NFL Power Rankings 2013: Saints Offense and Defense in Top 5 Again!

NFL Rankings after Week 15, for the NFC South - Jon Oliver

Despite a disappointing outcome in St. Louis, the New Orleans Saints are once again the only NFL team with a Top 5 offense and defense. They are also the only team in the NFC with both squads among the ten best in the league.

Current NFL Rankings: (NFC South)

This Week

Offense

Defense

Passing

Rushing

Saints

5 (1)

5 (1)

2

26 (↓1)

Falcons

16 (↓3)

29 (↓3)

8 (↓2)

32 (↓2)

Panthers

25 (1)

2

28 (1)

8 (1)

Buccaneers

32 (↓1)

13

32 (↓1)

22 (↓1)

Despite the Week 15 loss, the New Orleans Saints regained a bit of traction in the rankings.


Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (10-4):
After an unexpectedly embarrassing game in St. Louis, the New Orleans Saints look to bounce back strong against the Carolina Panthers once again.  Given the poor showings of multiple top teams this past weekend, the Saints improved their position in the standings, even despite the loss.

A win against the Panthers this week would lock New Orleans in as the winners of the NFC South, and the No.2 seed in the NFC.  If they don't manage the win, they will still be guaranteed a playoff berth if any of the following happen:
1. Saints tie + Cardinals tie
2. Saints tie + Niners loss or tie
3. Cardinals loss
4. 49ers loss + Cardinals tie

First, though, the Saints must focus on this Sunday's game.

This Sunday afternoon, they head to Charlotte for a rematch against the Carolina Panthers.  This time, they're playing for the NFC South title and No.2 seed in the NFC.  After winning the first round against the Panthers, the Saints get to challenge the notion that they can't win on the road, or in outdoor stadiums.  Although Charlotte will be unseasonably warm this weekend, the current weather forecast calls for thunderstorms.  The rain will undoubtedly encourage both teams to work the ground game, which will afford Sean Payton the opportunity to combat even greater odds with the No.2 seed on the line.

With everything seemingly in Carolina's favor, New Orleans is by no means guaranteed a sweep of the Panthers this season.  The last time these teams met, however, the Saints were able to shut down Carolina's strengths.  If Sean Payton can get the team to bounce back the way they did after the loss in Seattle, the WhoDat Nation could certainly be enjoying a relatively stress-free game in Week 17, before taking a bye week in the playoffs.

[Current Panthers Rankings: Offense - 25th; Defense - 2nd; Passing - 28th; Rushing - 8th]

Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (4-10):
After an absolutely horrendous performance in their own stadium, against the Washington Redskins, the Falcons fell solidly down the rankings boards in every category, and landed with a thud at the bottom of the NFL's rushing games.  Although Atlanta won, in a largely vacant Georgia Dome, even the few bright spots from the game are marred with blemishes.  For example:  despite forcing seven turnovers against a team in shambles, the Falcons only won by a single point.  And they were handed the win when Mike Shanahan decided to go for a two-point conversion at the end of the game, instead of tying it up with an easy extra point.  And while there is already little satisfaction to be had from barely defeating a disastrous team which started the game with its backup quarterback... by saddling the Falcons with the win in the end, Shanahan pushed Atlanta five picks down the draft board:  from second at (3-11), to seventh at the top of the (4-10) gaggle.

This weekend, the Falcons take their circus on the road to San Francisco, and could have a difficult time even making Monday Night Football interesting for NFL fans.  When drawing up the schedule, the league undoubtedly expected this game to be a competitive match with significant postseason implications.  Instead, I wouldn't be surprised if ESPN spent more time talking about two of Atlanta's division opponents than about the NFC South team that's actually playing on Monday night.

