14,000 to ZERO: Why Saints Could Have the “Upper Hand” in Week #1 vs. Buccaneers

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on Twitter.com. (Original by Mike Ehrmann)

Experience. Familiarity. Repetition. Knowing something so instinctively well, that you probably could even do it while you’re asleep. In today’s NFL, those attributes described right above are what usually lead to a sustained amount of success for teams who have had a particular system or scheme in place, for any extended period of time.

And in exactly 5 weeks from today, when the New Orleans Saints face their NFC South Division rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — it’s just one reason why the Black and Gold potentially could have a slight advantage or an “upper hand” — when the two teams meet to open the 2020 NFL Season.

That’s because beginning in that Week #1 contest on Sunday, September 13th, Saints head coach Sean Payton and starting QB Drew Brees will enter into what will be their 15th NFL Season together in what essentially has been the same offensive system for the last decade-and-a-half.

And throughout the length of that very same amount of time: the two men as a head coach / QB duo, have logged  over 14,000 total snaps of the football together within that same system / scheme (keeping in mind that the NFL didn’t record the statistic of snap count totals until the 2012 Season, or else the number could be closer to 15.000).

Conversely, their division counter-parts on that day — the Buccaneers head coach / QB duo of Bruce Arians and former 6-time Super Bowl championship-winner Tom Brady — will begin what will be their very 1st season together in the same offense, and have taken a grand total of ZERO snaps together.

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Twitter.com. (Original by Mike Ehrmann)

Now to point out the obvious: it’s important to note that just because Arians and Brady haven’t taken a single snap together yet since they joined forces this past off-season, it doesn’t mean that they can’t still can’t come in to the Superdome on that day and give the Saints defense all that they can handle and much more.

With their vast combined experience, the new coach-QB duo of Arians and Brady certainly have seen their fair share of previous success in competition against a wide variety of opposing NFL defenses.

And given that observation, it means that they will head into next month’s opener in NOLA against Payton, Brees, and the Saints with a great degree of confidence in their chances of winning; especially with a Tampa Bay offense that’s completely loaded with a handful of talented players with elite-caliber pass-catching skills.

However, it is still somewhat of a concern for the Bucs that because of the current COVID-19 / coronavirus health crisis which has greatly limited all of the NFL’s 32 franchises from conducting their normal off-season schedules for the past several months (including all of the training and physical conditioning sessions for the players); that their lack of time having played together thus far could potentially create some early struggles for them initially.

While many League observers and certainly the Buccaneers fan-base themselves are extremely “hyped” and overly excited about the prospects of huge success for Tampa under Brady’s on-the-field guidance and Arians’ notable expert ability at implementing proven offensive concepts, their organization and staff — and even a few players including Brady himself — realize that things might not necessarily get off to a perfect start.

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely limited the extent to which the now 43-year old Brady could work out with his coaches and teammates prior to the Buccaneers Training Camp which began last week, and the 14-time Pro Bowler acknowledged to ESPN Bucs beat writer Jenna Laine that the entire process has been a difficult challenge

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Twitter.com

“It’s been different having the opportunity over this time to move and to, for example, study my playbook—I mean I really haven’t had to do that in 19 years, so you forget, ‘Man, that’s really tough,’ like all of the different terminologies,” Brady said.

“You’re going back a very long time in my career to really have to put the mental energy in like I did. I have to work at it pretty hard physically, still. I put a lot of time and energy into making sure I’m feeling good in order to perform at my best, but mentally I think that’s been the thing that’s obviously had its challenges”, Brady added.

Interestingly enough, it was back a few months ago in April not long after the Bucs signed Brady in Free Agency, that Arians himself was supremely confident that Brady would have to make very little if any adjustments to the offensive system that he’d be operating and guiding under center, for Tampa Bay this coming season.

Then it was only just a few short weeks ago that Arians told reporters that Brady actually was “way ahead of the curve” in terms of learning the Buccaneers offensive playbook. He went on to note that it also worked both ways in the sense that Brady would still need to get used to the various elements of Arians’ scheme, while he (Arians) got the opportunity to fully learn Brady’s tendencies at the QB position.

While no one believes that Brady and the Bucs offense are going to get shut out or stopped dead in their tracks against the Saints in 5 weeks from now, certainly the lack of familiarity for Brady after 19 years with another team before arriving in Tampa; will still likely be on the back of everyone’s mind.

