Sizing up the Saints’ strengths and weakness in this Super Bowl-or-bust season

The Saints are talented, but they have concerns, like any NFL team

It’s Super Bowl or bust in New Orleans this season.

This is one of the most talented rosters ever assembled by the Saints. With that type of talent comes great expectations. The Saints say they are ready to carry the burden, but we will not know if that is real or talk for a few more months.

As talented as this team is, there are several questions this team is going to need to answer if it hopes to get a shot at a ring.

With this in mind, here is a look at some of the Saints’ strengths and weaknesses with the season on the horizon:

Strengths

1. Quarterback: In the East, it’s Tom Brady. In the West, it’s Peyton Manning. In the North, it’s Aaron Rodgers. Here, it’s Drew Brees.

Because tastes differ, it is a fruitless endeavor to attempt to rank those four men. All that matters is that you have a chance to go to the Super Bowl every year if one of them is your quarterback. That dream is very much alive in New Orleans.

The Saints should once again have one of the league’s leading offenses, with Brees making another run at 5,000 passing yards. If the Saints fall short of their goals, it won’t be because of No. 9.

2. Pass rush: Are Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette really one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing duos? It sure looked that way last year, but they’ll have to hit those marks again — or come close — for the rest of the country to buy into the hype.

But there are no doubters in New Orleans.

The defense is carrying itself with a lot of confidence and believes it only scratched the surface last season. Both Jordan and Galette have gone on the record stating they hope to exceed last year’s 24.5 combined sacks. They also expect the defense to finish better than fourth in overall yards.

This could go one of two ways, but it’s hard not to believe when you see how much these players believe in themselves.

3. Tight end: Many members of the Saints have pointed out that Jimmy Graham showed up at camp faster and stronger than the previous season. That thought should scare more than a few defensive coordinators around the league.

Mark him down as a tight end or a wide receiver — it doesn’t matter. In an offense with multiple weapons, Graham caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards with 16 touchdowns last season. There’s no reason to expect a significant drop in production this year, meaning Graham should further solidify his standing as one of the NFL’s premier pass catchers.

Here’s another scary thought: Graham has appeared to be more committed to blocking during camp.

4. Safeties: Everyone has preferences. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s happens to be safeties. It works for him.

The Saints would have been OK heading into the season with Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush patrolling the back end of the field. But they’ll now be in an even better position with Jairus Byrd added to the mix this offseason.

If everything goes to plan, the secondary should be among the best in the league and create more turnovers, which was one of the defense’s greatest weaknesses last season.

5. Punter: Thomas Morstead is one of the few punters in the league who appears to be properly appreciated by his fan base. Still, despite the affection he receives, he might not receive enough.

Morstead finished third in the NFL in net punting average (42.3 yards) and placed 25 punts within the 20-yard line. He’s the type of player who can flip the field.

It’s a luxury many teams do not enjoy.

Concerns

1. Offensive line depth: New Orleans has some good players sitting atop the depth chart across the offensive line.

Guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs are among the best in the business, and tackles Zach Strief and Terron Armstead are making strides. Centers Jonathan Goodwin and Tim Lelito are also solid.

Behind them, the picture becomes murky, since the roster is filled with unproven or unqualified alternatives. It could get dicey if some other players do not step up or if there is an injury.

2. The running game: There have been some positive moments this preseason, namely the opener in which Mark Ingram broke loose.

But those are preseason games. Can the Saints keep that trend up and running during the regular season? That remains to be seen. New Orleans finished with 1,786 rushing yards last season, placing it 19th in the NFL.

If New Orleans is to achieve its goals, it will need to become more balanced so teams are forced to respect the running game.

3. Return game: New Orleans’ return woes were likely overblown last season.

The team finished 31st with 506 total yards on kick returns, but its average of 23 yards per return placed it 17th. However, the Saints only averaged 6.1 yards per punt return, placing them 30th overall.

One of those areas needs more attention than the other, but both have room from improvement.

4. Kicker: The Saints did not have enough confidence in Shayne Graham to give him the starting job and were proved correct in their assessment when the kicker clanked an extra-point attempt off the upright in the preseason opener.

But Derek Dimke, his competition, is an unproven commodity who has failed to take full advantage of the opening created by Graham’s struggles.

One of these men is going to kick field goals this season. And at this early juncture, neither one instills confidence.

5. Turnover production: Creating turnovers has been the theme of this training camp.

The Saints know they have to produce more than the 19 turnovers they recorded last season if they hope to make the Super Bowl. Byrd was brought in to help alleviate that issue, but it is going to take a total team effort.