NFL Power Rankings 2013: Saints Own NFC South

The New Orleans Saints are the only team in the NFL to start the season undisputed at the top of their division.

Current Rankings: (NFC South)

This Week

Offense

Defense

Passing

Rushing

Saints

7

18

5

18

Falcons

15

25

13

14

Panthers

29

19

30

5

Buccaneers

27

12

22

23

Although the passing game was not in top form, the Saints improved in two critical areas over last year's final rankings and remain firmly atop the NFC South.

Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (1-0):
The New Orleans Saints was the only team in the NFC South to win the first game of the year. It is also the only team in the NFL that currently stands undisputed at the top of its division in the standings. Even though the Saints passing game on a bad day is still the envy of most NFL teams, they know they have a number of things to work on this week if they are going to reclaim their No.1 position from last year. During the game against Atlanta, it looked like Drew Brees needs to put in some extra work on his timing with his receivers, especially the impressive Kenny Stills. The offensive line also needs to work on pass protection, to better protect the team's greatest weapon and let Brees be his most effective.

Although the running game still needs plenty of improvement, even the average rushing success the Saints had Sunday would be an improvement over last year's No.25 running game. And as for the most anticipated unit in the NFL this past weekend: Rob Ryan's new defense gave a great performance out of the gate, managing to keep a strong Falcons offense down well enough to earn a middle-of-the-road ranking their first week out.

This Sunday, the New Orleans Saints head to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL to take on division opponent Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although the Saints are currently ahead of the Bucs in three of the four categories, after a close Tampa Bay loss to the Jets, New Orleans needs to focus on protecting Drew Brees against an aggressive defense that will be looking to put some hits on one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The defense should also be able to fair pretty well against an offense that currently ranks in the bottom third of the NFL both on the ground and through the air; though nobody should be too cocky, as those rankings are based solely on one game against a stout Jets defense.

[Current Buccaneers Rankings: Offense - 27th; Defense - 12th; Passing - 22nd; Rushing - 23rd]

Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (0-1):
As one of only two teams in the NFL that failed to win any of their preseason games, the Atlanta Falcons started off the regular season with their twelfth loss to the Saints of the fifteen times they have faced Drew Brees. This coming weekend, they are staying home and hosting the St. Louis Rams. Despite the fact that the Rams won their first game (27-24) against the Cardinals, they performed about as well as the Falcons did this past weekend, in regards to passing as well as overall offense and defense. Atlanta is ranked significantly higher in the rushing game, however, and will likely welcome the Rams to the Georgia Dome with a much stouter offense than what the Cardinals provided. I would be surprised if the Falcons did not come away with a win from the first matchup between Steven Jackson and his former team.

[Current Rams Rankings: Offense - 16th; Defense - 23rd; Passing - 12th; Rushing - 23rd]

Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (0-1):
The Carolina Panthers started their season at home with an unenviable match against the Seattle Seahawks, fighting hard despite their 7-12 loss to a team many consider a Super Bowl contender. They should have a much better game this weekend when they host the Buffalo Bills, who somehow managed to make it difficult for a depleted Patriots team to defeat them. Even though Carolina and Buffalo are ranked fairly closely across the board, I would expect the Panthers to come away from this one with a win on their home turf.

[Current Bills Rankings: Offense - 24th; Defense - 26th; Passing - 28th; Rushing - 4th]

Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1):
Despite the ongoing circus over at the New York Jets, Gang Green's stout defense managed to help secure a loss for Tampa Bay. This week the Buccaneers face the New Orleans Saints, who should be able to carve up the division opponent with little trouble, as long as they can protect Drew Brees. For reasons discussed above, I expect the Saints to hand the Bucs their second loss of the season.

[Current Saints Rankings: Offense - 7th; Defense - 18th; Passing - 5th; Rushing - 18th]


Last Week's Performance:
(Falcons 17,Saints 23)

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.

Offense
New Orleans posted 419 yards in 66 plays throughout the course of the game, averaging 6.3 yards per play and putting 23 points on the board via 2 passing touchdowns and 3 field goals. While earning 18 first downs, the Saints converted 6 of 13 (46%) on third downs, and neglected to produce the one time they went for it on fourth down.

