NFL Power Rankings 2013: Saints Defense Threatening Top Ten

With the defense continuing to climb the leader boards, the New Orleans Saints remain the undisputed leaders of the NFC South.

Current Rankings: (NFC South)

This Week

Offense

Defense

Passing

Rushing

Saints

9 (↓2)

11 (↑7)

5

24 (↓6)

Falcons

11 (↑4)

27 (↓2)

6 (↑7)

27 (↓13)

Panthers

27 (↑2)

26 (↓7)

30

6 (↓1)

Buccaneers

29 (↓2)

13 (↓1)

31 (↓9)

11 (↑12)

The New Orleans Saints continue to lead the NFC South, in regards to rankings as well as standings. After Sunday's games, the Saints had climbed to a Top Ten defense; but the Bengals performed well enough Monday night to climb over the Saints to No.7, pushing the Steelers to No.10 and Saints to No.11. Atlanta's little brother to the Saints seem to be falling into place just below New Orleans in every category except defense, where the Saints are a clear favorite thus far.

Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (2-0):
The New Orleans Saints remains the only undefeated team in the NFC South, with baby brother trailing by only one game. In the rest of the NFL, the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks have joined the Saints as the only NFC teams with undisputed leads in their divisions, while the Texans stand as the only such team in the AFC. If Miami manages to hold on to their winning streak when Atlanta visits them this week, a New Orleans win at home against the Cardinals will further strengthen their command of the NFC South.

While the Saints passing game remains in the Top Five among all NFL teams, the declining rushing game is dragging down the offense as a whole... not only in overall statistics, but by making it more difficult for Drew Brees to perform with the surgical precision which many fans have come to expect. On the other side of the ball, however, Rob Ryan managed to show that the Week 1 defense was no fluke, as his injury-riddled squad climbed into the NFL's Top Ten until being barely unseated by the Bengals on Monday night.

This Sunday, the New Orleans Saints face their first NFC West matchup of the season, as they host the (1-1) Arizona Cardinals. Hopefully the Dome field advantage won't be necessary; but it will no doubt be appreciated by the Saints as they hope to remain undefeated against a team with an offensive rank close to the Falcons, and a defensive rank comparable to the Buccaneers. While displeased fans are unlikely to reverse their opinions of Mark Ingram after he faces an Arizona defense adept at stuffing the run, Drew Brees should have a much-needed respite against a team which has only recorded one sack thus far. The Saints are generally expected to win this week, though there is a good chance that the game will once again be closer than many expect. Special teams play may very well be the deciding factor in this Sunday's game.

[Current Cardinals Rankings: Offense - 13th; Defense - 16th; Passing - 12th; Rushing - 21st]

Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (1-1):
This past weekend, Atlanta managed to break their six-game losing streak by not completely choking away a commanding first half lead against Steven Jackson's former team. Though their home opener garnered them their first tick in the win column, the Falcons have added their star running back to the list of players whose injuries may significantly impact Atlanta's chances over the next few weeks. A few weeks ago, I might have said they were lucky to be facing Miami next. However, the Dolphins have managed to secure wins in each of their first two games this season, and will likely provide a challenge for the ailing Falcons in the South Florida heat. As this is a game that could easily go either way... Saints fans will likely be hoping for Atlanta to earn another loss while softening up Miami for the Dolphins' trip to the Superdome in two weeks. Especially with Jackson out of the mix this week, the game should provide good film of how Miami handles a team that is similar to the Saints in several respects, though ultimately weaker in every category.

[Current Dolphins Rankings: Offense - 21st; Defense - 19th; Passing - 14th; Rushing - 28th]

Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (0-2):
Carolina's loss to the Seahawks in the first week of the season was no surprise. However, Eli Manning must be licking his chops after seeing the Panthers defense fail to capitalize on drawing their northern game against the pitiable Bills in September. Carolina's defense against the run will matter little to a team that has had more success passing the ball than any other team in the NFL over the past two weeks. Neither team has managed to win a game this year, however; and the odds are going in favor of the Panthers merely due to home field advantage. That said, although the Big Blue aren't getting much respect after delivering four interceptions during a whipping from Eli's older brother last week, Carolina may be getting embarrassed at home this weekend if the Giants can actually finish their drives on Sunday.

