New Orleans Saints Progress Report: Where Things Stand at the Midway Point

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterNovember 8, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 05:  Marques Colston #12 and  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints celebrate after scoring a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 5, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

At 3-5 and with the tumultuous offseason that has plagued the New Orleans Saints, it’s crazy to think that this team has a shot at making it into postseason play. The margin of error is razor-thin, but if the Saints can win seven of their last eight games, New Orleans might have a shot at a wild-card spot.

The team has taken on the metaphor of their playoff push being a mountain to climb, and boy is that mountain steep. Forget that the Saints will have to go 7-1 (my opinion is that 10 wins is the minimum to get into the playoffs); they’ll have to face teams with a current combined record of 40-25, including matchups against four current division leaders.

To get to where New Orleans needs to be it will have to find a way to only lose once amidst a remaining schedule that includes the Atlanta Falcons twice, the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Giants, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers.

The Saints will also have to find ways to fix the myriad of problems that have plagued the team in the first half.


Poor Tackling and Porous Defense

The Saints rank near the bottom of the league in most major statistical categories of defensive play. One of the worst is total yardage given up by New Orleans.

Every team that has played against the Saints has gained at least 400 yards of total offense. The New Orleans defense is the only unit that carries that dubious distinction. The team is giving up 471.25 yards per game on average and three times has been pushed around to the tune of more than 500 yards.

The Saints rank dead last in total yardage given up, and partially because the unit is having a terrible time tackling, they rank last in rushing yards too.

Something needs to be done to slow down opponents. Four of the Saints’ remaining games will be played against teams that boast top-10 offenses. While this may sound hopeless considering the fact that New Orleans must keep its record squeaky clean, there’s no reason to think the Saints have to completely fix the defense.

A slight defensive improvement may be enough to trigger a huge win streak. It’s always been the offense in New Orleans that carried this team; its defense has rarely been a unit of excellence.


Slight Improvements

In Week 9, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo made some adjustments that sparked the defense, especially the front four.

Getting pressure on the quarterback has always been a strong suit for a Spagnuolo defense, but entering Week 9 the Saints had just 13 sacks. After the game New Orleans had 20.

With seven sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Saints now show hope that the front four can create some problems for opposing passers. This will be much needed as quarterbacks like Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Josh Freeman are still on the schedule.

Another area of improvement, one that also showed up in the Saints' win over the Eagles last week, is an improved rushing attack.

New Orleans ranks 30th in rushing yards with 81 per game through the first half of the season, but ripped off 140 against the Eagles. The Saints still utilize a loaded stable of running backs, but the best running game since Week 2 was sparked by the addition of Chris Ivory.

Ivory, who led the 2010 Saints in rushing, stepped onto the field for the first time in 2012 and led the team with 48 yards on 10 carries. Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram each had 44 yards.

As long as Drew Brees is under center, New Orleans will always be a pass-first team. But the Saints win often when they can rush effectively. Dating back to the 2010 season, New Orleans is 23-5 when it rushes for at least 75 yards in a game.