Everyone perhaps with the exception of the Saints themselves and long-time Who Dat fans throughout the entire nation, most of whom will likely have no worries whatsoever about how the Black and Gold’s offense has been run and operated with a great deal of success; since Payton and Brees hooked up for the first time back during the 2006 Season.

As noted above: the NFL didn’t start recording snap counts as a statistic until the 2012 Season, but it’s approximated that the Saints with Brees under center while running Payton’s scheme (including that very same 2012 Saints  “Bountygate” season when Payton was suspended for the year), have run well over 14,000 snaps of the football and the number is in all likelihood very close to 15,000 overall.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on YouTube.com / Michael C. Hebert

That’s a lot of constant repetition and familiarity within a proven system that works, and it’s a reason why the Saints themselves have a legitimate reason for being confident of earning a season-opening victory in Week #1 at the Superdome.

As noted by The Ringer.com Featured NFL Writer Robert Mays, the duo of Payton and Brees have been able to perfect their communication and collaboration as the longest-tenured QB-play-caller duo in the NFL now for the past 14 seasons.

“I know the stuff he likes and why he likes it,” Brees said to Mays a few days before the Saints’ Wild Card Playoff loss to Minnesota this past January. “And he’d say the same thing about me. It’s just that ability to kind of read each other’s minds at times that makes us effective.”

Mays makes the observation that along with varying their formations and alignments, the Saints probably add 30 to 35 plays to the playbook throughout a season, most of them involving subtle changes to the core concepts within the Saints’ established menu of play-calls. Those modifications allow New Orleans to construct offensive game plans that seem brand new each week, but are still easily for the other offensive players to learn and comprehend.

Mays also adds that most any ‘tweaks’ happen during midweek practices, but occasionally the experimentation can linger into the weekend. In fact, he says that the night before each and every game, Payton and Brees identify the best plays for specific situations and essentially dissect just about every play in their game plan for that week’s opponent.

By the time that meeting between the two men ends, Mays says that Payton and Brees have actually gone so far as to have played out the whole entire game within their minds, before it has even happened.

“We talk so much about situations,” Brees said. “And I’ll say, ‘OK, when this situation arises, this is what I think.’ So when that situation comes around in the game, I can anticipate what’s coming. That makes me a better player, to be able to anticipate the play-caller and why he’s calling what he’s calling.”

But it’s the length of time and the extensive familiarity that’s been developed throughout the past 14 seasons, that’s been largely responsible for the New Orleans offense to be ranked near the top of the NFL every year.

Credit: Christopher Taylor/Nick Boulet, JRNOLA

Current Saints QB coach Joe Lombardi has been Brees’ position coach for 9 out of those 14 seasons, over the course of two different tenures. Meanwhile, Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has been with the franchise for as long as Brees and Payton, and he has held that same role for 11 seasons while turning down opportunities to coach elsewhere.

That continuity has been a huge part of the reason why the Black and Gold has been able to field a top-notch offense nearly every single season, no matter who they have playing at each particular offensive position.

Over a decade and a half together, Brees and Payton have become what many long-time NFL observers and well-respected analysts consider to be one of the best ever head coach / QB combinations in NFL history; with the one notable exception of course of Brady and his now former head coach — Patriots head coach Bill Belichick — had been together for the better part of the past two decades (nearly 20 NFL seasons, 19 to be exact).

In a little bit over a month from now, we’ll all get to see if Brady can replicate the same type of success that saw him and Belichick go to 9 Super Bowls and win an incredible 6 World titles.

Clearly the transition for Brady from Belichick to Bruce Arians will be made a whole lot easier by the fact that the Buccaneers offense is absolutely LOADED with weapons, specifically a pair of All-Pro wide receivers with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin; along with Brady’s former tag team partner and top-rated pass-catching target in TE Rob Gronkowski.

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Twitter.com

That said, the Black and Gold has a bunch of weapons (Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, Alvin Kamara) in their own offensive arsenal as well; but with the difference being a head coach and QB leading the way that have been together for a much longer time than the opponents they’ll be facing in Week #1 on September 13th.

14,000-plus snaps of the football for one offense with the same head coach / QB duo over another one that has ZERO, could potentially give one team a slight “upper hand” over the other.

And when Arians, Brady, and the Bucs set foot inside the Superdome in exactly 5 weeks from today, we’ll find out if it will be a factor against the team that’s done it as well as and as effectively for the length of time, that Payton, Brees, and the Saints have….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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