Giving up one interception and no fumbles, the Saints won the turnover battle against a Falcons team that gave up possession on one interception and one of two fumbles. With a referee squad showing an apparent favoritism for Atlanta that had even the Falcons-favoring announcers scratching their heads, the Saints lost 57 yards on 6 penalties, compared to the 19 yards recouped on the 2 penalties -- and multiple friendly pats on the butt -- Atlanta received from the refs. (Time of Possession - NO 35:11, ATL 24:49)

Offense

TD’s

FG’s

Yards

1st Downs

3rd Down Conv

Sacked

Fmbl / Lost

Int

First Half

1

2/2

217

7

3/7 (43%)

0

0

0

Second Half

1

1/1

202

11

3/6 (50%)

2 (16 yds)

0

1

Total

2

3/3

419

18

6/13 (46%)

2 (16 yds)

0

1

The Saints had a hard fought win, and walked away knowing they have several areas in which they can still improve. In the end, except for injuries, the final result of this game was likely the best Saints fans could hope for... instilling confidence, but not the sort of cockiness which can dangerously accompany blowouts.

Defense
Although Saints fans have come to treasure Drew Brees and the explosive offense he leads, there is little doubt that many of the 72,348 paid attendees -- whether fans of the Saints or the Falcons -- were looking forward to getting a first look at Rob Ryan's brand new defense. Football fans everywhere wondered whether it would be able to compliment Sean Payton's return, and help lead the black and gold to the a position of strength within the division and the league as a whole... or leave a door wide open for the Falcons to attempt a repeat of last year's division-winning performance. By the end of the game, I think it's safe to say that the majority of the Atlanta fans were the ones rising up from their seats in disappointment.

Many fans of both sides expected Steven Jackson to give the New Orleans defense trouble. However, only 77 of the 367 yards allowed by the Saints were his rushing yards. Other than Jackson's single 50-yard breakout run in the third quarter, where he was tackled out of bounds at the NO 5 by Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints managed to hold him to 27 rushing yards on 10 attempts and 45 receiving yards on 8 targets. New Orleans also only gave up 21 yards on two punt return attempts, compared with Sproles going 20 yards total on 4 punt returns and 23 yards on his lone kickoff return.

The 2-of-6 third downs Atlanta gained in the first half matched what New Orleans gave up to the Texans a couple of weeks prior, against a good team in the most legitimate game of the preseason. So Saints fans can hope for decent production from their defense this year, if they minimize the injuries. On all four journeys to the red zone this past Sunday, Atlanta made it to first-and-goal; but the Saints defense held them on two of those four instances, and gave up passing touchdowns (4 and 7 yards) on the other two. At the end of the game, Matt Ryan had a 65.8% completion rating against the defense, compared to Drew Brees hitting his targets on 74.3% of his attempts.

The first touchdown for New Orleans followed a Julio Jones fumble, forced by Malcolm Jenkins and returned 16 yards by Roman Harper, who also caught the interception tipped by Kenny Vaccaro to seal the Saints win at the end of the game. Keenan Lewis also forced a fumble when he caught and pushed Harry Douglas out of bounds at the end of a 50-yard reception, but the ball fell harmlessly out of bounds and remained in Atlanta's possession. Three other exciting plays by the defense were when Parys Haralson, Akiem Hicks, and Junior Galette each managed to sack Matt Ryan (for 7, 8, and 10 yds respectively). Vaccaro also managed a solid hit on Ryan as the Falcons QB took a late slide at the end of a 12-yard scramble. Though the rookie received a 7-yard penalty (half distance to goal), the hit likely sent a message in the first quarter... and may have helped the defense hold the Falcons to a field goal after gaining only 2 yards over the next three plays.

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

204

11

2/6 (33%)

1 (10 yds)

2/1

0

0

Second Half

1

0

163

7

1/5 (20%)

2 (15 yds)

0

1

0

Total

2

1/1

367

18

3/11 (27%)

3 (25 yds)

2/1

1

0


All told, the New Orleans defense went a long way towards overcoming the aberrant 2012 season, and managed to come through when it mattered most to help secure a victory for the Saints. Their showing certainly disproved many doubters going into the first game of the season, and has had analysts debating just how strong this defense may be, and how far it can take the Black and Gold this year. Even though the both the offense and defense need to step up and improve in several areas, at least Drew Brees shouldn't have to carry a failing defense this year.

Passing
The passing game didn't quite seem to be firing on all cylinders just yet, and needs to work on both timing and the ability to reel in receptions. That said, even on somewhat of an off day, Drew Brees had a 113.6 passer rating (133.8 in the first half) in his his sixth straight 300-yard passing game... tying for the second longest streak in NFL history, behind only Drew's own record 9-game streak with over 300 passing yards.

The first touchdown of the game for the New Orleans Saints came on a 25 yard pass up the middle to Marques Colston, who not only tied the game when he beat two defenders on the diving catch, but passed Eric Martin to set the franchise record for receptions with his 533rd career regular season catch. Colston also caught a 19 yarder from Brees on third-and-14, which was followed four plays later by a field goal from Garrett Hartley for the final score of the game. Currently pushing the franchise record to 537 career receptions, Colston is also the franchise leader in touchdowns (59), and trails the second place Joe Horn (7,622 yards) with 7,462 receiving yards... only 392 yards behind the all-time leader Eric Martin.

