NFL Power Rankings 2013: New Orleans Saints maintain Elite Offense and Defense

NFL Rankings after Week 12, for the NFC South - Jon Oliver

Having swept their division rival, New Orleans remains the only team in the NFL to sport an offense and a defense which are both in the Top 5, and the only team in the NFC with both in the Top 10. For a team that is performing so well, several games have been far too close. Will the Saints be able to take the No.1 seed from Seattle this coming Monday night?

Current NFL Rankings: (NFC South)

This Week

Offense

Defense

Passing

Rushing

Saints

3 (↓1)

5 (↓1)

2

23

Falcons

13 (1)

27 (↓1)

6

31

Panthers

26 (↓4)

3

30 (↓2)

9 (1)

Buccaneers

31 (↓3)

14 (1)

28 (2)

19 (↓6)

After their Week 12 win over the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints remain the only team in the NFL to be ranked in the Top Five in both offense and defense.


Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (9-2):
After a game in which Sean Payton seemed interested in doing the absolute minimum required to defeat the Falcons, the New Orleans Saints slipped one ranking each in offense (behind the Packers) and defense (behind the Browns). However, New Orleans remains the only team in the NFL to sport an offense and a defense which are both ranked among the Top 5, and the only team in the NFC with both in the Top 10.

Resting Darren Sproles, hopefully so he would be healthy when the team plays in Seattle, was inevitably going to have a significant impact on the game in Atlanta; although not enough to cause much worry for the high-powered Saints offense. There was a bit more concern among some fans, though, when New Orleans decided to rest All-Pro guard Jahri Evans, to be replaced by undrafted rookie Tim Lelito. However, despite only one walkthrough during a short week in which he attended his grandmother's funeral, Lelito had an impressive performance which earned him the game ball.

Although Lelito allowed Atlanta's only sack, and though the rookie was flagged once for a holding penalty (declined), those were the only two footnotes to an otherwise stellar performance. Furthermore, the five sacks and one fumble recovery by the New Orleans defense certainly outweighed the errors committed by a slightly depleted offense.

This week, the Saints travel to Seattle, to challenge the Seahawks (10-1) for the No.1 seed on their home turf. The weather -- currently expected to be in the low 30's and raining -- will certainly add to Seattle's advantages from coming off of a bye week and playing on their home field in a structure which amplifies crowd noise. However, if the Saints are clicking on both offense and defense, the world may be surprised by an upset on an episode of Monday Night Football stacked completely against the visiting team.

[Current Seahawks Rankings: Offense - 12th; Defense - 2nd; Passing - 24th; Rushing - 3rd]

Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (2-9):
After being swept by the New Orleans Saints, in Atlanta, the Falcons are now the only team in the NFL to have already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. With over two months of NFL football remaining, Mike Smith has already found himself responding to the media's questions about Atlanta's plans for the 2014 draft. He claims that the team will still be playing to win, but will they do so?

This week, the Falcons head north to take on the Buffalo Bills. Luckily for Matt Ryan, however, they won't be subjected to the harsh winter weather. After giving Atlanta a home game for which New Orleans was coming off of a bruiser against San Francisco, for the second consecutive year, the NFL is sending the Falcons to Toronto instead of making them face the Bills in front of a Buffalo home crowd in December. It's unfortunate that the Falcons will be unable to make the most out of this advantageous scheduling. However, they may still be able to defeat the Bills (4-7) in a venue which sees as many fans sporting opponents' jerseys as Bills jerseys.

[Current Bills Rankings: Offense - 19th; Defense - 15th; Passing - 27th; Rushing - 7th]

Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (8-3):
After being unable to retake the lead Miami gained the first quarter, Carolina managed to score a touchdown with less than a minute left in the game, and narrowly defeated the Miami Dolphins (5-6) by four points. This week, the Panthers enjoy the advantages of playing in their home stadium, as they attempt to mathematically eliminate any playoff chances for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-8). More importantly, stomping on a weaker division opponent could help the Panthers contend with the New Orleans Saints (9-2) in the race for postseason placement.