[Current Giants Rankings: Offense - 5th; Defense - 20th; Passing - 1st; Rushing - 32nd]

Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2):
After failing to close out the game against the Saints this past weekend, the NFL's newest circus heads to Boston to face the new England Patriots on Sunday. Though the team might have once been expected make the most of the mild weather on their trip north -- especially with Tom Brady having such a disconnect with his current receiving corps -- the Bucs are in such disarray that they may provide little more than a chance for the Patriots to tweak some of the problems they have been having this season. Having held the Saints to only one touchdown last week, it's still possible that Tampa Bay could end Brady's run at the all-time record Drew Brees set last year for consecutive games with touchdown passes. However, especially without their home crowd of 237 devoted fans to cheer them on, this seems very unlikely. Unless they can fix their internal struggles, expect the Buccaneers to get beaten solidly, even by a Patriots team that is still trying to get back on their feet.

[Current Patriots Rankings: Offense - 22nd; Defense - 8th; Passing - 21st; Rushing - 13th]


Last Week's Performance:
(Saints 16, Buccaneers 14)

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.
(Time of Possession: NO - 32:36, TB - 27:24)

Offense
New Orleans scored one touchdown this past Sunday, with a 56-yard pass from Drew Brees to to Jimmy Graham in the first quarter. The rest of their points came from three Garrett Hartley field goals, in the first, third and fourth quarters. Tampa Bay's only points came in the form of an interception return for a touchdown, and a touchdown following an interception return to the NO 35. So it would be fair to say that the New Orleans defense surprisingly saved the offense for the second week in a row. In truth, Garrett Hartley must also be given credit for making 4 of his 5 field goal attempts, despite only being officially credited with three of four after one successful attempt at the end of the first half was nullified with a penalty and a gamble by the New Orleans head coach.

In addition to throwing two interceptions, Drew Brees was also the only member of the Saints to fumble the ball. Luckily, however, the Bucs were unable to capitalize on said fumble... largely due to an unsportsmanlike hit by Tampa Bay's Adrian Clayborn, who drove the crown of his helmet into Drew's jaw on the play. Although the Saints broke even against Tampa Bay's two turnovers, unlike the Buccaneers -- whose offense found the end zone on their only trip past the twenty -- the Saints were unable to fully capitalize on any of their four trips to the red zone.

That said, it is easy to offer criticism when we have been spoiled by one of the NFL's premier offenses, which has made a habit of rewriting the record books over the past several years. Although the Saints ran the ball fewer times than the previous week, the overall production of the running game improved for this week's twenty running plays (as opposed to 29 last week). And with Jimmy Graham's best production of his career, helping extend Drew's 300-yard passing streak to seven games, there was much to appreciate about a Saints offense that remains among the best in the league.

Offense

TD’s

FG’s

Yards

1st Downs

3rd Down Conv

Sacked

Fmbl / Lost

Int

First Half

1

1/2

239

13

4/8 (50%)

2 (12 yds)

1/0

1

Second Half

0

2/2

132

8

1/6 (17%)

2 (14 yds)

0

1

Total

1

3/4

371

21

5/14 (36%)

4 (26 yds)

1/0

2

The Saints managed to scrape out a hard fought win in the final seconds of the game, and walked away knowing they have several areas in which they can still improve. Although injuries and running game woes give cause for concern -- as do the few issues Drew still seems to be working out with his O-line and receivers -- New Orleans managed to pull through when it absolutely mattered in yet another tough division game. When the offense starts firing on all cylinders once again, this team should present a significant challenge to any defense in the league.

