Handwerger: Saints still hard to figure out at bye week

Handwerger: Saints still hard to figure out at bye week

Credit: AP

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) tries to elude Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Tanard Jackson (36) during the first quarter of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

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wwltv.com

Posted on November 14, 2011 at 5:11 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 15 at 9:34 AM

Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
bhandwerger@wwltv.com | @wwltvsports

Most in-season reviews happen after an NFL team’s eighth game. The midpoint, you know.

But we at WWLTV.com – and by we, I mean myself – roll with a different calendar.

So today, the Monday of the Saints bye, we’re putting out our off week review.

New Orleans is 7-3 and leads the NFC South by 1½ games.

This hasn’t been a perfect Saints season. They’ve escaped some games with wins and stoned teams big for others.

But there are two losses on the schedule that are painful and, when Week 17 is finished, could come back to haunt New Orleans.

It’s not necessarily that the Saints lost at Tampa Bay that will chap folks at the end of the year. It’s how they lost – lack of effort and an interception in the end zone on a play that would have given New Orleans the lead.

And with St. Louis, well, yeah. It’s that the Saints lost to the formerly winless Rams.

It’s hard to get a handle on this Saints team. Just when you think you have them pegged, say, like after the Indianapolis game. And then throw a stinker out there like against St. Louis.

Offense: A-
In many ways I feel like this unit deserves a B-plus. The offensive line has been inconsistent. The running game comes and goes. Quarterback Drew Brees will play lights out and then start forcing passes into places they don’t belong.

But the last two games might be a glimpse into the future. The running game wasn’t fantastic against Atlanta but it didn’t need to be. And in the past two games, the offensive line has kept quarterback Drew Brees clean. Receiver Marques Colston is catching the ball like he’s a rookie again.

Darren Sproles, equal parts running back and return man and receiver, has been the best pickup of the offseason for any team. He alone pushes the Saints offense into the A level.

Brees is on a record-setting pace and that means those around him are doing their job. The offense, for the most part, hasn't been a problem.

Defense: C+
Prior to Monday night’s game, they rank 19th overall. They’re last in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt. They’re 29th in the league in interception percentage per pass attempt.

It gets worse.

The Saints are tied for second-fewest takeaways in the NFL. They’re 29th in red-zone defense. They’re 28th in the NFL in yards given up on first down.

Yet, they’re 8th in the NFL on third down, allowing only 35.1 percent conversions. They’re third in fourth-down efficiency.

But while they came up with a big stop on fourth down against Atlanta, I can’t shake the image of Atlanta easily moving down the field late in the fourth quarter.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has tried everything to help a much-maligned unit. They blitz as much if not more than anybody in the league. They just don’t always impact the quarterback when they do.

Special Teams: A-
The only reason this isn’t a plus is because of the Randall Cobb touchdown in the season opener and honestly, I might talk myself into an A+ by the end.

John Kasay has missed five field goals this season, but by and large, he has been clutch when called upon.

Thomas Morstead has punted like he has never punted before, averaging 48.2 yards per punt and netting 42.5 yards per punt. He has pinned eight of his 31 punts inside the 20. And he has an NFL-best 42 touchbacks on kickoffs.

And Sproles has been a pure delight in the return game. He’s eighth in the NFL in kick returns, averaging 26.5 yards per return and he’s 17th in the NFL in punt returns, averaging 9.6 yards per punt return.

Overall: B+
Couldn’t decide between an A- or B+. They seem about the same to me.

The Saints have issues and most people I’m sure can agree on that.

But they’re also 7-3, leading the division and in control of their own destiny. They don’t have to rely on any other team.

What’s sticking with me, though, are the losses to Tampa Bay and St. Louis.
 

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