Although Charlotte is not expecting rain on Sunday, the 40-degree weather won't be quite as hospitable as Tampa, which is expected to hit 79 degrees the same afternoon. Add the other advantages which accompany playing in their home stadium, and the Panthers are more likely to end Tampa Bay's 3-win streak than to have their own 7-win streak ended.

[Current Bucs Rankings: Offense - 31st; Defense - 14th; Passing - 28th; Rushing - 19th]

Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-8):
Tampa Bay has managed to pull off their third consecutive win, defeating the Detroit Lions (6-5) by three points on Sunday afternoon. This week, the Buccaneers find themselves on the road again. This coming Sunday afternoon, they attempt to knock a division opponent, the Carolina Panthers, down a peg while continuing to recover from the circus swirling through the Bucs organization this year.

Although Tampa Bay has certainly earned its place as an underdog in the coming matchup, division games within the NFC South are notoriously difficult to predict. Also, since none of the games on Thanksgiving Day can eliminate the Bucs from playoff contention, it is possible Tampa Bay will be at least partially driven by feeble hopes of staying in the postseason race. However, it is quite likely that those hopes will be quashed by the end of the game.

[Current Panthers Rankings: Offense - 26th; Defense - 3rd; Passing - 30th; Rushing - 9th]


Saints Week 12 Performance:
(Saints 17, Falcons 13)

Offense
(Time of Possession: NO - 26:14, ATL - 33:46)

The New Orleans Saints controlled the ball for less time in Atlanta than they have throughout any game all season. And yet they maintained the lead for the majority of the game, including when it ended.

Similar to their game against San Francisco, the Saints scored two touchdowns in the first half, and only field goals (one, this time) in the second half. Similarly, Drew Brees was only sacked once in each game, during the second half both times. One marked difference in Week 12, however, was that the Saints did not give up a single turnover to the Falcons.

With solid -- but not spectacular -- performances in both passing and rushing, it seemed as if Sean Payton might have been doing just enough to beat the Falcons, in order to deliver a strong performance in Seattle. With over a third (130) of the Saints' total yards (374) for the game, Pierre Thomas carried the load in Atlanta by averaging 8.7 yards per play on his five receptions and ten carries. Factor in Jimmy Graham's sixth 100-yard game this season, which he punctuated by bending Atlanta's goalpost during his touchdown celebration, and the rest of the offense only logged 144 yards throughout the game. It was enough to win, however; and hopefully the team will be rested and ready to face the Seahawks in Seattle.

Offense

TD’s

FG’s

Yards

1st Downs

3rd Down Conv

Sacked

Fmbl / Lost

Int

First Half

2

0

214

11

6/8 (75%)

0

0

0

Second Half

0

1/1

160

8

1/5 (20%)

1 (7 yds)

0

0

Total

2

1/1

374

19

7/13 (54%)

1 (7 yds)

0

0

The Saints offense had an average performance, by recent standards. Was Sean Payton trying to save the big effort for a tough game in Seattle?

Defense
Despite allowing Atlanta over 150 more yards -- and ten more first downs -- than they allowed San Francisco a week prior, the New Orleans defense put up a notable performance against one of the league's better offenses. On a positive note, they managed to sack Matt Ryan twice more than they got to Colin Kaepernick, for over twice as many total negative yards. After racking up five sacks, New Orleans in now tied for first in the league, with 37 sacks this year.

Rob Ryan's squad also managed to prevent the Falcons from scoring at all in the second half. Granted, this was in part due to Sean Payton successfully icing Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant, who was unable to repeat his successful first attempt from 52 yards in the fourth quarter. But credit must of course be given to the Saints defense, for preventing the home team from even reaching the red zone after halftime.

Corey White led the Saints with ten combined tackles and assists, and Kenny Vaccaro, Roman Harper, and Curtis Lofton each combined for nine. Akiem Hicks tallied eight combined tackles and assists, and added 1.5 sacks to the mix; while Cameron Jordan added 2.5 sacks to his 3 tackles and 3 assists. OLB Parys Haralson was credited with 0.5 sacks, as was DE Keyunta Dawson. Dawson also forced a fumble by Falcons WR Darius Johnson, which resulted in the only turnover of the game when the ball was recovered by cornerback Corey White. White has had a shaky start as Jabari Greer's replacement; though he is contributing to the teams efforts with successful tackling, and by recovering the Saints' only two turnovers in the last two weeks.