Defense
New Orleans gave up two touchdowns to Tampa Bay on Sunday: one in the first quarter and one in the fourth. However, the fourth quarter touchdown was an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown, meaning the defense only gave up one 5-yard touchdown (and no field goals) the entire game. And that five-yarder punctuated a first quarter drive that began on the NO 35, after the first Brees interception of the game. So all told, the Saints defense did very well in an away game against a division opponent.

Of the 91 yards allowed by the Saints defense in the first half: only 31 were gained through the air, while 14 of the 61 rushing yards allowed were gained by Josh Freeman. In the second half, the Bucs managed 99 rushing yards and 82 passing yards against the New Orleans defense. Early in the third quarter, Junior Galette managed to recover a fumble caused by a Cam Jordan sack twelve yards behind the line of scrimmage. The other turnover gained by the Saints defense came on the very next Tampa bay drive, when Malcolm Jenkins intercepted a pass intended for Vincent Jackson, and returned it for 31 yards before being brought down by TE Nate Byham.

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

0

92

6

2/6 (33%)

0

0

0

0

Second Half

1

0/1

181

8

3/7 (43%)

1 (12 yds)

1/1

1

0

Total

2

0/1

273

14

5/13 (38%)

1 (12 yds)

2/1

1

0


Despite heavy losses due to injuries, Rob Ryan managed once again to put a formidable defense on the field. If the injury trend subsides, Saints fans may be cheering their team well into the postseason. Otherwise, one has to wonder exactly when the bough will break on the new darlings of the black and gold.

Passing
Were it not for two interceptions which each led to Tampa Bay's only points this weekend, the passing game would again be the envy of the majority of the NFL. Long-time fans of the New Orleans Saints have certainly been in worse places than finding themselves slightly disappointed in a Top Five passing game. But if the Saints are going to be a championship contender this year, they need to clean up the passing game as well as step up in the running game. That said, Drew extended his streak of 300-yard passing games by gaining 322 gross yards; though the team lost 26 yards on four sacks, equating to 296 net yards passing.

While some have been worried about Jimmy Graham dropping the ball more than usual since last year, he certainly stepped up and delivered against Tampa Bay... pulling in ten of sixteen targets for 179 yards, highlighted by a 56 yard play which gave the Saints their only touchdown of the evening. Marques Colston also delivered significantly when it mattered: he caught four of the seven passes thrown his way, including putting Garrett Hartley in prime position for the game-winning field goal by holding on to Drew's perfectly-thrown final pass of the game. Darren Sproles was reliable as usual, catching six of eight targets for 36 yards; and Pierre Thomas was able to give Brees some help by pulling in four of the five passes Drew aimed his way, for 19 yards.

Brees also targeted the usually-productive Lance Moore four times, though only one of them turned into a 15-yard reception. Kenny Stills, Jed Collins, Mark Ingram, and the recently re-signed Robert Meachem were each targeted once as well, though the 10-yard reception by Stills was the only one of those four which resulted in positive yardage.

Colston Countdown: with 63 receiving yards against the Buccaneers, the Quiet Storm sits at 7,525 career receiving yards... trailing 2nd place Joe Horn (7,622) by 97 yards and the all time Saints leader in receiving yards (Eric Martin, 7854) by 329 yards.

Passing

Yards

Attempts

Complete

Yds/Att

Int

Sacked

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

216

27

16 (59%)

8.0

1

2 (12 yds)

8

1

Second Half

106

19

10 (53%)

5.6

1

2 (14 yds)

5

0

Total

322

46

26 (57%)

7

2

4 (26 yds)

13

1

Drew seemed to focus heavily on four players this past Sunday: one wide receiver, a tight end, and two running backs. Perhaps being sacked four times -- and hurried several more -- made him focus more on his reliable veterans. If Graham can keep reeling them in, he and Colston will keep seeing the majority of the non-checkdown passes. Especially while Drew continues to help Colston put another record in the books.

