The New Orleans Saints improved their 2013 record to 9-2 with a win over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football. Is it too early to call the Saints a Super Bowl contender? Perhaps, but this year's team is remarkably similar to the 2009 iteration that took home the Lombardi trophy.
Their high-powered offense has been the team's calling card since Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans. This was most apparent in 2009 when the team averaged 31.9 points per game en route to a 13-3 regular season record. Fast-forward four years and the story is remarkably similar. Brees is on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards once again, and the Saints are still scoring at a high rate, this time 28.8 points per game.
The main difference between the 2009 Saints and this year's is Rob Ryan. A silver-coiffed crab boat fisherman, he also has the gift of organizing one of the league's most creative defensive schemes. His aggressive style helps mitigate a lack of overall talent on defense, bringing a perfect counterpoint to the precise passing offense. Call it "swagger" or "confidence," but the Ryan family knows how to get defensive players to buy into the system and players like Cameron Jordan are thriving with him at the helm.
There is a three-point disparity on offense from 2009 to 2013, but is mitigated by the defense. The 2009 team needed to be "opportunistic" to stop teams, which took skill in forcing 15 fumbles and intercepting 26 passes to be sure, but it also required a large measure of luck. This year's team is different. Interceptions and fumbles aren't coming as freely, but they're allowing 50 fewer yards of total offense and three fewer points on defense.
The result is a Saints team on par with its past iteration. Almost as dangerous on offense, but surprisingly stout on defense to keep all the trappings of a Super Bowl team. New Orleans can score points in bunches, but in 2013 they've shown a knack for getting opposing teams off the field. This year's team is averaging more than two extra minutes of offensive possession per game, due to added success on defense.
This additional time will serve the Saints well in the playoffs, which they're almost assured to make. One area they need to improve is running the ball, with the 2013 team lagging behind their Super Bowl counterparts that ran for a total of 2,100 yards. This year's team will struggle to reach half of that number.
When the dust settles this team is about moving the ball through the air and generating a lot of pressure on defense. The New Orleans Saints are built for the modern NFL in a way few teams are. Numerous organization hit on some of the basic tenets of modern football team-building, but the Saints hit them all. This is going to be an incredibly dangerous team to stop in January, and they could very well be hoisting the trophy once again.