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

2/2

198

12

3/6 (50%)

1 (8 yds)

0

0

0

Second Half

0

0/1

157

10

3/6 (50%)

4 (20 yds)

1/1

0

0

Total

1

2/3

355

22

6/12 (50%)

5 (28 yds)

1/1

0

0


The New Orleans defense performed very well in Atlanta, sealing a win despite the relatively low scoring production from New Orleans.

Passing
Once again, Drew Brees managed to complete passes to all of his intended targets. Although the New Orleans Saints had significantly fewer passes in Week 12, they had an average of 8.4 yards per attempt -- and 12.1 yards per reception -- with nine different receivers.

Even injured, Jimmy Graham was again Drew's favorite target; and he caught 5 of his 7 targets for 100 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown. Pierre Thomas, the game's leader in all-purpose yards, caught five of his six targets, for 57 yards. His longest reception, in the first quarter, matched the 18-yard runs he put up in each half.

Marques Colston was also targeted six times, and successfully completed four of them for 40 yards. Kenny Stills (3 targets, 22 yards), Lance Moore (2 tar, 22 yds), and rookie TE Josh Hill (3 tar, 16 yds) each had two receptions; while Robert Meachem (3 tar, 18 yds), Travaris Cadet (1 tar, 2 yds), and Benjamin Watson (2 tar, 1 yd) each caught one of Drew's passes. Along with the versatile Darren Sproles, wide receiver Nick Toon was also inactive against Atlanta.

Passing

Yards

Attempts

Complete

Yds/Att

Int

Sacked

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

156

19

14 (74%)

8.2

0

0

8

2

Second Half

122

14

9 (64%)

8.7

0

1 (7 yds)

6

0

Total

278

33

23 (70%)

8.4

0

1 (7 yds)

14

2

Although the numbers were far from mind-boggling, the Saints passing game delivered as much as was needed to beat the Falcons.

Rushing
Ignoring the negative 14 yards credited to Drew Brees on the last three plays of the game -- two kneeldowns, and a backfield runaround to burn time off the clock -- the New Orleans Saints rushing game was impressively consistent throughout both halves... averaging 5.3 yards per carry over 11 attempts in each half. Pierre Thomas led the team with five of those carries in each half, including game-high 18-yard runs in the second and third quarters. Mark Ingram averaged 3.6 yards per carry over 9 attempts, and Khiry Robinson grabbed four yards on his only carry. While Jed Collins did not make it past the line of scrimmage on his only rushing attempt, Drew Brees did manage to scramble once for 8 yards.

If New Orleans can continue to put up decent numbers in the rushing game, while not fumbling the ball, the run threat will provide a good compliment to the powerful Saints passing attack. Also, while Darren Sproles took the Atlanta game off to rest his knee and ankle, he will likely return to have an impact on the game in Seattle this coming Monday.

Rushing

Yards

Attempts

Yds/Carry

Longest Run

Fmbl / Lost

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

58

11

5.3

18 yds (P. Thomas)

0

3

0

Second Half

59

11

5.3

18 yds (P. Thomas)

0

2

0

Total

117

22

5.3

18 yards

0

5

0

Although the Falcons do not have an impressive run defense, the fact that New Orleans seems to be getting into a rhythm bodes well for the rushing game moving forward.

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

Last week: Dallas

Defense

Passing

Broncoshelmet_medium
Denver Broncos

Last week: Denver

49ershelmet_medium
San Francisco 49ers

Last week: San Francisco

Passing

Rushing

Eagleshelmet_medium
Philadelphia Eagles (↑1)

Last week: Washington (2)

Jaguarshelmet_medium
Jacksonville Jaguars

Last week: Jacksonville

Rushing

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