Below are the player grades for defense and special teams. I'm glad to be done with this so we can now just move on and talk about the future. The Saints are still capable of going out on any given Sunday and taking it to whatever opponent they have in front of them. Hopefully they'll save their best grades for the playoffs. The letter grades represent the player's performance in the game, and the GPA represents the player's cumulative effort on the season. Sidenote, I went back and updated the GPA's for the offense, so feel free to go back and check that out if you're curious.
Will Smith: B+ (2.84) Will Smith showed a lot of effort and intensity. He rushed the passer with a never quit attitude and he was seen often racing downfield to help his teammates finish plays. He finished with 7 tackles, including a sack and another one for a loss. What a season it's been for him, the Saints are lucky to have him.
Charles Grant: A- (2.13) Where did this monster of a game come from? Not only did Grant play out of his mind, he was very animated and vocal throughout. Maybe he's back on his StarCaps water pills? After I called him out for being a lazy slob, he's responded nicely. I still don't think he'll be around next year, but if he can perform like this when it matters most (in the playoffs) Grant may get on my good side. He finished with 8 tackles and a sack. His biggest play, though, was batting down a Josh Freeman pass on a 4th and 1 roll out. Grant did a fantastic job of night biting on the play fake and got great pursuit to stop any chance of a Freeman bootleg, then got his hands up to bat the pass. Huge play, and had the Saints won it would have been the game changer.
Bobby McCray: D (1.93) I think I've given up on this guy making an impact. What a miserable season for the pass rushing specialist. There's only so much you can do in limited reps, but this guy is doing nothing. Zero. Nada.
Sedrick Ellis: B (2.73) Watching the game tape, the defensive line actually did a decent job all night. They were active and put the linebackers in a position to make plays. I felt like the Cadillac blowup was more a function of broken assignments by the linebackers and poor tackling at the second level. Ellis had mixed results, but he had plenty of action. 6 tackles on the day.
Remi Ayodele: B- (2.41) He finished with 3 tackles and held his ground well at times, while struggling at other times. Nothing special but again was not the one missing plays.
Anthony Hargrove: B (2.26) Hargrove played by and large on passing downs, which is where he belonged. I felt like he was actually used in favorable situations, for once, and he performed well. He finished with 3 tackles and a sack, and did a good job rushing Freeman and forcing him out of the pocket.
Jonathan Vilma: C+ (2.98) Vilma did have 6 tackles, but he also got blocked out of a number of plays. He had chances at stopping Carnell Williams without success on numerous occasions. He also came up with some nice short yardage stops, but it seemed like his game was very up and down.
Scott Fujita: C+ (2.81) Like Vilma, he looked a little slow and out-muscled. He also had 6 tackles, but many of those were by jumping on the pile. He helped his teammates, and I like that because he was setting a good example to finish plays, but his play just wasn't nearly as physical as what I'm used to with him.
Jonathan Casillas: B- (2.67) Casillas was all over the field and had major positives and major negatives throughout. He was an up and down rollercoaster. Unlike Fujita and Vilma, who were both largely passable but unimpressive, Casillas was either incredibly solid or incredibly limited. Casillas was blitzed numerous times and specifically twice whiffed badly on Freeman to allow big scrambles that hurt the Saints on plays he could have made. He did a great job running sideline to sideline, though, and attacking the football. He showed nice instincts and sometimes had the ability to make an open field play. He finished with 10 tackles in his first career NFL start. Comparing him to Shanle, he was a lot more flashy, but also more mistake prone.
Tracy Porter: B- (3.09) Porter gave his receiver more cushion than usual and was more shaky in his tackling. He overall didn't seem to play as well as a week ago, but then came one of the most athletic interceptions I've seen by a Saint in a long time. He killed a Buccaneer drive with a leaping box out catch in the end zone. He finished with 6 tackles and that pick, but could've played tighter in coverage.
Malcolm Jenkins: D (2.33) The Bucs found Jenkins wherever he was on the field, and victimized him over and over and over again. Especially late when the Saints needed stops, huge chunks of yards were given up by the mediocre at best Tampa Bay receiving crew. His tackling was thankfully solid otherwise he may have looked even worse, but the bottom line is the guy is a liability out there right now and he's being picked on unmercifully. He finished with 10 tackles, largely due to the amount of action coming his way.
Mike McKenzie: B- (2.13) McKenzie had limited action due to the Bucs largely staying with 2 receiver sets, but when he played he mostly did pretty well. He was attacked on a deep route late and had textbook coverage staying in front of his man and forcing an incompletion. He was mostly assigned to Maurice Stovall who's a bigger, possession receiver, so that ended up being a decent matchup for McKenzie because he wasn't getting beat vertically. He had just one tackle.
Roman Harper: C+ (2.78) As I'm typing this, Jay Cutler just threw an overtime TD pass to clinch the top NFC Seed for the Saints. SWEET! It makes typing this much more bearable :) Harper had 6 tackles, laid some wood, but also struggled in pass defense. Luckily Jenkins was so bad that the Bucs took it easy on Harper, though.
Darren Sharper: B (2.83) Sharper played well at times, but over-pursued and looked very slow at others. He missed some bad tackles, but he was also a savior on the back end a few times as well, stopping decent gains from turning into huge gains. He had an interception early that he ran back for 21 yards. He was fortunate to be in the right place on a terrible throw by Freeman, but he showed good hands and broke a INT yardage for the season NFL record in the process. Impressive. He finished with 7 tackles.
Marvin Mitchell: B- (2.50) Mitchell came in from time to time as the second linebacker in a 3-4 scheme to give the Bucs a different look. The formation was largely ineffective against the run especially, but that wasn't really Mitchell's fault. He had 2 tackles and didn't make any real mistakes.
Garrett Hartley: D- (2.50) He was 1 for 2 on field goals, but his make was a 28 yarder than any NFL kicker could be fired for missing, and with the game on the line he chocked on a 37 yard chip shot. He completely shanked a chance to seal the game. Too bad, because I was excited about that opportunity for him. Hopefully he can build on the experience.
Thomas Morstead: D+ (2.91) Morstead gave the Bucs decent field position after kickoffs due to his unusual struggles with kickoff depth. I don't think he got one back into the end zone, which was too surprising. He did have one beautiful and high punt pinned inside the five, but that all went to shambles when he set up the game tying punt return for a touchdown with an atrocious, low hanging, short punt. Michael Spurlock was able to field the punt on the run cleanly and run about 10 yards before making a guy miss. Morstead also had a shot at saving the touchdown but was wiped out by a referee. He averaged just 40.3 yards per punt off of 4 punts, and you guys don't even want to know what his net was after that punt return. Not good.
Courtney Roby: C+ (2.88) Roby struggled returning kicks, averaging just 21.7 yards off 3 returns. He never really got a chance to blow one up or set the Saints up in good field position. True to form, though, Roby was useful in other areas of special teams. When everyone else in the coverage units frankly played lousy, Roby pinned a punt inside the 5 and also had a nice coverage tackle.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Charles Grant
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Courtney Roby