NFL Power Rankings 2013: Falcons Rushing Game Hits Bottom

NFL Rankings after Week 8, for the NFC South - Jon Oliver

After a win against the Buffalo Bills in Week 8, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers continue to pull away from the Atlanta Falcons, whose 2013 season can be effectively summarized by the phrase: "Thank goodness for Tampa Bay."

Current NFL Rankings: (NFC South)

This Week

Offense

Defense

Passing

Rushing

Saints

6

12 (↓1)

3 (↓1)

25 (↓3)

Falcons

11 (↓2)

22 (↓2)

4 (↓1)

32 (↓2)

Panthers

22 (1)

3

29 (↓1)

8 (↓1)

Buccaneers

31

14 (↓1)

26 (3)

21 (↓1)

Although the Panthers are still a couple of games behind the Saints in the standings, they are currently sporting one of the best defenses in the NFL, and a solid rushing game. Meanwhile, with the Atlanta Falcons having the worst rushing game in the league, New Orleans is the only team in the NFC South which hasn't hit bottom in any category. The Panthers and Buccaneers have each had the lowest-ranked passing games in the league at some point this season.


Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (6-1):

Despite their 35-17 rout of the Buffalo Bills in Week 8, the Saints were not pleased with their own performance, which included nine penalties, timeouts wasted due to personnel issues, two missed field goals, and four sacks allowed. By the end of the week, the Saints had fallen slightly in the rankings for Defense, Passing, and Rushing; though they maintained their position in regards to overall offense. The Broncos, Packers, Lions, Chargers and Eagles remain ahead of the Saints in the rankings for total offensive yards; with a huge game by Calvin Johnson pushing the Lions up the ranks, and past the Saints for the second-most passing yards in the league. In the NFC, the Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, and Packers currently rank ahead of New Orleans defensively. In the conference standings, only Seattle (7-1) has managed -- after scraping a win from the Rams -- to hold on to a better record than New Orleans (6-1).

The Saints have only lost the ball seven times this year, which is the second-least number of turnovers given away by any team in the NFL thus far (Indy is at 6). Having taken the ball away from other teams sixteen times, New Orleans is ranked No.6 in the league on take-aways. Overall, these numbers result in a +8 turnover differential for the Saints, which is No.4 in the league, behind only Kansas City (+12), Seattle (+9) and Dallas (+9).

As far as punting goes: despite New Orleans being ranked No.8 in yards allowed after a punt, Thomas Morstead has the third-best average net yards-per-punt in the NFL. Had one of his punts been stopped at the one yard line -- as it should have been, were it not for a failure on the part of Corey White -- he would have maintained his No.2 ranking, and been closing in on the top spot in the NFL. Garret Hartley, on the other hand, dropped to a 78% success rate on field goals this year, after going 0/2 in the Superdome this past Sunday. This ties him as the 25th most accurate kicker (of 33) in the NFL for the 2013 season.

This Sunday, the Saints head to New Jersey to take on the Jets, who are coached by Rex Ryan, brother of New Orleans Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. Although the Jets offense is only slightly better than Buffalo's, the men in green have had a much more dominant defense this year. This will be the first time New Orleans faces a defense which is ranked higher than our own, which will only be magnified by temperatures in the upper 40's at the Jets' home stadium. However, if they remain focused, the Saints should be able to provide Rob Ryan with his first NFL win over his fraternal twin.

[Current Jets Rankings: Offense - 17th; Defense - 6th; Passing - 22nd; Rushing - 13th]

Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (2-5):
The Atlanta Falcons were considered the team to beat this year. Well, it seems like just about everyone is doing exactly that. Previously hailed as contenders for the playoffs this season, the Falcons have faded into obscurity... thanks in part to the Buccaneers. Not only did the Buccaneers gift wrap one of only two wins the Falcons have posted this year, but the circus in Tampa Bay has provided plenty of distraction for anyone seeking suitable targets for scorn and mockery.

Having boosted the Arizona Cardinals' record to an even .500, the Atlanta Falcons travel to face off against the Panthers, at a time when things seem to be falling into place for Carolina. While some may optimistically point out that Cam Newton's team has only managed to defeat terrible teams... Falcons fans may have a bitter pill to swallow: Atlanta currently falls into that same category.

[Current Tampa Bay Rankings: Offense - 31st; Defense - 14th; Passing - 26th; Rushing - 21st]

Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (4-3):
Last week, Carolina added to the list of poorly-performing teams it has beaten. The Panthers have now achieved convincing wins over the Giants, Vikings, Rams, and Buccaneers. This week, when Carolina hosts the Falcons, they hope to distance themselves further from Atlanta... and stay within two games of the Saints.

