The New Orleans Saints are 8-0.
There's one sentence no one was ever able to say or print until Sunday afternoon.
For the first time in their 43-year history, the New Orleans Saints have run the table on the first half of their schedule.
They've won games in nearly every way imaginable.
The Saints threw six touchdowns in one game and scored seven touchdowns in another. They've scored off fumbles and interceptions. They've been up 20 and down 20.
New Orleans has won by passing for over 350 yards in one game and rushing for over 200 the next.
They have found a way to win no matter what happened over the course of the game.
With a three-game lead in the division over the Falcons, the race for the NFC South title is all but over. Even if the Saints were to stumble to 4-4 over the second half of the season, Atlanta would have to go 7-1 just to tie.
This edition of the report card will have two grades for each section—a second quarter grade and a midterm grade. The midterm is an average of the first quarter and second quarter grades.
Comments : How can you give anything but high marks to a coaching staff of an 8-0 team?
The balance in play-calling is still there (259 runs, 277 passes) and they are no longer double-reversing themselves out of a win.
The Saints showed resiliency in huge comeback victories against the Dolphins and Falcons. Those kind of performances reflect the head coach.
The coaching intensity of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams shows up in every game. New Orleans has forced at least two turnovers in each of their eight games and leads the NFL with 24 forced turnovers and seven defensive touchdowns.
There was, however, one bone-headed move by Sean Payton in the past four games. It occurred with 5:17 left in the game against the Panthers.
With the score tied at 20, the Saints were in the middle of a long drive that began on their own two-yard line.
On second and six from the Panthers' 12-yard line, Drew Brees threw a pass to Marques Colston. The play was ruled incomplete.
Payton could not decide quickly enough if he wanted to challenge the play so he called timeout to buy some time. Payton used the time to decide to challenge the play.
The Saints lost the challenge and another timeout. Now the Saints had just one timeout remaining in the closing minutes of a tight ballgame.
Overall, though, you can't argue with success.
Second quarter grade: A
Midterm grade: A
Comments: Brees has passed for more yards in the past four games (1,305) than they did in the first four (1,031) and has a slightly higher completion percentage over the second quarter, but his sacks and turnovers are also up.
Brees was sacked just four times in the first quarter, but now has been sacked a total of 12.
As the sacks and pressure go up, so do the turnovers. Responsible for just three turnovers in the first four games, Brees is averaging two turnovers per game over the past four games.
He had four in one game against Miami.
There's no disputing Brees is a top-tier quarterback, but his play needs to improve as the Saints head into mid-November and December.
The next two weeks against St. Louis and Tampa Bay should help the Saints work some kinks out.
Second quarter grade: B
Midterm grade: B+
Comments: The running game has been less of a focus lately because the Saints have played from behind in their last three games, but it has still been effective.
The running game still ranks in the top five in total yards per game (144.6 yards per game), but managed just 84 yards against the Panthers.
Just as Reggie Bush was getting over his fumbling issues, Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas each lost the ball once against Atlanta.
Overall, New Orleans has 15 rushing touchdowns and is on pace for over 2,300 yards.
Second quarter grade : B
Midterm grade: A-
Comments: The Saints have dropped from 14th in passing yards allowed to 16th, yet the turnovers keep on coming.
Corners Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter continue to play great man-to-man coverage as Darren Sharper patrols the back end of the defense.
The defense recorded an interception in each of the first seven games before failing to record one against Carolina.
Sharper and Porter each have had game-turning interceptions and both of Greer's interceptions have come in the past four games.
Defensive end Will Smith has re-emerged as a Pro Bowl player. Smith sacked division foes Matt Ryan and Jake Delhomme twice each and has two forced fumbles on the season.
Second quarter grade : B+
Midterm grade: B+
Comments: After allowing just 83 yards per game in the first quarter, the Saints gave up 140 per game in the second quarter.
Ricky Williams, Michael Turner, and DeAngelo Williams each gashed the defense with long runs.
Both Williamses scored on runs over 60 yards long, and Turner gained 150 yards on just 20 carries.
Some of this can be attributed to injuries to tackle Sedrick Ellis and linebacker Scott Fujita that have kept both out of multiple games.
However, I think the first quarter numbers looked good because teams were forced to throw often in the second half.
The Saints must play DeAngelo Williams, Michael Turner, and Steven Jackson on the road along with Marion Barber at home before the season's over.
The forced fumbles keep this grade decent.
Second quarter grade: C
Midterm grade: C+
Comments: One part of this team that has improved significantly over the past four games is the kick and punt coverage.
The Saints faced Ted Ginn Jr. the week before he went off for two kickoff returns for touchdowns against the Jets and held him to 25 yards per return on four returns.
Except for an inexplicable 22-yard punt against the Panthers, Thomas Morstead has been kicking steady for almost 44 yards per punt and less than half of them have been returned.
Reggie Bush's 3.9-yard punt return average has been less than desirable.
Second quarter grade : B
Midterm grade : B
The individual grades aren't off the charts (an A, four B's and a C), but the overall performance has been wonderful.
The Saints are just one of two 8-0 teams. They had their best comeback in 22 years when they overcame a 21-point deficit to win by 12 in Miami.
New Orleans is outscoring opponents by 16 points per game and out-gaining them by nearly 100 yards.
The next quarter features two snoozers on the road (St. Louis and Tampa Bay) before they meet New England in the dome on Monday Night Football . The quarter wraps up with a visit to the nation's capital to face the hapless Redskins.
Anything less than a 3-1 record in the third quarter will be a disappointment.
Second quarter grade : A-
Midterm grade: A
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