NFL Power Rankings 2013: Saints Field Top 5 Defense

With the New Orleans defense blasting through the top ten and earning their place as one of the Top Five defenses in the NFL, the Saints widen their control over the NFC South. Here we review how the Saints fared this past week, how the rest of the NFC South compares, and who currently stands as the best and worst of the NFL.

Current Rankings: (NFC South)

This Week

Offense

Defense

Passing

Rushing

Saints

6 (3)

4 (↑7)

4 (1)

24

Falcons

9 (↑2)

23 (4)

7 (↓1)

22 (5)

Panthers

24 (↑3)

10 (16)

32 (↓2)

2 (4)

Buccaneers

31 (↓2)

15 (↓2)

31

15 (↓4)

The New Orleans Saints continue to lead the NFC South, in regards to rankings as well as standings. The Saints followed a 7-rank improvement on defense by climbing the defensive charts another seven ranks this week to land squarely in the NFL's Top Five. Although the rushing game held fast at No.24, the Saints are scratching at the Top Five in overall offense with the improvement in the passing game.



Saintshelmet_medium New Orleans Saints (3-0):
The New Orleans Saints remains the only undefeated team in the division, and was the only NFC South team which did not decline in any category this week. With Atlanta's loss accompanying the Saints win over the Cardinals, Sean Payton's team has gained a two point margin over the rest of the division.

Looking at the rest of the NFL: the only teams with higher-ranked offenses are fielding defenses which are ranked in the bottom half of the league (Broncos: 20, Eagles: 30, Packers: 27, Lions: 18, Redskins: 32). Expectations that New Orleans could run away with the season must still be tempered, however. Every team with a higher-ranked defense also has a Top Ten offense (Seahawks: 8, Texans: 7, and Jets: 10). Furthermore, the next three teams facing the Saints are also undefeated.

Although thirteen games remain, the next three games seem to comprise one of two key stretches for the season. Later in the season, facing the 49ers, Falcons and Seahawks in rapid succession could be a truly difficult feat for any team. However, eliminating the Dolphins, Bears and Patriots from the ranks of the undefeated would land the Saints at 6-0 going into their bye week, and could solidify this team's status as a postseason contender.

Only looking to one game at a time, however, the New Orleans Saints prepare to defeat the Miami Dolphins in the Superdome during the upcoming round of Monday Night Football. Although the Dolphins managed to defeat the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, there are a few good reasons that Saints fans should expect a win on Monday:

  • The Dolphins currently rank lower in every category than the Cardinals did when they were soundly beaten by the Saints.
  • The Saints are not only better than the Falcons, but are also ranked higher than the Dolphins in every category.
  • The Saints should take their undefeated opponent seriously, and are not in the habit of choking away games like the one Matt Ryan gave up with a last-minute interception on Sunday.

With the loss of their Pro Bowl pass rusher Cameron Wake, the Miami Dolphins should have an even more difficult time stopping the Saints from going undefeated for the first 25% of the 2013 season.

    [Current Dolphins Rankings: Offense - 26th; Defense - 22nd; Passing - 14th; Rushing - 28th]

    Falconshelmet_medium Atlanta Falcons (1-2):
    After breaking their six-game losing streak two weeks ago, Atlanta's trip to Miami put another game in the loss column for the Falcons. Despite out-gaining the Dolphins 377-285, the would-be contenders failed to come away with the higher score at the end of the game. This weekend won't be any easier for them, as they host the New England Patriots on Sunday night. Considering the fact that Steven Jackson is still expected to be out for another two to three weeks, and the hopes of many fantasy owners that Rob Gronkowski might return to active duty this week, even the home-field advantage may not be enough to keep the Falcons from losing yet another game. For that matter... given the reputation of some fans in Atlanta, recent losses may severely degrade any advantage many teams would otherwise get from playing at home. Furthermore, New England's defense and rushing game are both ranked significantly higher than Atlanta's; and Gronk's return would likely provide a boost to a passing game which has managed to stay undefeated while working out some kinks over the past few weeks. Although the Falcons are not likely to do New Orleans the favor of snapping Brady's touchdown-passing streak, the game should provide some decent film to aid in preparation for the Saints game in Boston two weeks later.

    [Current Patriots Rankings: Offense - 17th; Defense - 8th; Passing - 22nd; Rushing - 12th]

    Panthershelmet_medium Carolina Panthers (1-2):
    Carolina surprised many with their 38-0 shutout performance against the New York Giants... especially Eli Manning, who was on the ugly end of seven sacks and two interceptions. This weekend, their bye week will interrupt their furious rebound from their 0-2 start to the 2013 regular season. The following Sunday, at the University of Phoenix, the Panthers will be the third consecutive NFC South team to face the Arizona Cardinals.