The adage about any given Sunday is even more true when the game at hand involves two NFC South opponents. That said, it's still difficult to believe that the spread in Vegas favors Carolina by more than a touchdown; though everything points to the home team getting their fifth win of the season. The Falcons have a better passing game than the Panthers, but they have no rushing game. Furthermore, Atlanta's defense is significantly worse than the one against which the Panthers posted 31 points last week. Considering that Matt Ryan's team has not been able to post more than 31 points all season, Cam Newton should be able to take this win at home.

[Current Atlanta Rankings: Offense - 11th; Defense - 22nd; Passing - 4th; Rushing - 32nd]

Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7):
While the New Orleans Saints are fighting for the No.1 seed in the NFC, the Buccaneers are flailing against the Jacksonville Jaguars for the No.1 draft pick next year. While Tampa Bay is likely already looking into possibilities for coach Greg Schiano's replacement, it remains to be seen whether he will simply lose out this year or deliver a final blow to the Buccaneers by earning them a later draft pick.

I don't think any team ever gives up on a season before they have even played their eighth game. However, it would be too much for anyone -- including Saints fans -- to hope for Tampa Bay to be 1-7 on Sunday night. This Sunday afternoon, the Bucs will be playing in Seattle. Given how close the Seahawks came to losing against the Rams last weekend, it's unlikely that one of the NFC's best teams will fall into the trap of playing too lightly against the worst team in the conference.

[Current Seahawks Rankings: Offense - 15th; Defense - 2nd; Passing - 28th; Rushing - 4th]


Saints Week 6 Performance:
(Saints 35, Bills 17)

Offense
(Time of Possession: NO - 32:30, BUF - 27:30)

The New Orleans Saints had three offensive players -- Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham, and Zach Strief -- returning from injuries following the bye week, and each of them had positive impacts on the game. Graham was used in the passing game sparingly, but effectively; as was Lance Moore. And, after the Bills game, Zach Strief now has a rating of 97.9, making him No.1 in pass-blocking efficiency among all offensive tackles in the NFL this season.

Even despite Strief's performance, however, the Bills were able to show why they've earned a strong defensive reputation. While the Saints offensive line was able to help prevent the Patriots from sacking Drew Brees more than once in Week 6, Buffalo managed to tally one sack in each of the four quarters during their Week 8 match in New Orleans. When Drew Brees was questionably flagged twice for back-to-back "false starts," it seemed as if the officiating crew would once again be tilted against the New Orleans Saints. However, the favor shown this week was not nearly as flagrant as the previous game; and New Orleans was able to come away with a convincing win... despite a lag in offensive momentum during the first half.

Offense

TD’s

FG’s

Yards

1st Downs

3rd Down Conv

Sacked

Fmbl / Lost

Int

First Half

3

0/2

222

11

1/6 (17%)

2 (16 yds)

0

0

Second Half

2

0

164

10

6/9 (67%)

2 (7 yds)

0

0

Total

5

0/2

386

21

7/15 (47%)

4 (23 yds)

0

0

The Saints offense seemed unable to gain any traction for the majority of the first half. However, after two touchdown passes late in the second quarter, they were able to turn in a dominant performance against a respectable defense.

Defense
The Saints defense prevented the opposing team from gaining more than eighteen points, for the sixth time this year. A solid hit by David Hawthorne on Bills quarterback Thad Lewis caused a fumble on his first play of the game, setting the tone for how physical the game would be. Lewis fumbled the ball twice more in the first half, on sacks by Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. Hawthorne would go on to record another sack, as would Glenn Foster.

The Saints recovered two of the three Bills fumbles.  Galette recovered the first fumble of the game, while Jordan recovered the fumble that he caused. Buffalo was able to recover the fumble Junior caused on his sack, however.  The visiting team manged to avoid fumbling the ball in the second half, though Thad Lewis had a pass intercepted by cornerback Keenan Lewis in the fourth quarter. The young quarterback may have been feeling the effects of nine solid hits... hits which left him with a rib contusion bad enough for him to miss practice, and possibly his next game.

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

1/2

161

9

3/8 (38%)

3 (22 yds)

3/2

0

0

Second Half

1

0

138

11

2/5 (40%)

1 (1 yds)

0

1

0

Total

2

1/2

299

20

5/13 (38%)

4 (23 yds)

3/2

1

0


The New Orleans defense turned out a fairly consistent performance over both halves, keeping the team in the game even when the offense sputtered early on.

