With a 4-4 record, the New Orleans Saints have reached the halfway point of their season — which means it’s time for unofficial midterm grades to be handed out before they start the second half of the schedule Sunday.
The record at this point could be better. Then again, it could be worse.
Overall, the grades are satisfactory considering the Saints started the season with four straight losses — three by 17 points or more. The horrendous start, however, didn’t stop the Saints from making some impressive strides the last four weeks.
Still, three of the five grades are in the C-range, which means there’s some room for improvement if the Saints hope to be more than an average team by the end of the season and become the second club to start 0-4 and reach the playoffs since the field was expanded in 1990.
PASSING OFFENSE (B): The Saints are coming on strong after Drew Brees threw one touchdown and nine interceptions in the first four games. With their backs to the wall, they opened up and started throwing the ball all over the place. They have responded with 11 TDs and one interception and a 115.1 passer rating for Brees compared to 57.4 in the first four outings. Like 2006, opposing teams are finding it difficult to defend Brees and his vast array of weapons.
RUSHING OFFENSE (C): They aren’t a dominant running team, but they aren’t the worst team around either. After taking a big hit with the loss of Deuce McAllister, the Saints average 93.1 yards a game and their average of 3.7 yards a carry is not far off the league norm of 4.1 yards. Reggie Bush has not had a 100-yard game, but part of that is because he’s so active in the passing game with a club-high 50 catches for 277 yards.
PASS DEFENSE (C-minus): This has been a problem most of the season. After finishing third in the league in pass defense last season, the Saints have given up too many deep balls and rank 27th in allowing 248.1 yards a game. They have gotten better at keeping receivers in front of them since Peyton Manning torched them in the season opener, but they gave up an 80-yard bomb last week. This will bear watching later in the season.
RUSH DEFENSE (A-minus): While the pass defense has struggled with the long ball, the run defense has been superb in allowing 96.9 yards a game after giving up 128.9 in 2006. The Saints have allowed just 87.3 yards a game in their last seven outings and no team has gained 100 yards — tying the club mark set in 1991. They’re also allowing 3.7 yards a carry compared to 4.9 last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS (C-minus): The Saints have been rather average in punt and kickoff returns as well as kick coverage, but they gave up a 100-yard kickoff return last week. The bigger issue is they have made just 6 of 12 field-goal tries, which could become problematic later in the season in a league where so many games are decided by a field goal or less.