NFL Power Rankings 2013: Saints Have Top Passing Game in NFC

With the New Orleans offering evidence that their top five defense was no fluke, the return of their elite offense sent the Dolphins packing with Miami's first loss of the year. Here we review how the Saints fared this past week, how the rest of the NFC South compares, and who currently stands as the best and worst of the NFL.

Current Rankings: (NFC South)

This Week

Offense

Defense

Passing

Rushing

Saints

4 (2)

6 (↓2)

2 (2)

25 (↓1)

Falcons

7 (↑2)

25 (↓2)

4 (3)

23 (↓1)

Panthers

26 (↓2)

10

32

3(↓1)

Buccaneers

31

12 (3)

31

20 (↓5)

The New Orleans Saints continue to pull away from the rest of the NFC South, in regards to rankings as well as standings. An impressive offense on Monday Night Football earned the Saints the highest ranked passing attack in the NFC.



Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (4-0):
As the only team in the NFC South to post a win this past week, the New Orleans Saints remains one of only two undefeated teams in the entire NFC. Although the defense allowed more yards against Miami than has been the norm this year, they continue to perform among the best in the league. The impressive offensive display on Monday night reminded the nation why New Orleans has been a perennial playoff contender since Sean Payton and Drew Brees came to town. Even more satisfying for Saints fans this week: with Atlanta's loss accompanying the Saints win over the Miami Dolphins, the Black and Gold have gained a three-win margin over the rest of the division.

Having beaten an undefeated team for the second time this year -- since the Falcons were technically undefeated until they came to NOLA -- New Orleans has two more on the schedule ahead of them: the Patriots and the Seahawks. Although the Bears are no longer undefeated, after a 32-40 loss at Detroit, this Sunday afternoon's game at Soldier Field should be a challenge for the Saints. Especially if the current Chicago forecast of rain on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday holds true. That said, the Bears lost to the only team they've played that has a winning record this season; and the Saints rank significantly higher in every category except rushing. So there is a reasonable chance that New Orleans is still undefeated going into Week 6, despite the playing conditions and fans favoring a stout Chicago team at home.

[Current Bears Rankings: Offense - 14th; Defense - 20th; Passing - 20th; Rushing - 16th]

Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (1-3):
The Falcons have lost eight of the last nine times they have suited up, having won by one touchdown when the Rams (1-3) visited Atlanta in the second week of the season. Sunday night's loss at home to the New England Patriots put them behind the Panthers (1-2) in the standings. Their fourth quarter attempt to comeback from a blowout, after everyone (including possibly the Patriots defense) thought the game was cinched, resulted in Matt Ryan putting up 399 net passing yards... boosting Atlanta's rankings in passing and total offense, and making a number of fantasy owners quite happy. Watching Atlanta lose yet another game, after Matt Ryan failed to tie it up with any of four passes from within thirteen yards of the end zone, has a number of Falcon fans feeling like tearing out their eyeballs. The following quote, by an alleged fan on the Falcoholic, likely communicates the situation in Atlanta better than I can:

"I swear, the only people who hate the Falcons more than Saints fans are Falcons fans."

This weekend, the Falcons take the national stage for the second week in a row, when they host the New York Jets on Monday Night Football. As the Falcons face off against their third consecutive AFC East team, the show looks to be a battle between Atlanta's passing game and Gang Green's elite defense and superior rushing game. Although they have lost some of their claim as the NFL's premier circus, the Jets (2-2) may still have a tough time coming away with a win in Atlanta. If they can at least stay in the game through the first half, however, New York might be able to seal the deal... if the Falcons' second-half performance again proves as hollow as a fourth-quarter Georgia Dome.

[Current Jets Rankings: Offense - 12th; Defense - 2nd; Passing - 16th; Rushing - 12th]

Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (1-2):
Although they didn't improve in the power rankings, the Panthers managed to supplant Atlanta for the second place in the NFC South this weekend. And they did it without even taking the field. Before their early bye week, Carolina surprised many with their 38-0 shutout performance against the New York Giants... especially Eli Manning, who was on the ugly end of seven sacks and two interceptions. This weekend, after having a furious rebound from their 0-2 start interrupted, the Panthers travel to the University of Phoenix as the third consecutive NFC South team to face the Arizona Cardinals, who are 2-2 after narrowly defeating Tampa Bay by a field goal.

[Current Cardinals Rankings: Offense - 27th; Defense - 14th; Passing - 18th; Rushing - 26th]

Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4):
After shutting out the Cardinals 10-0 in the first three quarters, Tampa Bay was handed their fourth loss of the year with Arizona's thirteen unanswered points in the fourth quarter. This week they take a break... and hopefully manage to get things flowing a little better with Mike Glennon under center, before taking on the Eagles (1-3) in week six. Philadelphia's 32nd-ranked defense should be a relief for the rookie Buccaneers quarterback, though Tampa Bay's defense will need to step up against a great Eagles run game matched with an average passing game.

