Below are the grades for the defensive and special teams players. The letter grade represents the player's performance in the game, and the GPA is the player's cumulative performance of the season.
Will Smith: A- (2.81) Smith put constant pressure on Romo and continuously beat Flozell Adams, especially on passing downs. Unfortunately, he often let Tony Romo out of his grasp because of the Dallas QB's escapability. He ended the game with 4 tackles, 2 sacks, another tackle for a loss and he must have put Romo on the ground at least 4 times. He drew a 15 yard facemask penalty at one point as Adams did everything he could to stop him. I saw Smith victimized by holds that went unflagged several times. The effort and performance was there, the only negative was he over pursued on some plays.
Charles Grant: B- (2.02) Grant bounced back in this game, and while he wasn't flashy or great, it was a much better performance than what we've seen from him the last few weeks. He did a decent job against the run, and he also put a lot of pressure on Romo. He didn't get the stats to back it up, finishing with just 2 tackles, but he caused disruption consistently and was the main party responsible for one of Smith's sacks. He put great pressure on Romo on that play, not biting on the play action, hit the quarterback to slow him down, and both Ayodele and Smith came up to clean up the play and tackle Romo. That sack was all Grant, but somehow Will Smith got full credit for it. Remi Ayodele should have at the very least inherited half of that sack statistically, but Grant deserves credit for making that play happen. I guess the coaches lit a fire under his ass. Let's see if he builds on this or goes back into his shell of gluttony.
Bobby McCray: C+ (2.00) McCray compiled no stats either, but did a good job of applying pressure from the edge when he was in. Still, an overwhelmingly disappointing season from the former Florida Gator who was so promising a year ago.
Anthony Hargrove: D (2.21) Hargrove was pushed around like a rag doll up the middle, and contributed nothing against the run. Suprisingly he wasn't much help rushing the passer, either. I think he should be moved back to defensive end. He finished with no tackles.
Remi Ayodele: B+ (2.39) Another impressive performance by Ayodele. Not only did he push the pile back and show good technique, he actually showed an impressive motor and some hustle. I've been on him all season for not finishing plays, so I was literally shocked at one point to see him running down Jason Witten downfield. He deserved at least half a sack on the play I mentioned above. He finished with 4 tackles, and I'm now a believer he's a key component to our success in the playoffs based on the way he's been playing the last few weeks.
Scott Fujita: B+ (2.88) Fujita made some mistakes, mostly in coverage. At one point he over pursued on a blitz allowing the tailback to get out wide for a flare out. Fujita tried to recover on that play and chase Marion Barber down, but he didn't have the speed. That said, Fujita was all over the field making tackles, and he had a nice aggressive mean streak. It was just really encouraging to just see him on the field about a week after surgery. Add to that the fact that he actually played extremely well, and we might be rounding into shape with our linebacking core. He finished with 10 tackles and used solid technique.
Scott Shanle: B- (2.60) Shanle was overshadowed by the play of Fujita and Vilma, who were both excellent, but Shanle was pretty good in his own right. He was pushed around on a few running plays, but he held his ground ok and made not egregious mistakes. He finished with 6 tackles.
Jonathan Vilma: A- (3.03) Vilma was all over the field and showed impressive speed running sideline to sideline. It seemed like Vilma was in on almost every single play making a tackle. I'd give him a higher grade, but he blew a chance to tackle Marion Barber short of the end zone on a touchdown run, and he missed a coverage assignment on Witten. Just being nit-picky, though, because he had 14 tackles, a sack, and was playing at an extremely high level. After those first two drives, the defense as a whole was overall pretty good. It's just too bad they had to get the team in such an early hole/deficit early.
Tracy Porter: B+ (3.13) Gay left the game early with an injury, and Porter was thrown into the fire. He's making his way back from the knee injury, so he was supposed to only see limited reps, but he ended up playing starter minutes. He finished with 6 tackles and 2 pass deflections. He also did a good job of pushing Miles Austin out of the end zone on what would have been a touchdown pass. Porter was the only player in the backfield making plays. It made me realize just how much of a difference it makes in this defense to have good corners. Greer and Porter are just much superior to the guys behind them. It's honestly not even close. I think we already knew that, but seeing him back strongly confirmed it. Despite not being used to game speed and playing on a healing knee, he was much better than anyone else in the back four. He shut down Roy Williams and came up with some big breakups on third down.