Rushing
Mark Ingram. Mark Ingram? Mark Ingram. For a number of Saints fans this week, that is all the conversation that needs to be had about the running game. Whatever the problem is... blocking, scheme, play calling, or Mark Ingram's abilities as an NFL running back... the fact is that the Saints need to step up their running game if they are to be a contender this year. There are virtues to be extolled about Mark Ingram, and how he fits into the New Orleans running game. However, until those virtues manifest as respectable stats (be it YPC, receptions, or number of five-second massages on Drew's shoulders while Charlie Brown throws opponents on the ground like rag dolls), his status as an apparent Heisman draft bust solidifies with every failed attempt to gain a one-yard conversion or touchdown. If the Saints had a quality back that could survive 20-30 carries per game over 19 weeks, Mark would probably be tweeting for a job while watching the black and gold from an ad-covered table under a "G0S8NTS" Hawaiian license plate at Dreamland's in Tuscaloosa. But Sean Payton has not had the best of luck finding running backs who can block, catch, and consistently gain yardage on the ground without falling apart by mid season.

In other news, anyone watching the Monday night game might have noticed that Cincinnati is garnering some success in trying to field Darren Sproles 2.0. The Bengals rookie Giovani Bernard -- 3 inches taller than the Saints #43 -- has a long way to go, however, before he catches the NFL's all-time leader in single-season all-purpose yards. Although Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston stepped up this week, Sprolesy was still the third most productive member of the Saints, with 26 yards on 7 rushes, and 36 yards on 6 receptions (8 targets). Pierre Thomas grabbed the most yards on the ground this week (29 yards in 5 attempts)... which would have been enough to make him the second most productive running back, even without the extra 19 yards from 4 receptions (5 attempts). Mark Ingram was unsuccessfully targeted once for a pass, and only managed to gain 20 yards in 8 carries.

The Saints gained more first downs and had a better YPC in Week 2 than the previous week, but they still managed to fall further down the rankings in the overall NFL rushing game. As the Saints are almost scraping the bottom quarter of the league in terms of rushing performance, hopefully they will be able to put the final pieces in place to field a serious threat in the rushing game. While the defense outperforms everyone's expectations, it is now the running game which merely needs to improve to a middle-of-the-road caliber in order to give the Saints a valid hope for contending past December. If teams aren't even threatened by the Saints ground game, the passing game reaches Drew Brees superhuman levels of difficulty. And while the Buccaneers are admittedly one of the better defenses in the league... the Saints face some extremely stout defenses in one of the toughest schedules in the 2013 NFL season.

Rushing

Yards

Attempts

Yds/Carry

Longest Run

Fmbl / Lost

1st Downs

TD’s

First Half

35

12

2.9

8 yds (M. Ingram)

0

2

0

Second Half

40

8

5

11 yds (P. Thomas)

0

2

0

Total

75

20

3.8

11 yards

0

4

0

Once again, the value of Mark Ingram to the new Orleans Saints is being debated by Saints fans. His 8 yard run in the first half matched the longest run (by Thomas) in the first half against the Falcons. Furthermore, his 2.5 YPC was actually twice as productive (against a much stronger defense) compared to his performance against the Falcons. However, his failure to capitalize on Sean Payton's gutsy call at the end of the first half has been akin to handing "go cups" of jet fuel to those who were already wrapping his effigy in Page 1 of the Saints running game playbook. If he can't manage anything better against the No.16 Cardinals defense, Marie Laveau herself may appear with a lighter.

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

Packershelmet_medium
Green Bay (10)

Last week: Denver (3)

Jaguarshelmet_medium
Jacksonville Jaguars

Last week: Jacksonville

Offense

Defense

Seahawkshelmet_medium
Seattle Seahawks (
4)

Last week: Kansas City (3)

Redskinshelmet_medium
Washington (
↓5)

Last week: Baltimore (22)

Defense

Passing

Giantshelmet_medium
New York Giants (
1)

Last week: Denver (3)


Titanshelmet_medium
Tennessee Titans (↓1)

Last week: Jacksonville (28)

Passing

Rushing

Raidershelmet_medium
Oakland Raiders (
1)

Last week: Philadelphia (2)

Giantshelmet_medium
New York Giants (
↓3)

Last week: Miami (28)

Rushing


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