Darren Sproles (6), Pierre Thomas (4), and Ben Watson (3) each caught every pass that came their way, while the only pass Colston (5 of 6) didn't pull in was stripped away for an interception by Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford. Jimmy Graham was targeted the most by Brees, and managed one very nice touchdown, but failed to pull in 3 of his 7 targets. Kenny Stills seemed to be getting downfield a bit more quickly than Brees expected, and had his first two broken up before making a 67-yard reception out of a 24-yard pass up the middle. The next pass to the rookie was too underthrown, and he also had to come back towards the line of scrimmage for his final target of the game, which he pulled in for 19 yards as he hit the ground. Stills ended with only two catches of five targets; but his receiving yards total was only two yards behind Sproles, whose 88 receiving yards were the most for the Saints on Sunday. Lance Moore also made two receptions for 23 yards, and had his other two targets broken up.

Passing

Yards

Attempts

Complete

Yds/Att

Int

Sacked

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

174

15

11 (73%)

11.6

0

0

7

1

Second Half

167

20

15 (75%)

8.4

1

2 (16 yds)

10

1

Total

341

35

26 (74%)

9.7

1

2 (16 yds)

17

2

Drew Brees and Kenny Stills need to work on their timing a bit, and Saints fans can only hope Graham can eliminate some of these drops that have started to spring up since his wrist injury last year. That said, the Saints still have one of the most potent passing games in the NFL, and should only improve as they get into the regular season rhythm.

Rushing
New Orleans complimented 35 pass attempts with 29 rushing plays against Atlanta. The Saints certainly stuck with Sean Payton's commitment to the run in the first half, only throwing the ball 15 times compared to 16 (52%) rushing attempts. They only ran the ball 13 times (39%) in the second half, however, compared to 20 pass attempts. Take away Drew's two kneeldowns for negative yardage at the end of the game, and we're looking at 11 (35%) runs out of 31 plays. If you also remove the two short runs by Sproles to finish out the first half, however, those 11 second-half rushes for 169 yards surpass the 167 yards gained in 13 first half attempts.

The running game seemed to die off in the fourth quarter, with the longest run coming from Drew Brees for 4 yards. Counting the two times he knelt the ball, he is credited with 3 of the 7 rushing attempts tallied by New Orleans in the fourth quarter. While New Orleans only totaled 5 yards in the fourth quarter; Saints running backs averaged 5 yards over six carries in the third quarter, their most productive quarter in Sunday's ground game.

All told, Pierre Thomas was the leading New Orleans rusher, carrying the ball 9 times for 43 yards; and his 11 yard run was the longest for the Saints. Ingram also had nine carries, for 11 yards (long of 7 yds); but unlike Thomas he was not targeted for any passes. Sproles received the fewest carries, with 8 for 22 yards (long of 5 yds); but he also served as punt and kick returner, and was the most effective receiver on the team, catching more passes (6) and gaining more receiving yards (88) than any other player for the Saints. The holder of record for the most single season all-purpose yardage in history, Sproles was credited with 143 all-purpose yards against the Atlanta Falcons... putting him on course to extend his current NFL record of four seasons with over 2200 all-purpose yards.

Rushing

Yards

Attempts

Yds/Carry

Longest Run

Fmbl / Lost

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

43

16

2.7

8 yds (P. Thomas)

0

0

0

Second Half

35

13

2.7

11 yds (P. Thomas)

0

1

0

Total

78

29

2.7

11 yards

0

1

0

Once again, the value of Mark Ingram to the new Orleans Saints is being debated by Saints fans. Some attribute his lack of production (1.2 YPC) in the run game to scheme issues, possibly including the fact that he was the only running back not targeted for any passes against Atlanta. Others claim that it is entirely his fault that he does not produce as well as the other RB's in the stable. Whether his production for the team is in less tangible areas, or whether Sean Payton sees potential that simply isn't being realized, Ingram will continue to be a source of controversy among fans until his stats improve.

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

Jaguarshelmet_medium
Jacksonville Jaguars

Offense

Defense

Chiefshelmet_medium

Kansas City Chiefs

Ravenshelmet_medium

Baltimore Ravens

Defense

Passing

Broncoshelmet_medium
Denver Broncos


Jaguarshelmet_medium

Jacksonville Jaguars

Passing

Rushing

Eagleshelmet_medium

Philadelphia Eagles

Dolphinshelmet_medium

Miami Dolphins

Rushing


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