New Orleans Saints offence mid term paper: A+
What can you say about this group that hasn't already been said? They are playing thrilling, exciting, don't blink or you'll miss it football. They lead the NFL in points scored with a cool 303 with 8 games played. That is a huge 67 points more than their next closest rival in these stakes, the Minnesota Vikings. Factor in a league leading net points differential of 129 and you've got one hell of an argument for unit of the year so far.
The Saints offence is of course led by the indomitable Drew Brees who has thrown for a league leading 17 touchdowns to date and 2,336 yards. Throw in an unbelievable completion percentage of 68.3 and an NFL best 106.1 QB rating and you've got the premier Quarterback in the NFL right now.
Brees is spreading the ball around to all his options which makes it very difficult for opposing defences to key in on any one individual. If you take Marques Colston away you've got Robert Meachem open. You take Meachem out and you've got Devery Henderson. Cover Henderson and Jeremy Shockey pops up. Double team Shockey and Reggie Bush runs... You get the idea.
The Jeremy Shockey highlights reel has grown
So the Saints are well fixed as far as their offensive weaponary is concerned. What has been particularly interesting to watch has been the teams resilience in two particular come from behind wins.
Against the Dolphins in Week 7 the Saints fell behind early and went into the locker room 24 to 10 down at halftime. Cue a second half fight back which saw Brees adding to the Jeremy Shockey highlights reel with a great second half display and the Reggie Bush mph meter hitting a cool 22 again on his way to a spectacular touchdown leap in the 4th. Against the Panthers in week 9 the Saints again left it late before establishing their much improved running game (did I mention they are 5th in the NFL in this department?) after relying, for much of the game, on their stellar defensive unit. Which neatly leads us onto...
New Orleans Saints defence mid term paper: B+
The Saints much maligned defence of recent years is a new beast in 2009. Gone is the porous secondary that made grown men cry whenever an opposing QB looked deep. In it's place has come a run stuffing, interception hungry aggressive unit that you would be scared to introduce to your grandmother.
The catalyst for this change has come from new Defensive Co-ordinator Gregg Williams who has instilled a disciplined work ethic and aggressive attack minded philosophy into this unit. The chief on field protagonists of this change are middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and strong safety free agent acquisition Darren Sharper.
Sharper has proven to be a great catch for the Saints with his league leading interception record of 7 with 2 returned for touchdowns. Factor in his blitz stunts, tipped balls and hard tackling (he leads the team in this department) and you've got yourself a Saints Pro Bowl contender at the safety position, something unheard of for quite sometime.
Defensive captain Jonathan Vilma is also having an All Pro year with his pursuit of the ball. In the win over the Dolphins in particular his tackles, at key moments, kept the Saints in the game and his team leadership is telling.
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The unit as a whole has improved to 16th place from 23rd a year ago, although that only tells half the story. The fact the Saints D can now be relied upon to keep the team in the game if the offence is ever sluggish, plus the high turnover rate, means you've got a major reason why the Saints of 2009 are 8 and 0 at the mid way mark. Just don't mention special teams...
New Orleans Saints special teams mid term paper: C-
I'm not going to go into one on this. Courtney Roby is doing pretty good with returns, Reggie Bush less so but it will come. John Carney is sound, Thomas Morstead the same but the less said about the coverage teams the better. Instead I will sum it up as my old teenage self would have done, namely, shrug shoulders, look disinterested and kind of sigh with an 'ehh' sound. Get the picture? Job done.