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Passing Fancy: Saints Offense Follows Long Line of Prolific Attacks

Drew Brees has made his point as the main cog in the machine that is the New Orleans Saints offense (Photo: Parker Waters).Drew Brees has made his point as the main cog in the machine that is the New Orleans Saints offense (Photo: Parker Waters).

There is no questioning the potency of the New Orleans Saints powerful offense, producing record numbers in 2011.

The Drew Brees-led attack racked up yardage in huge chunks last fall, surpassing some fairly impressive offensive units from the NFL's past.

Pro football has featured some explosive offensive teams. The St. Louis Rams was one, tabbed with the moniker 'Greatest Show on Turf'. The 1999-2001 versions of those units had their opponents inhaling their fumes as they whizzed past defenses like lane marks on the interstate.

The 1999 Rams had a 13-3 record, led by the mad scientist offensive coordinator Mike Martz with Kurt Warner at quarterback and weapons like Marshall Faulk, Tory Holt and Isaac Bruce. They compiled 6,412 total yards while besting the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. The '01 group, which powered to a14-2 record with Martz as head coach, lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI but amassed 6,690 total yards that season.

The 2000 Rams team scored an impressive 568 points with 7,075 total yards, allowing just 51 sacks.

There were quite a few others before that St. Louis juggernaut. One came just the year before their Super Bowl triumph.

That year, the Minnesota Vikings scored a then-NFL record 556 points, the most points scored by any team in the 1990's. Randy Moss was a superb rookie who had 69 grabs for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. Cris Carter, another future Hall of Famer, was another great receiving threat for quarterback Randall Cunningham while running back Robert Smith routinely broke off long scoring runs. 

The 1998 Vikings went 15-1 in the regular season only to fall in overtime to the leg of Morten Andersen and the Atlanta Falcons.

Now we drift back to the days of the AFL, the league credited with bringing the passing game into vogue. The 1961 Houston Oilers went 10-3-1 on the season, averaging 36.6 points per outing. Initially coached by Lou Rymkus (1-3-1 mark), the Oilers flourished under replacement Wally Lemm who guided the team to a 9-0 finish. They beat the San Diego Chargers in the AFL titlegame, 10-3, on December 24, 1961.

That Houston defense allowed 242 points total (16.1 points per game) while scoring 513 points(34.2 points per game) of their own.

George Blanda, who had been released by the Chicago Bears a couple of seasons earlier, tossed for 3,330 yards with 36 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Former LSU Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon accounted for 948 yards on the ground and six scores and added 43 catches for another 586 yards and nine touchdowns. Wideouts Billy Groman (50 grabs for 1,175 yards and 17 TD's) and Charley Hennigan (82 for 1,746 yds. and 12 TD's) supplied dangerous targets. Both averaged over 21 yards per catch.

The 1962 Oilers were coached by Pop Ivy. Houston had captured the 1960 and 1961 AFL titles and were seeking a "three-peat." Although finishing 11-3, Houston dropped a double overtime championship game to the Dallas Texans, the franchise that would eventually become the Kansas City Chiefs. Had the Oilers played a 16 game schedule, they were on course to put up 7,186 total yards on the season, an unheard of total at that time.

The double OT championship round featured a bevy of recognizable locals. Shown on ABC, Curt Gowdy, Jack Buck and Paul Christman handled the broadcast. It would prove to be the longest professional championship game in history.

Hank Stram was the Texans coach. His team was led by quarterback Len Dawson, Running backs included Jack Spikes and Curtis McClinton, the AFL's Rookie of the Year. Abner Haynes was the team's leading rusher. Ex-LSU DB Johnny Robinson, a college teammate of Cannon's, forced a fumble at the goalline in a violent collision with the former Heisman winner in the 4th quarter. Eight years later, Robinson would make another big play, an interception that sealed a win over the Minnesota Vikings in Tulane Stadium in Super Bowl IV.

The San Diego Chargers of the late 70's and early 80's had offenses could ignite at any moment. Coached by Don "Air" Coryell and quarterbacked by Dan Fouts, the lightin' Bolts lit up the scoreboard on a weekly basis.

Coryell coached the team from 1978-86. His 1980 team produced 6,410 total yards, while his '85 bunch racked up 6,535 yards when Fouts threw for 3,638 yards. He accounted for 4,802 yards through the air in 1981, with three consecutive 4,000 plus yard seasons from 1979-81.

In 1982, the NFL season was shortened by a strike, that allowed teams to play just nine regular season games. Fouts averaged 320 yards each game, which could have given him over 5,000 yards over a 16-game season. (Note: Drew Brees averaged 342 yards passing per game in his record setting season of 2011).

The Chargers possessed a weapon in RB Lionel "Little Train" James, whose skills at 5-foot-6 reminds many of current Saints' all purpose dynamo, Darren Sproles.

James had 2,535 all purpose yards in 1985, including 86 catches for 1,027 yards. On November 10, 1985, he totaled 345 yards combined in one game against the Raiders. Sproles had 2,696 all purpose yards in 2011.

There are some interesting tidbits surrounding Don Coryell. John Madden, who went on to coach the Chargers' biggest rival, the Raiders, was his defensive assistant when both were at San Diego State. Coryell coached under John McKay at USC in 1960, where, somewhat surprisingly, "Air" Coryell introduced and promoted the I-formation that McKay would use in the vaunted Trojan ground attack.

Other assistants who learned under Coryell include greats like Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, Ernie Zampese, Al Saunders, Jim Hanifan and Rod Dowhower.

Other prolific NFL offenses include the 1984 San Francisco 49ers of Bill Walsh, who used his patented West Coast attack to post a 15-1 record, a Super Bowl title, and 6,366 total yards during that dominant regular season.

The '93 George Seifert-coached Niners that won a Super Bowl while steamrolling their opponents notched 6,435 yards. Then, Steve Marriuci's 12-4 team in 1998 that put up over 6,800 yards on the year.

But the Flying Fleur De Lis offense of 2011 was a very special group, in rare air. Brees shattered a 27-year old league record set by Dan Marino with 5,476 yards passing. Brees also had a stunning 71.2 completion rate as the Saints averaged 467 total yards each time that they stepped onto the field.

Brees is now 11th in NFL history with 40,742 yards, ninth in touchdown passes with 281 and second in completion percent at 65.9.

In total yards produced, considering some of the records of the talented teams of the past NFL that we just mentioned, the Saints had 7,474 total yards while finishing second all-time in scoring with 547 points. They also had the second fewest sacks allowed with just 24. Yet with all the passing, New Orleans was still sixth in the NFL in rushing with 2,127 yards.

Although longer tenured, it is hard to fathom that Brett Favre managed 71,838 yards passing with 508 touchdowns in his career. Having said that, if Brees can stay healthy and happy until age 39 averaging 4,450 yards per season passing and 33 scoring tosses a year, he will overtake even the seemingly unreachable Favre records.

Brees has averaged 4,723 yards passing per season as a Saint since 2006 and 33.5 touchdown tosses during that span. Of course, age, health and the quality offensive weapons surrounding him will play a roll in his overall numbers. It will be fun to watch the script of #9's career play out in New Orleans moving ahead.


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