[Current Eagles Rankings: Offense - 2nd; Defense - 32nd; Passing - 11th; Rushing - 1st]


Last Week's Performance:
(Dolphins 17, Saints 38)

Having taken a look at where the Saints currently stand, and what this week holds for the NFC South, let's take a look at what happened last week to affect our team's rankings in each of the four categories.
(Time of Possession: MIA - 26:11, NO - 33:49)

Offense
If there was any question about whether or not we would see a full return of the elite Drew Brees offense this year, those concerns were put to rest on Monday night. Although the Saints seem to have largely replaced a traditional rushing game with dump-off passes, there is no question that the Saints were able to move the ball down the field. New Orleans scored on six of eleven drives in the game, and would have made it seven were it not for an atypical fumble by Darren Sproles. Few people are likely to give him grief about it, however, as the man who holds the all-time NFL record for all-purpose yards in a season had never once fumbled the ball for the Saints prior to the end of Monday night's game... a game in which he garnered another 222 all-purpose yards for New Orleans.

That fumble was the only time the Saints coughed the ball up to the Dolphins all night. Despite being sacked twice, and hurried several more times, Drew Brees did not throw any interceptions. In the end, the Saints offense showed how dangerous they can be, especially when paired with a great defense like the one Rob Ryan has fielded this year.

Offense

TD’s

FG’s

Yards

1st Downs

3rd Down Conv

Sacked

Fmbl / Lost

Int

First Half

3

0

204

11

4/7 (57%)

2 (16 yds)

0

0

Second Half

2

1/2

261

12

2/6 (33%)

0

1

0

Total

5

1/2

465

23

6/13 (46%)

2 (16 yds)

1

0

Although the Saints actually gained one less yard in the second half than they did during the same span in Week 3, New Orleans showed the world how potent its elite offense remains. Although they still face one of the toughest schedules in the league this year, maintaining a powerful complimentary defense should guarantee the New Orleans Saints will contend in the playoffs.

Defense
The first time the Saints defense took the field, Ryan Tannehill led the Miami Dolphins down the field to the red zone. Dealing with the noise of the Superdome for the first time, however, the second-year quarterback had to burn an early timeout after his fifth play. Despite the timeout at the eighteen yard line, the Miami Dolphins -- having the best red-zone percentage in the NFL at the time -- were unable to even get another first down, and had to settle for a field goal.

And so began an evening during which the entire New Orleans defense really shone. Junior Galette, Cameron Jordan, Martez Wilson, and Tyrunn Walker each tallied sacks, for a total of 33 yards. Defensive captain Curtis Lofton forced a Tannehill fumble, which was recovered by Rafael Bush. Bush also set up a Chris Carr interception with a dig worthy of beach volleyball; and two more interceptions were made by Jabari Greer (22 yd return) and Will Herring (6 yds). Even though Keenan Lewis was in and out of the game after suffering a leg strain in the second quarter, he and his teammates managed to neutralize Miami star receiver Mike Wallace -- Keenan's childhood friend from the Westbank (in NOLA). With all of the defense stepping up in this game, New Orleans star rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro mostly kept Miami gains within reason by making four tackles between ten and twenty-eight yards from the line of scrimmage.

Despite the fact that San Francisco and Cleveland overtook New Orleans in the defensive rankings after the Saints allowed more yards than usual this week (331, up from 247 last week), 224 (68%) of those yards came in the first half of the game. This gives evidence of a Saints defense that can make successful adjustments during halftime, which is a great compliment to what Sean Payton has been doing for years. If they had managed to perform as well in the first half as they did in the second, the NFL would currently have the New Orleans defense ranked at No.2, just behind the Texans and ahead of the Jets.

Defense

TD’s
allowed

FG’s
allowed

Yds
allowed

1st Downs
allowed

3rd Down Conv.
allowed

Sacks

Fumbles
Forced /Rec

Int

Points
Scored

First Half

1

1/1

224

10

2/4 (50%)

0

1/1

1

0

Second Half

1

0

107

9

1/5 (20%)

4 (33 yds)

0

2

0

Total

2

1/1

331

19

3/9 (33%)

4 (33 yds)

1/1

3

0


All told, the Saints defense had a great game with four turnovers, four sacks, an improved third-down conversion rate, and an early stuff against a great red-zone offense.

