MIDSEASON REPORT CARD
--PASSING OFFENSE: A -- The Saints lead the NFL with 326.9 passing yards per game, which is actually par for the course for the Sean Payton-Drew Brees duo. Despite multiple injuries and some constant shuffling on the left side of the offensive line as a result of them as well as a new No. 3 receiver in rookie Michael Thomas, Brees has completed 214 of 308 passes for 2,366 yards. He is completing 69.5 percent of his attempts with 18 TDs and five interceptions and has a passer rating of 104.7. Thomas has been a big hit with a club-best 42 receptions for 500 yards and three TDs, and Brandin Cooks, the deep threat, has 36 catches for 530 yards and five scores. Willie Snead has added 34 grabs for 439 yards and two TDs and tight end Coby Fleener, after a slow start, has 25 receptions for 317 yards and two scores.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- While they haven't been great in ranking 24th in the league with just 88.1 yards per game, the Saints just need to be efficient when called on because of their productive passing game. The Saints rank 28th in the league with just 3.6 yards per attempt despite having three nice games recently. For example, they kept the Seattle Seahawks' defense off-balance in a 25-20 win Sunday while rushing for a season-high 123 yards, but netted just 3.5 yards per attempt. Mark Ingram is the leading rusher with 339 yards but averaging just 3.8 yards per attempt with a long of 17 and has lost fumbles in back-to-back games. Tim Hightower came in Sunday after Ingram was sent to the bench after a fumble on the second series and powered his way to 102 yards to give him 189 yards and a 4.2 average for the season.
--PASS DEFENSE: D-plus -- It would be easy to give the Saints a really poor grade considering they rank 29th in the league while allowing 286.7 yards per game. But there have been extenuating circumstances as their two starters at cornerback -- Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams -- played just three quarters together before Breaux fractured his fibula in the season opener and Williams was lost for the season with a serious concussion in Week 2. Undrafted free agent Ken Crawley was thrust into the starting lineup and Sterling Moore was signed but then was lost to an abdomen injury and reportedly needed surgery. The good news is that Crawley and veteran B.W. Webb have held their own. More positive news: The Saints, who allowed an NFL-record 45 touchdown passes a year ago, have given up just nine in six games. They have also played better more recently with a three-safety lineup of Kenny Vaccaro, Jairus Byrd and rookie Vonn Bell.
--RUSH DEFENSE: C -- There have been flashes of good play, but they just haven't been consistent enough with first-round draft pick Sheldon Rankins, a defensive tackle who was expected to be their run-stuffer, being sidelined since mid-August with a fractured fibula. Rankins is expected back soon to help a defense that has moved up to 18th in the league, allowing 110.7 yards per game. The problem is they're giving up 4.3 yards per carry and have allowed 12 rushing touchdowns. They were strong in holding the San Diego Chargers to 38 yards and 1.8 yards per carry in a Week 4 win and 64 yards and just 2.0 yards per attempt in a Week 2 loss to the New York Giants. But they also were pounded for 217 yards by the Atlanta Falcons and the Oakland Raiders hit them for 167 yards in the season opener.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Punter Thomas Morstead has had an exceptional season so far, averaging a career-best 50.5 gross yards and 44.3 net yards per kick. He also dropped 10 punts inside the 20 and has had only three touchbacks on 26 kicks. Rookie kicker Wil Lutz has displayed a strong leg in making 11 of 15 field-goal tries with makes of 52, 53 and 57 yards. Of his four misses, three were from 50, 53 and 61 yards and the other was blocked. He also had a 52-yard winner against the Carolina Panthers with 11 seconds to play on Oct. 16. Undrafted free agent Tommylee Lewis has taken over as the main return man, averaging 14.0 yards on punts and 24.5 yards on kickoffs. While the Saints have netted 11.2 yards on punt returns, they're getting just 16.9 yards on kickoffs. They allow 7.8 yards on punt returns and 22.3 yards on kickoffs.
--COACHING: B -- After an 0-3 start, the Saints have gotten things back on track with three wins in their last four games to at least put themselves in the mix for a playoff run if they can get through a tough November that includes back-to-back games in a five-day stretch against last season's Super Bowl competitors. They host the Denver Broncos on Nov. 13 and play at the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 17 after having defeated the Panthers 41-38 in October. In fact, the Saints' last two victories were against the last two Super Bowl runners-up, beating the Panthers on Oct. 16 and the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
--OVERALL: C minus
Most Valuable Player: Quarterback Drew Brees. Just 2 1/2 months shy of his 38th birthday, Brees continues to marvel. The Saints lead the NFL with 326.9 yards per game through the air with Brees completing 214 of 308 passes (69.5 percent) for 2,366 yards in just seven games. He also has 18 touchdowns passing and only five interceptions and a passer rating of 104.7. Receivers have come and gone through the years, but Brees continues to find whoever he has to work with.
Most Disappointing Player: Running back Mark Ingram. He had lost only six fumbles going into this season, but he has ruined that record with two costly ones in less than a quarter. The former Heisman Trophy winner runs hard but lost a fumble in a 27-21 setback to the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 23 at the Chiefs' 7-yard line. On the Saints' second possession Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, he had the ball poked out while being gang-tackled and Earl Thomas returned it for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead before the Saints rallied for a 25-20 win. Ingram did not get back on the field and is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry this season.
Most Surprising Rookie: Wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas, one of two second-round draft picks this spring, has been everything the Saints thought they were getting. The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder has been very physical, much like former Saints star Marques Colston, and quickly became a favorite of Drew Brees in training camp. While Brandin Cooks is the Saints' top deep threat, Thomas doesn't mind doing the dirty work underneath. He leads the team with 42 receptions and his 500 receiving yards is second on the team to Cooks' 530. Thomas also has three touchdowns.