The New Orleans Saints are the only team in the NFC South to have played two division opponents to start the 2013 season. Two games, two wins. Two rivals down, one to go.
While neither game has been pretty and many deficiencies have reared their head, successes have also been present early on, most importantly in the win column. There's no reward for style points, and playoff qualifications don't take into account how you got there.
As of the conclusion of Week 2, here is where the NFC South stands:
NFC South Standings
The Saints are second in the division in points for and first in the division in points against, is very encouraging considering that the offense has yet to awaken (knocking on wood with crossed fingers) and the defense has really only given up 24 points, after you subtract the pick six at Tampa. If wins aren't good enough on their own, ask Giants, Redskins, or Vikings fans if they'd trade places with us at this early stage of the season.
Now let's be honest, should any of us be surprised that the Bucs put up the fight that they did? Sure, that's fair, their head coach and quarterback were in complete turmoil leading into the game and they were coming off of a stunning collapse the week prior. Now should any of us be stunned by this outcome? No, remember this is a division game folks. For roughly four years now, each team in the NFC South has built their team to neutralize the Saints' weapons and supplant them in the division.
It's not entirely surprising that the Saints haven't "dumptrucked" either of these first two opponents considering that they were built to stop the Saints specifically and are extremely familiar with playing against this offense. That being said, should the Saints fail to average 24 points-per-game over the next two games against Arizona and Miami, at home, then it may be time to sound the alarm.
The toughest task in the entire division this season was assigned to Rob Ryan. His brother, "Sexy Rexy" may get all of the attention, but our "Rob the Slob" is making a statement early on in 2013. Ryan has been tasked with stopping Atlanta's passing attack (check), slowing Tampa's running game (not bad at all), and dealing with Carolina's wild card in Cam Newton (TBD), two tasks down, one to go. Of course the Saints will have to face each of these opponents again this season, but so far so good.
Despite defensive upgrades of the competition, the Saints continue to be in another class in the NFC South because of the coach/quarterback combination advantage. Matt Ryan is begrudgingly good but Mike Smith has the Saints and the specter of looming failure rooted in his head. Cam Newton is all flash and Ron Rivera will ride that train to unemployment. Lastly, Josh Freeman is a dead man walking in Tampa and Greg Schiano conducts himself like a graduate of Gregg Williams' School of Class and Subtlety. Advantage Drew Brees and Sean Payton.
On to the negatives. You can't be the class of the division if your quarterback isn't upright, so the offensive line has got to figure this thing out while the season is still young and Drew Brees still has his head. The defense has got to hope the string of injuries stops here, as the lineup is getting perilously thin. The red zone offense needs to start clicking soon and begin turning these goal line gaffes into touchdowns.
Now for Mark Ingram. I know we've discussed Ingram ad nauseum the last few days, but his time has come. I said my peace during the off-season and I think you've got to take whatever you can get for him, now. The Saints are third in the division in rushing at 76.5 yards per game and it's not going to improve with Ingram's decline in productivity and confidence. The Saints need to take whatever value is left from him before professional halfbacks like Maurice Jones-Drew force their way out of desperate situations. Loomis needs to call the Giants, fast. Seventh rounder anyone?
All that being said, the Saints are 2-0 to start the season and they have a pretty solid head start in the NFC South. There's a long way to go yet, but the Saints are on the right side of the win column and that's what counts at the end of the season. Keep the wins coming (but I would like one of those vintage offensive performances) and we'll try not to fret about the rest. Next up, Arizona.