It’s obvious to everyone that the New Orleans Saints need to improve in 2023 — general manager Mickey Loomis admitted as much in reviewing head coach Dennis Allen’s performance in 2022, saying that the team has some things to work on moving forward.
One of those areas the Saints can improve is getting more aggressive he offends. They ranked dead-last in fourth down conversion attempts (11) and second-to-last in successful conversions (4), posting the third-worst conversion rate (36.4%) when Allen did give his offense clearance to go for it. That poor showing in critical situations extended to red zone scoring percentage, where New Orleans ranked 20th by coming away with a touchdown on just 25 of their 48 trips inside the opposing 20-yard line (52.1%). Few teams were as predictable and less effective in running on early downs, setting themselves up for failure on critical third downs.
A lot of that blame falls on play caller Pete Carmichael Jr., whom Allen chose to retain as offensive coordinator. Carmichael had to be convinced to take the job last year after initially asking for a lesser role, and he didn’t exactly rise to the occasion after stepping out of Sean Payton’s shadow. When asked why the Saints kept Carmichael in this position, after his offense ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards gained, points scored, first downs converted, and turnovers given away, Allen pushed back and claimed that performance is not indicative of Carmichael’s larger body of work.
Allen spoke at length about Carmichael’s performance in 2022 and the expectations moving forward during a conversation with reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine, as transcribed by SI.com’s John Hendrix.
When asked about Carmichael’s return for 2023, Allen pointed to his play caller’s resume: “The main reason why I wanted to keep Pete as the OC was just, go back and look at his track record. I think, look, Sean Payton, hell of a coach, great offensive mind. He’s been with this offense, he’s been the one common denominator with this offense the whole time. Even back to 2011 when Sean got hurt and Pete called all the offensive plays, I think it was probably one of the most productive offenses that we had here.”
Carmichael is the longest-tenured offensive coordinator in the NFL, but he’s only called plays sparingly over the years, and his results without Drew Brees at quarterback leave a lot to be desired. Allen is right to single out that 2011 team as one of the greatest in league history, but it boasted a bevy of All-Pro talent, and going from Brees at the height of his powers to a late-career Andy Dalton or banged-up Jameis Winston is about as far a descent as you can make in the NFL.
Maybe that’s why the Saints are chasing Derek Carr so doggedly. They see him as a clear upgrade over their options already in the building, and not just for 2023; general manager Mickey Loomis suggested Carr could be a long-term fix at quarterback for the next three or four years, if not longer. They’ve already chosen to keep Carmichael on the headset. Now it’s time to get him a quarterback.
But Allen may have betrayed a lack of confidence the Saints could upgrade over Carmichael in meditating further on the questions surrounding his return. He mused, “So when you have a proven commodity that you know is good and can do the job, well why would I make a change and go through this rat race of the 13 or 14 offensive coordinators that — ended up looking for 16 offensive coordinators. We’ll see how those 16 do, you know what I mean? That remains to be seen. But I think we have a proven commodity in Pete, and I’ve got all the confidence in the world that he’ll be able to do the job.”
You never want to admit that you’re scared to compete. And Allen didn’t necessarily do that here, instead praising how great of a job Carmichael did a decade ago with a Hall of Fame quarterback directing the offense. He can spin it without feeling like entering the mix when half the league is going through wholesale changes is worth it, but that’s a really tough sell. Reading between the lines, it suggests Allen didn’t believe he could lure in a qualified coordinator. So they’re running it back with Carmichael. Sink or swim, he and Allen are tying their careers together. They can’t afford another underwhelming performance like we saw last season.