[Current Niners Rankings: Offense - 27th; Defense - 3rd; Passing - 30th; Rushing - 5th]

Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (10-4):
After a win at home against the New York Jets (6-8), the Carolina Panthers are tied for the NFC South title and No.2 seed in the NFC.  This weekend, they hope to take them both when the New Orleans Saints visit Charlotte for a rematch of the Week 14 prime-time battle in the Superdome.  The rain on the current forecast will undoubtedly encourage both teams to work the ground game, which would seem to give the Panthers yet another edge.  Both Carolina's rushing game and run defense are ranked higher than New Orleans.

Carolina will have plenty of advantages at home, against a division opponent which is coming off of a destabilizing loss on the road. If Cam Newton can lead his squad effectively, Carolina could snatch the division title from New Orleans.  Whatever the outcome, this game should make for an intense and competitive Sunday afternoon.

[Current Saints Rankings: Offense - 5th; Defense - 5th; Passing - 2nd; Rushing - 26th]

Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10):
After yet another predictable loss, this time against against the San Francisco 49ers (10-4), Tampa Bay travels to St. Louis to take on a Rams (6-8) team which just embarrassed the Saints.  Although the Buccaneers are finding themselves somewhat capable of playing football just in time to drop a few places in the draft lineup, neither of these teams are playing for anything more than pride.  Plenty of individual players on each side, however, will be playing for their job security.  Both teams have plenty of young talent which may have a good game playing without the pressure of postseason scenarios looming overhead.

[Current Rams Rankings: Offense - 26th; Defense - 21st; Passing - 27th; Rushing - 16th]


Saints Week 15 Performance:
(Saints 16, Rams 27)

Offense
(Time of Possession: NO - 32:12, STL - 27:48)

The New Orleans Saints began their offensive showing with a Drew Brees interception on his first play of the game.  Trying to force a touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham in heavy coverage on the next drive, Brees gave up a second interception on their second possession.  Rattled, the Saints had to settle for two field goal attempts and a punt on their last three drives.  To make matters worse:  with two seconds to go in the second quarter, the second field goal attempt was blocked.

Drew Brees was constantly under pressure throughout the game; and he began the second half by having his drive interrupted by a sack-fumble as he went to pass.  The Saints couldn't even get a first down on their next possession.  Finally, New Orleans started mounting a comeback in the fourth quarter, but it fell significantly short of the mark.  Had Hartley succeeded on his second and third field goal attempts, the Saints would have been much closer to nabbing a win, though nothing was guaranteed this past weekend.

Offense

TD’s

FG’s

Yards

1st Downs

3rd Down Conv

Sacked

Fmbl / Lost

Int

First Half

0

1/2

194

13

2/5 (40%)

2 (8 yds)

0

2

Second Half

2

0/1

238

17

3/10 (30%)

2 (14 yds)

1/1

0

Total

2

1/3

432

30

5/15 (33%)

4 (22yds)

1/1

2

The New Orleans offense faltered early, and was unable to recover from the first-half deficit.

Defense
The New Orleans defense was put in some bad positions early in the game, with back-to-back interceptions thrown by Drew Brees.  However, they did not perform well in the first half, either.  Unable to to get any real pressure on the Rams QB -- a stark contrast to the five sacks they tallied against Cam Newton a week prior -- Rob Ryan's squad allowed three touchdowns and a field goal in the first two quarters.  They rallied after the break, and held the Rams to only 71 total yards and one field goal in the second half.  But it was not enough to come back from the deficit they allowed early on.

David Hawthorne was the leader in tackles for the Saints, tallying ten solo tackles, with one for a loss.  Curtis Lofton tallied six solo tackles and one assist, while Kenny Vaccaro added five solo and one assist.  Keenan Lewis deflected two passes; and Isa Abdul-Quddus and Junior Galette were credited with one deflection each.

There weren't many impressive performances on defense, despite their strong second-half showing.  Had they managed a couple of sacks, or even one turnover, New Orleans might have come away with a win; but big defensive plays by the Saints were sorely lacking in St. Louis.

