Midseason, Saints not where they want to be

New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson (21) returns an interception 99 yards for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson (21) returns an interception 99 yards for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Monday, Nov. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

METAIRIE — Despite everything that transpired during a tumultuous spring and summer, few could have expected the New Orleans Saints to start the season with four consecutive losses.

Perhaps their detractors were hoping it would happen, but even they couldn’t have believed it would be as difficult as it was considering the Saints’ first three games were against teams that had losing records in 2011.

But the season started with a loud thud even though the Saints probably should have won two of their first four games — one being a heartbreaking 28-27 road loss to the Green Bay Packers.

While their playoff hopes were all but gone before the opening month of the season was in the books, the Saints still believe they can make something of their season over the next eight weeks.

After winning three of their last four games to get to 3-5 at the halfway point of the season, their worst record at this point since Sean Payton took over in 2006, they at least feel a little better.

Here’s how they look, position by position, through eight games:

Quarterback

No one expected Drew Brees to have the type of season he had in 2011 when he set two records for yards and completion percentage and also threw 46 touchdowns. He won’t get near those numbers again, but is still operating at a high level with 2,549 yards and 22 TDs with eight interceptions for the second-ranked passing offense. His numbers aren’t all bad considering he’s had to do more and compensate for a deficient defense. Grade: B.

Running back

This has been a sore subject for fans who think the Saints don’t try to run the ball enough, and when they do, don’t use the right back. The Saints average just over 20 attempts per game and rank 30th in the league with 81.0 yards a game. Pierre Thomas has been good with 301 yards and a 4.7 average, but there hasn’t been much else to be happy about. Grade: D-minus.

Wide receiver/tight end

Marques Colston is having another big year with 44 catches for 626 yards and six TDs and Lance Moore and Devery Henderson are averaging 15.0 and 15.6 yards per catch, respectively, but at times early in the season didn’t seem to get the separation they’ve had in the past. Jimmy Graham has been slowed by an injury but is still a valued target on one leg. Grade: B.

Offensive line

Like a lot of other areas, this group isn’t having the best of seasons. Early on, Brees was taking way too many hits and didn’t have a lot of time to sit back and scan the field for his receivers as they tried to get open. They’ve also had trouble trying to create running lanes for the backs. Grade: C.

Defensive line

Thanks to seven sacks — all from the front four — in Monday night’s win over Philadelphia, the grade will be a little better. Up until then, the Saints didn’t create enough pressure and had trouble stopping the run — which are two of the reasons they rank 32nd in total defense. End Cameron Jordan has six sacks and has had a solid season. Grade: D-plus.

Linebacker

This group has had lots of injury problems, but they seem to have been stabilized a bit with the return of Jonathan Vilma even though he’s playing out of position on the weak side. Curtis Lofton has been solid in the middle and has shown his ability as a sure tackler with a team-leading 86 stops. Grade: C-minus.

Defensive back

The Saints have given up too many big plays in pass defense and they have way too many missed tackles, mainly because they take bad angles to the ball carrier and subsequently are victimized by cutbacks. Jabari Greer has been their best cover cornerback and Malcolm Jenkins is having a good season at free safety, but they rank 29th against the pass. Grade: D.

Special teams

Punter Thomas Morstead is having an All-Pro kind of season. He leads the league in net average (45.0), ranks second in gross average (51.2) and is very effective as a kickoff man. Garrett Hartley is 7-of-10 on field-goals with two of the misses from 48 yards or more. Sproles has been good in the return game, while the coverage units haven’t given up any big returns and has a blocked punt for a touchdown. Grade: A-minus.

Coaching

Interim coaches Joe Vitt and Aaron Kromer have done a good job keeping the Saints together with Payton suspended for the season. Many teams would have gone in the tank after an 0-4 start, especially without their head coach, but the Saints have rallied back a little and are at least keeping their heads above water. Grade: B.