Malcolm Jenkins: D+ (2.48) Jenkins was burned badly by Miles Austin on the first touchdown of the game, once again biting on a double move. Granted it was a picture perfect throw by Romo, but Jenkins just doesn't have the catch up speed to hang with speed demons like Austin if he makes a mistake in coverage. He was targeted by Romo often, and more times than not he was beaten. The guy is just not NFL ready, in my opinion, on a consistent basis. When you're 13-1 fighting for homefield advantage and getting ready for the playoffs, my opinion right now is that Jenkins is a liability as a starting corner. I'm not saying he shouldn't play, I'm saying he's not good enough to play the role he's currently playing. We better pray Jabari Greer makes it back healthy by then. I'm not sure the Saints currently have a better option, either. Anyway, Jenkins did at least show some toughness and tackling ability. He had 7 tackles, a lot due to how much he was picked on.
Roman Harper: C (2.81) Like last week, when the Cowboys needed a play on third down, just find who Roman Harper is covering and go there. His coverage this time was mediocre, which is better than what we've been used to recently. He had 6 tackles, but like Jenkins a lot of those came from being targeted. He made a lot of plays around the line of scrimmage against the run, but he also whiffed on a handful of others. On one blitz he completely missed Romo to allow a third down conversion. He was never great, and he was up and down the whole game. He was able to show off his brick hands, too, as he dropped a very easy interception that would have killed yet another clock killing Dallas drive.
Darren Sharper: C (2.82) Like Harper, Sharper was very active and put some nice hits on players, but ultimately his speed was a real liability out there. Once when the Saints sent a blitz, his attempt at running with Miles Austin resembled me running after a leopard. He had 10 tackles and made some nice plays in the box, but Sharper can be exposed by a good quarterback and a speedy receiver because he just doesn't have the wheels anymore. The instincts are still there, but he's just not making the plays like he was earlier in the year.
DeMario Pressley: C (2.60) He finished with 1 tackle in limited action. He was fine, not much to say.
Mike McKenzie: D+ (2.00) McKenzie played less against the Cowboys than previous weeks, and that was a good thing. Still he managed to allow a pass to Miles Austin to go for a 1st down at the most crucial of times late in the game on a 3rd down play. Come to think of it, why was McKenzie even on Austin? His coverage was awful on that play, and his weak dive tackle attempt was embarrassing. Who was that guy playing against the Patriots anyway? He finished with 2 tackles, and actually did a decent job on a couple of plays in coverage, but never showed up when the Saints needed him most.
Thomas Morstead: B- (3.02) Morstead's depth on kickoffs were shorter than usual, allowing Felix Jones to get some looks that he made the Saints pay for. He also crushed one punt, but outkicked his coverage and allowed a 28 yard punt return to Patrick Crayton. You can't blame that all on Morstead because the coverage units were mostly at fault, but he's good enough that he could have taken both players out of the game and he didn't. He had one punt that also went for a touchback, but again his coverage unit had a shot to pin it inside the 5 and failed. He did have an impressive average on four punts, though, with 50.3 yards per punt, but his net average was only 36.5. It's not all on him, but the bottom line is the Saints did a poor job in the kicking game setting up favorable field position.
Courtney Roby: B (2.92) The Cowboys took him almost completely out of the game by either kicking the ball so deep that Roby had no chance to take it out, or kicking it short to Lynell Hamilton. The one look he did get he took 67 yards to give the Superdome some life. Unfortunately the Saints couldn't do anything with the field position Roby gave them. He also had a tackle as a gunner, but he was also called for an illegal block in the back that negated a decent punt return by Bush.
Garrett Hartley: B+ (3.11) Hartley hit both extra points (thankfully down the middle) and made a 34 yard field goal. Not much duty, but he made the most of his opportunities.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Jonathan Vilma
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Courtney Roby