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

3

1/1

231

13

4/7 (57%)

0

0

0

0

Second Half

0

1/1

71

4

3/7 (43%)

0

0

0

0

Total

3

2/2

302

17

7/14 (50%)

0

0

0

0


The New Orleans defense rallied in the second half, though it wasn't enough to secure a Saints win.

Passing
With Drew Brees constantly under pressure, his fumble and two interceptions were too much for the Saints to overcome, even with their second half success.  Although he tried spreading the ball around to eleven targets, only eight of his intended receivers had successful completions.  Robert Meachem, Jed Collins, and Bryce Harris were each unable to make something of the only time the ball came their way.

Marques Colston was Drew's favorite target, and pulled in 8 of his 13 targets, for 92 yards.  Darren Sproles also had 8 receptions for 38 yards, with Drew aiming for him 10 times.  Pierre Thomas (8 targets, 62 yards) and Lance Moore (7 tar, 78 yds) each only missed one pass; while Kenny Stills (4 tar, 47 yds) and Mark Ingram (2 tar, 39 yds) were each successful every time Drew called on them.

When the game isn't going well, Jimmy Graham seems to lose his focus; and that trend continued in St. Louis.  The star tight end had a disappointing 2 receptions for 25 yards on 6 targets, and was the intended receiver for both of Drew's interceptions.  Tight end Ben Watson caught two of his three intended passes, to tack on another 12 yards.

Brees Countdown: Drew's 393 passing yards put him at exactly 4,500 for the season thus far.  The rain currently forecast for Charlotte this coming Sunday afternoon may temper his progress towards an NFL-record third consecutive season (and his fourth total) with at least 5,000 passing yards. With Carolina allowing only 211 passing yards on average, even 300 yards in the rain would be a solid production from New Orleans. When the Bucs visit in Week 17, the New Orleans Saints should be setting yet another NFL record in front of their home crowd.

Passing

Yards

Attempts

Complete

Yds/Att

Int

Sacked

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

169

21

16 (76%)

8.0

2

2 (8 yds)

10

0

Second Half

224

35

23 (66%)

6.4

0

2 (14 yds)

14

1

Total

393

56

39 (70%)

7.0

2

4 (22 yds)

24

1

The passing game had a fairly strong second half, though not strong enough to dig themselves out of the first-half deficit.

Rushing
Darren Sproles again grabbed the majority of the team's rushing yards, by tallying 24 yards on 7 carries (3.4 ypc).  Pierre Thomas had one more carry than Sproles, and averaged 2.6 yards each for 21 yards. Mark Ingram (5 yds) and Khiry Robinson (0 yds) each had one carry, as did rookie WR Kenny Stills (3 yds).

Drew Brees picked up seven yards on one run in the first half, and laid the ball over the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Even as they trailed significantly, the New Orleans Saints stuck with the run game in the second half... at least to the extent they used it in the first half.  Overall, however, their numbers on the ground were uninspiring.

Rushing

Yards

Attempts

Yds/Carry

Longest Run

Fmbl / Lost

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

33

9

3.7

11 yds (D. Sproles)

0

2

0

Second Half

27

11

2.5

8 yds (P. Thomas)

0

3

1

Total

61

20

3.1

11 yds

0

5

1

The Saints sprinkled in some runs throughout the game, but were far from a force to be reckoned with on the ground.

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


Bucshelmet_medium
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(1)

Last week: Jacksonville (31)

Offense

Defense

Seahawkshelmet_medium
Seattle Seahawks

Last week: Seattle

Cowboyshelmet_medium
Dallas Cowboys

Last week: Dallas

Defense

Passing

Broncoshelmet_medium
Denver Broncos

Last week: Denver

Bucshelmet_medium
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1)

Last week: 49ers (30)

Passing

Rushing

Eagleshelmet_medium
Philadelphia Eagles

Last week: Eagles

Falconshelmet_medium
Atlanta Falcons
(2)

Last week: Jacksonville (30)

Rushing

X
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