Passing
Saints fans were ecstatic about watching Drew Brees sling the ball around in the Superdome for over 400 yards on Monday night. Jimmy Graham had another big game, scoring 100 yards and two touchdowns despite only being targeted four times. He caught every ball that came his way, regardless of having to fight through some heavy double or even coverage for a beautiful catch in the end zone. In addition to being the top rusher through three quarters, Sproles was actually the top receiver as well, snagging seven of his eight targets for 114 yards and one receiving touchdown. Sproles also had the longest reception (48 yds) for New Orleans, with Graham not far behind (43 yds). With all of the attention these two have received, Marques Colston continues to earn his sobriquet as the Quiet Storm. Catching seven of the eight passes in his direction for 96 yards, he was right on Graham's heels.

Even though Pierre Thomas didn't get much accomplished in the running game, his caught five of the six passes (37 yds) Brees sent him; and Kenny Stills caught four of the six balls Drew threw in his direction (38 yds). Nick Toon (18 yds) and Ben Watson (4 yds) caught one of two targets each, and fullback Jed Collins pounded six yards out of his single intended reception.

Colston Countdown: with 96 receiving yards against the Dolphins, the Quiet Storm sits at 7,692 career receiving yards... surpassing Joe Horn (7,622) and now only trailing the all time Saints leader in receiving yards (Eric Martin, 7854) by 162 yards. When will he clinch his title as the top receiver in Saints history... in New England or when the Saints host the Bills in the Superdome on October 27th?

Passing

Yards

Attempts

Complete

Yds/Att

Int

Sacked

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

210

21

15 (71%)

10

0

2 (16 yds)

10

2

Second Half

203

18

15 (83%)

11.3

0

0

8

2

Total

413

39

30 (77%)

10.6

0

2 (16 yds)

18

4

Although the Saints attempted 15% fewer passes this week than during the matchup against the Cardinals, their improved completion rate (by 14%) actually landed them with one more completion and 71 more passing yards over their Week 3 performance.

Rushing
Drew Brees had the longest run in the first half of the game, for the second week in a row. His 5-yard scramble matched the only carry by Darren Sproles. Khiry Robinson gained 2 yards over three attempts, while Thomas ended with -2 yards over his three attempts. Although these numbers are worrisome for a team that is supposedly dedicating itself to the run, the 10 rushes for 8 yards (1.3ypc) for the half was an improvement over last week's -6 yards over 4 attempts (-1.5ypc) in the first two quarters.

With Mark Ingram on the sidelines nursing a toe injury for the second game in a row, the Saints relied on Sproles (4att, 28yds, 7.0ypc), Thomas (4att, 1yd, 0.3ypc), and rookie Khiry Robinson (12att, 37yds, 3.1ypc). All told, New Orleans rushed the ball 24 times on Monday, which was the same number of attempts they had against Arizona. However, the 68 yards rushing (2.8ypc) they posted was a sharp decline from the 104 yards gained over 24 attempts (4.3ypc) when they hosted the Cardinals the previous week.

For those keeping track of how the run game fairs with and without Mark Ingram: the Saints had 29 attempts for 78 yards (2.7ypc) at home against the Falcons, and 20 attempts for 75 yards (3.8ypc) against the Buccaneers. His replacement, Khiry (KHAI-ree), has not been targeted for a single pass or given a single return in two games; but he did tally his first special teams tackle against Marcus Thigpen, at the end of a 16-yard return of a Thomas Morstead punt.

Rushing

Yards

Attempts

Yds/Carry

Longest Run

Fmbl / Lost

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

10

8

1.3

5 yds (D. Brees)

0

1

1

Second Half

58

16

3.6

18 yds (D. Sproles)

1/1

3

0

Total

68

24

2.8

18 yards

1/1

4

1

Although few fans should find much displeasure with the performance of the team overall, New Orleans has not been able to get a solid ground attack going. Unless Sean Payton has decided that the Saints "run" game is best when it starts ten yards to the left of Drew Brees, he needs to get with his coaches and fix things... hopefully before they face some of the tough defenses looming ahead.

Lagniappe: The Best and the Worst in the NFL

Who currently holds the best and worst ranks in the NFL in each category?


Best
(Current #1 Rank)

Worst
(Current #32 Rank)

Offense

Broncoshelmet_medium
Denver Broncos

Last week: Denver

Jaguarshelmet_medium
Jacksonville Jaguars

Last week: Jacksonville

Offense

Defense

Texanshelmet_medium
Houston Texans (1)

Last week: Seattle (5)

Eagleshelmet_medium
Philadelphia Eagles (↓2)

Last week: Washington (31)

Defense

Passing

Broncoshelmet_medium
Denver Broncos

Last week: Denver


Panthershelmet_medium
Carolina Panthers

Last week: Carolina

Passing

Rushing

Eagleshelmet_medium
Philadelphia Eagles

Last week: Philadelphia

Ramshelmet_medium
St. Louis Rams (↓3)

Last week: NY Giants (30)

Rushing

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