    [Current Cardinals Rankings: Offense - 23rd; Defense - 19th; Passing - 19th; Rushing - 23rd]

    Bucshelmet_medium Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3):
    After being handed their third loss of the year by the Patriots, Tampa Bay plays host for the next stop on the Arizona Cardinals schedule. Despite Tampa Bay keeping ticket prices steady for the fifth consecutive year -- and using the 85% rule -- it was major news when the Buccaneers lifted the blackout for their first home game, against division rival New Orleans Saints. After failing to win any of their first three games this season, the team is unlikely to have an excess of fans watching the game this weekend... either in the stands or on televisions within 75 miles of the stadium. Some have been claiming simply that the Bucs have lost their minds. Undeterred, the latest installment of Tampa Bay's circus comes with the benching of Josh Freeman in favor of Mike Glennon, less than 48 hours after Schiano insisted Freeman is the team's starting quarterback.

    [Current Cardinals Rankings: Offense - 23rd; Defense - 19th; Passing - 19th; Rushing - 23rd]


    Last Week's Performance:
    (Cardinals 7, Saints 31)

    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: AZ - 24:29, NO - 35:31)

    Offense
    New Orleans seemed to be getting its offense back up to speed this weekend, racking up four touchdowns and a field goal. Of the six full drives in the first half, the Saints scored two touchdowns; though they went three-and-out on three of the four drives which ended in punts. In the second half, however, the end-zone interception was the only time the Saints gave up the ball without scoring.

    Drew Brees was sacked twice in the first half, and twice in the third quarter; but he managed to avoid landing on his back in the fourth quarter. The third quarter interception he threw in the end zone -- picked off by New Orleans native Tyrann Mathieu -- was the only time the Saints turned the ball over. Brees was also responsible for all four Saints touchdowns, with a rare #9 run into the end zone to compliment his three scoring passes. In the end, his 342 passing yards were enough to extend his 300-yard passing streak to eight games, only one less than his record-setting streak of nine games.

    Although the defense had been carrying the offense for the first couple of games this season, they two squads played complimentary football against the Cardinals. The most productive non-passing member of the offense besides Jimmy Graham (9/15, 134yds, 2TD) was Darren Sproles, who garnered 109 yards between rushing (17), receiving (39), and returns (53). He also cost Arizona the tip of Rashad Johnson's finger, when the safety tried to tackle Sproles on a punt return.

    Offense

    TD’s

    FG’s

    Yards

    1st Downs

    3rd Down Conv

    Sacked

    Fmbl / Lost

    Int

    First Half

    2

    0

    161

    9

    1/5 (20%)

    2 (15 yds)

    0

    0

    Second Half

    2

    1/1

    262

    18

    6/8 (75%)

    2 (8 yds)

    0

    1

    Total

    4

    1/1

    423

    27

    7/13 (54%)

    4 (23 yds)

    0

    1

    Although the running game needs plenty of work, and although the passing game still has room to improve, the New Orleans Saints offense provided fans with a view of what they have come to expect under the Payton-Brees regime. Particularly if this defense can maintain its excellence, the offense's return to elite caliber should make the New Orleans Saints a team which every other will fear.

    Defense
    This Sunday's game started with New Orleans giving up a 3-yard rushing touchdown to the Cardinals on the first drive of the afternoon. After those five minutes and forty-seven seconds, however, Arizona couldn't manage a single point against an impressive New Orleans defense. The next eight Arizona drives ended in punts, and their two drives in the fourth quarter ended with interceptions by Kenny Vaccaro and Keenan Lewis

    Undrafted rookie linebacker Kevin Reddick forced the only fumble of the game, on a Thomas Morstead punt return by Arizona's star returner Patrick Peterson; though it was recovered by Arizona linebacker Sam Acho (who broke his right leg later in the game). Junior Galette was the first member of the Saints defense to sack Carson Palmer, followed by two Cameron Jordan sacks in the second and one by Glenn Foster in the third quarter.

    Opposing teams have had thirteen third downs in each of the first three games against New Orleans; and the five-of-thirteen (38%) third down conversion rate the Saints allowed the Cardinals matches exactly what they allowed the Buccaneers a week prior. After the first Arizona drive, the Saints only allowed nine first downs and 172 total yards (117 pass, 55 rush) over the course of the other ten drives by the Cardinals.

    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

    147

    11

    4/10 (40%)

    3 (24 yds)

    1/0

    0

    0

    Second Half

    0

    0

    100

    5

    1/3 (33%)

    1 (2 yds)

    0

    2

    0

    Total

    1

    0/0

    247

    16

    5/13 (38%)

    4 (26 yds)

    1/0

    2

    0


    Rob Ryan continues to put a formidable defense on the field. If the injury trend subsides, the postseason is a very real possibility for the black and gold.

