2004 New Orleans Saints Season Preview

<b>Head Coach: </b> Jim Haslett (34-30) <br><br><b>Last Season's Record: </b> 8-8, 2nd NFC South <br><br><b>Last Play Off Appearance: </b> 2000 <br><br><b>Key matchup(s): </b> Tampa Bay (October 10th); Kansas City (November 14th); @ Atlanta (November 28th); @ Carolina (January 2nd)

09/12/04 Seattle
09/19/04 San Francisco
09/26/04 @St. Louis
10/03/04 @Arizona
10/10/04 Tampa Bay 
10/17/04 Minnesota
10/24/04 @Oakland 
11/07/04 @San Diego
11/14/04 Kansas City
11/21/04 Denver
11/28/04 @Atlanta
12/05/04 Carolina
12/12/04 @Dallas 
12/19/04 @Tampa Bay 
12/26/04 Atlanta
01/02/05 @Carolina
Michael Lewis #84 of the New Orleans Saints wants to take it to the house, but Saints must see improvement from QB Aaron Brooks.  
Getty Images/Chris Gray

Star Power: Deuce McAllister (RB, 4th year, 6'1", 220 lbs); Joe Horn (WR, 9th year, 6'1", 205 lbs); Johnathan Sullivan (DT, 2nd year, 6'3", 315); Charles Grant (DE, 3rd year, 6'3", 280 lbs); Tebucky Jones (S, 7th year, 6'2". 218 lbs)

Notable Additions: Brian Young (DT, 5th year, 6'2", 290 lbs, signed from St. Louis); Sam Gash (FB, 13th year, 6'0", 245 lbs, signed from Buffalo)

Notable Subtractions: Dale Carter (CB, signed with Baltimore)

Notable Returnees: Donte Stallworth (WR, 3rd year, 6'0", 197 lbs); Aaron Brooks (QB, 6th year, 6'4", 205 lbs); LeCharles Bentley (C, 3rd year, 6'2", 300 lbs); Darren Howard (DE, 5th, 6'3", 280 lbs); James Allen (LB, 3rd year, 6'2", 240 lbs); Cie Grant (LB, 2nd year, 6'2", 220 lbs); Ashley Ambrose (CB, 13th year, 5'11", 190 lbs)

Offensive Overview: The Saint offense has playmakers but they just have not been able to put it all together. McAllister one of the best backs in the league and in 2003 he registered career highs in yards (1,641) and catches (69). He is a complete back with power and the speed to get outside. Horn is a dangerous wideout but he needs more production from Stallworth and Jerome Pathon to take away double-teams. Offensively, this team will only go as far as Brooks takes them. He is an enigma, because he can thrill you with an amazing play on one series and confound you the next with a horrible mental error. They are best when Brooks stays within the system. The line will struggle this season if Bentley, who has been a guard in his first two seasons, cannot fill the big shoes of 15-year veteran Jerry Fontenot at the pivot position. They run better than they pass so expect to see a heavy dose of McAllister all season.

Defensive Overview: The team has spent several high draft choices on their defensive line and it is now time for them to play up to their abilities. Grant, Sullivan and Howard have been inconsistent and they will be pushed by 2004 first-rounder Will Smith. Smith is smaller than both Grant and Howard but he adds a speed dimension that neither possesses. The play of the front-four will dictate how well the rest of the defense does, because they lack experienced playmakers at several positions. They recently lost starting CB Keyou Craver for four games due to his violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. Ambrose and wiley veteran Fred Thomas are both experienced corners who will not be able to hold up in man coverage. With Jones in the deep middle they will play more zone than in previous years hoping to get to the QB quickly so opposing offenses won't be able to pick the Saint secondary apart. Keep an eye on 2004 second round choice Courtney Watson. He was the fastest linebacker coming out of college and his coverage skills will be a big help if Grant and Allen cannot get the job done.

Special Teams Overview: The kicking game is in the very capable hands of K John Carney and P Mitch Berger. Carney is nearly automatic inside of 45 yards but his lack of a big leg hurts the Saints' cause when the head to inclement weather. Berger ranked second in the NFC and fourth in the entire league with a 44.3 yard average. Michael Lewis is an excellent punt and kick returner but teams kicked away from him and he was inconsistent. Special teams coach Al Everest has tweaked the return schemes hoping to free Lewis to be creative in the open field.

The Saints will finish (9-7) and challenge for a playoff spot if...... Brooks plays up to his potential, the defense gets pressure on the quarterback and the secondary plays over their heads.

TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview
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