Passing
Drew Brees was sacked for the same number of times and yardage as the Bills quarterback last Sunday. Despite the constant pressure throughout the four quarters, however, Brees managed to have an NFL-record 8th game with five or more touchdown passes. And he did so by spreading the ball around, as ten different Saints receivers had at least one reception. His rare feats do not end there, though. For the first time in the last eight seasons, Brees had four touchdown passes on throws that were deeper than ten yards down the field... tying Manning for the most in any NFL game this season. It was also the second week in a row that he had a touchdown bomb on third-and-20 to rookie receiver Kenny Stills, which was quite remarkable itself. Brees had never successfully completed a touchdown pass on third-and-20 or longer, despite 44 previous attempts; and the feat had only been previously accomplished 19 times in the entire NFL, out of 1,539 attempts.

On his way to his 322 yards, and five touchdowns, Drew managed to connect at least once with all ten of his intended receivers. Marques Colston was targeted the most, though he only managed 18 yards on three (of 6) passes. Darren Sproles (4 rec, 0 yds), Kenny Stills (3 rec, 129 yds, 2 TD), and Lance Moore (3 rec, 34 yds, 1TD) were each targeted four times. Brees threw the ball three times each to Ben Watson (3 rec, 45 yds), Jimmy Graham (3 rec, 37 yds, 2 TD), Pierre Thomas (3 rec, 29 yds), and Robert Meachem (1 rec, 15 yds). Rookie tight end Josh Hill caught both of his targets, for nine yards, and fullback Jed Collins added eight yards the one time Brees threw the ball his way.

Colston Countdown: After performances of 68, 63, 71, and 96 yards in the first four weeks of the season, the Quiet Storm's production has definitely waned in the past few games. His 18 yards against the Bills were the most he has gotten in any of the last three games. Currently sitting at 7,736 career receiving yards... Colston trails the all-time Saints leader in receiving yards (Eric Martin, 7854) by 118 yards. Even if he returns to his previous productivity, he is unlikely to set the record in Week 9; so Saints fans might look forward to him setting another record in the Superdome, against either Dallas or San Francisco.

Passing

Yards

Attempts

Complete

Yds/Att

Int

Sacked

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

206

20

16 (80%)

10.3

0

2 (16 yds)

8

3

Second Half

126

14

10 (71%)

9.0

0

2 (7 yds)

6

2

Total

332

34

26 (76%)

9.8

0

4 (23 yds)

14

5

Although the Saints had a difficult time converting third downs in the first half, their overall passing game was consistent from one half to the next. If the line can keep Drew Brees from getting beaten up in the second half of the season, this elite offense will make a dangerous combination with this year's solid defense.

Rushing
After the Saints managed an improved rushing game when they went to New England, their performance on the ground against the Buffalo Bills was significantly less impressive. In a week where New Orleans may be considering returning Mark Ingram to service, Khiry Robinson (7att, 9yds, 1.3ypc) had a thoroughly unimpressive performance. If the undrafted rookie hopes to keep the Heisman winner on the sidelines, Khiry needs to show that he can consistently gain yardage for the Saints. Especially if he's not any closer to proving himself as a viable receiver.

Despite Sean Payton's stated commitment to the running game, the Saints only tried to run the ball once in the second quarter; and Pierre Thomas gained six yards on the play. The 65 rushing yards Pierre Thomas (14 att, 4.6ypc) gained on Sunday were the most gained in a single game by a Saints running back all season. Although Brees did not scramble against the Bills, and although Jed Collins was not handed the ball in Week 8, Kenny Stills did manage to gain four yards on an end-around. The rookie wide receiver was the only member of the Saints to carry the ball, besides Thomas and Robinson; as Sproles was only used for blocking, and catching four unproductive dump-offs from a Drew Brees who was constantly under pressure.

Rushing

Yards

Attempts

Yds/Carry

Longest Run

Fmbl / Lost

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

32

9

3.6

12 yds (P. Thomas)

0

1

0

Second Half

46

14

3.3

13 yds (P. Thomas)

0

3

0

Total

78

23

3.4

13 yards

0

4

0

The Saints gained significantly fewer yards against the Bills than they managed in new England. Although that may be little surprise, considering the caliber of the Buffalo defense, New Orleans will face several more stout defenses moving forward... starting with the Jets this coming weekend.

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

Last week: Houston

Cowboyshelmet_medium
Dallas Cowboys (↓3)

Last week: Philadelphia (31)

Defense

Passing

Broncoshelmet_medium
Denver Broncos

Last week: Denver


Raidershelmet_medium

Oakland Raiders

Last week: Oakland

Passing

Rushing

49ershelmet_medium

San Francisco 49ers
(2)

Last week: Philadelphia (2)

Falconshelmet_medium

Atlanta Falcons
(↓2)

Last week: Jacksonville (31)

Rushing

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