    Passing
    Although fans could have done without the interception Drew Brees threw in the end zone early in the second half, the Saints passing game gave them plenty to cheer about. Jimmy Graham had another monster game, pulling in nine of his fifteen targets for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Had he jumped, he could have scored a third time; though fans must have loved it when Robert Meachem pulled that one in for a touchdown. Back to performing after returning home from San Diego -- who is still paying him a sizable salary -- Meachem also caught the only other pass Brees sent his way.

    Of the two incomplete balls thrown in the direction of Kenny Stills, one was underthrown and one was thrown uncatchably out of the end zone. The two other wide receivers targeted by Brees were Lance Moore, who pulled in one of his three targets, and Marques Colston, who had the most productive receiving day (5/8, 71 yards) of those Saints not named Graham. The tight end's fifteen targets (60% reception) equaled the fifteen passes (53% reception) which were distributed among the four New Orleans wide receivers targeted on Sunday. Also targeted by Drew Brees were running backs Pierre Thomas (6/6, 39yds) and Darren Sproles (4/6, 39yds), tight end Benjamin Watson (1/2, 14yds), and fullback Jed Collins (1/1, 5yds).

    Colston Countdown: with 71 receiving yards against the Cardinals, the Quiet Storm sits at 7,596 career receiving yards... trailing 2nd place Joe Horn (7,622) by 26 yards and the all time Saints leader in receiving yards (Eric Martin, 7854) by 258 yards.

    Passing

    Yards

    Attempts

    Complete

    Yds/Att

    Int

    Sacked

    1st Downs

    TD’s

    First Half

    182

    25

    16 (64%)

    7.3

    0

    2 (15 yds)

    8

    2

    Second Half

    160

    21

    13 (62%)

    7.6

    1

    2 (8 yds)

    9

    1

    Total

    342

    46

    29 (63%)

    7.4

    1

    4 (23 yds)

    17

    3

    Though it seems he still needs to work on route timing with Kenny Stills, it appears that Drew Brees is once again delivering the high-powered passing game to which fans have become accustomed.

    Rushing
    With Mark Ingram on the sidelines nursing a toe injury, the Saints had a less productive running game through the first three quarters against the Cardinals (10 carries, 28 yds, 2.8 ypc) than they have had in either first half of their first two games this year. And those figures include the 26 yards gained on longest runs of the game for P. Thomas (11 yds) and Sproles (15 yds)... which each came in the third quarter, along with a four yard scramble by Brees.

    Running lanes opened up a bit in the fourth quarter, after a few Arizona defensive players were out of the game with injuries. Pierre Thomas averaged 3.3 ypc on six carries during the last quarter, and the rookie Khiry Robinson garnered 38 yards on 4 attempts (9.5 ypc) in garbage time. Even Drew Brees got in on that action... with two carries for 20 yards, including a run for 13 yards and a 7-yard touchdown. While some fans are ready to crucify Ingram and place Khiry on the pedestal they built for Ivory, it will take a bit more production from Robinson -- particularly during meaningful game time -- for the rookie to prove himself.

    Rushing

    Yards

    Attempts

    Yds/Carry

    Longest Run

    Fmbl / Lost

    1st Downs

    TD’s

    First Half

    -6

    4

    -1.5

    -1 yds (D. Brees)

    0

    0

    0

    Second Half

    110

    20

    5.5

    21 yds (K. Robinson)

    0

    9

    1

    Total

    104

    24

    4.3

    21 yards

    0

    9

    1

    Regardless of how they manage it, the Saints need to find some amount of real success in the run game. Watching K. Robinson run is enjoyable, and it has been likened to watching Ivory. But neither the Ingram fans nor the Ingram haters have a solid enough platform on which to base any conjecture regarding how/when would be the best way to fix the running game woes.

    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 (2)

    Last week: Green Bay (3)

    Jaguarshelmet_medium
    Jacksonville Jaguars

    Last week: Jacksonville

    Offense

    Defense

    Seahawkshelmet_medium
    Seattle Seahawks

    Last week: Seattle

    Redskinshelmet_medium
    Washington Redskins

    Last week: Washington

    Defense

    Passing

    Broncoshelmet_medium
    Denver Broncos (
    2)

    Last week: NY Giants (6)


    Panthershelmet_medium
    Carolina Panthers (↓2)

    Last week: Tennessee (30)

    Passing

    Rushing

    Eagleshelmet_medium
    Philadelphia Eagles (1)

    Last week: Oakland (3)

    Giantshelmet_medium
    New York Giants

    Last week: NY Giants

    Rushing


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