass plays the Saints have run the past three weeks. Pretty easy math here but that means they're running the ball 51 percent of the time, which is just insane. This is a team that last year threw the ball a whopping 674 times, more than 42 times per game, good for second-most in the NFL. This year they're all the way down to 13th most.

And unless you drafted Brees or Michael Thomas, maybe you haven't totally noticed this massive paradigm shift because the team is still rolling up points, scoring more than 27 points per game, good for sixth-most in the NFL.

So again, it's still a team that runs through the Brees-Payton brain trust and the team overall is still scoring points in bunches. So it kinda, sorta feels the same, but different.


The Saints defense has been doing much better clamping down this year, daresay, putting an ankle lock on opposing offenses.

The numbers across the board are vastly improved through the first half of the season for the Saints. Passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, both drastically down. The Saints defense is so much nicer, allowing 69 fewer yards this year compared to last. Meanwhile, takeaways are way up and their sack totals per game are way up.

If you want to know how they've done it, it's pretty simple. They invested in it.

The team accumulated a bunch of early-round picks and then just kept picking defensive players until they finally started to hit.

Over the last three seasons, the Saints had 14 total picks in rounds 1-3 of the draft. Of those picks, nine were spent on the defensive side of the ball, two on the offensive line, one on Michael Thomas (smart), one on Alvin Kamara (smart) and one on Garrett Grayson ... Let's move on.

Rookie Marshon Lattimore is the superstar of the Saints secondary group but the collection of Ken Crawley, Kenny Vaccaro, P.J. Williams, and fellow rookie Marcus Williams is deep, talented and working extremely well together.

The nine interceptions this unit has already collected are tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. They had nine interceptions in all of 2016. The back end of this defense is so improved it's scary. Oh and did I mention explosive playmaker Delvin Breaux comes back in Week 9?

Meanwhile the hogs up front are doing damage as well, as Sheldon Rankins, Cameron Jordan and Alex Okafor are major passing-game disrupters. Last year, the defensive front had difficulty getting to the passer, collecting just 30 total sacks, tied for the fifth fewest in the league. This year? Their 19 sacks are tied for 12th most in the NFL. Oh, by the way, Rankins and Jordan were draftees while Okafor was a terrific free agent signing this offseason.

It's clear the Saints made an organizational decision to invest heavily into the defense and it's finally paying dividends.

If you're looking for a reason why the run-heavy game scripts might continue, it'll be because the defense will cooperate in making that game plan a reality.


Brees will be 39-years-old by season's end. The smart thing to do is invest in the offensive line (which they've done) and get a couple of explosive running backs to help keep defenders honest by giving them something else to think about other than teeing off on your aging quarterback.

What it all means is that offense will still flow through Brees but it's likely he'll be much more game manager than gunslinger as crazy as that is to type out.

Brees had a bad Week 8 but hasn't been terrible by any stretch of the imagination on the year. He sits as the QB11 in standard leagues. I'm not convinced this really changes. Will he pop for an occasional big game? Sure, why not, he's Drew Brees. I just don't see one of those crazy 500-yard, five touchdown games as a possible ceiling anymore. He certainly still has name value and is worth exploring in trade.

Why move him? Well, in 10- or 12-team leagues, streaming the position could yield similar results. Or hell, see if someone would move Deshaun Watson for Brees straight up. I sure as hell wouldn't do it, but I can see a manager feeling like he was getting the better of that deal, selling Watson at his absolute peak.

It also means I'd be looking to sell Michael Thomas as well. I know you paid a top-15 pick to get him on draft day. I know he hasn't been terrible. But if you're waiting for that insane 150 and two touchdown day, you might be waiting a long time. The Saints are still spreading it around and the running backs are getting a heavy workload around the goal line which limits Thomas' scoring upside. I wouldn't abandon ship and trade Thomas for nothing, but again, if you can get good value for him, do it.


Give me all of the Alvin Kamara shares. All of them. Admittedly I was not a huge fan on draft day, but now that Adrian Peterson is gone and Mark Ingram is literally trying to fumble games away, Kamara has a ceiling that I think could be immense. Yes, he has more value in PPR but even in standard leagues, I love how the Saints are using him all over the field and entrusting him with red-zone looks as well. Yes, go and get Ingram as well, because if nothing changes, you're getting a top-10 back. But Kamara to me is the play if you're chasing season-long upside.


 » I cannot get enough of Big Shaq. Not the retired basketball player but the British rapper who dropped the viral sensation "Mans Not Hot". There's a ton of his work online but he's basically a cross between Rich Chigga and Dave Chappelle's Fisticuffs character. TURN MY HEADPHONES UP.

 » Daps to Alex Gelhar for putting this on my radar but holy hell ... Marshawn doing Darth Vader voiceovers is amazeballs. Starts at the 10:45 mark.

 » Speaking of Gelhar, on a recent NFL Fantasy Live podcast he, for whatever reason, was talking up the movie "Hocus Pocus." HOCUS. FREAKING. POCUS. This was a literal quote from him, "I saw Hocus Pocus pop up so I cracked open a beer and started watching." He was saying this as if this is a totally normal thing. Needless to say, Gelhar got buried on the podcast for it with Franchise delivering the final blow saying, and I quote, "Get a life!" Gelhar had a prepared statement in response on the following podcast. Daps to rockstar producer Erica Tamposi for putting it together.

James D. Koh is an anchor and host for NFL Network. He is also a host of the NFL Fantasy Live Podcast and a guest columnist for the NFL fantasy football editorial staff. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh to tell him how much of an idiot he is for writing this column.

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