WHO DAT! I can't tell you how relieved I am to be posting these grades knowing that it won't be the last time this season. Below are the grades, and by now you know how it works.
Reggie Bush: A+ (2.80) Reggie Bush had the game of his life. If you don't vote for Bush as the offensive player of the game, you need to have your head examined. Bush created numerous matchup problems, and showed the gamebreaking speed and playmaking ability that makes him so dangerous all game. He scored on a 46 yard run and an 83 yard punt return, breaking the Cardinals' back. His touchdown run had a little bit of everything. The speed of Darrell Green, the shiftiness of Barry Sanders, and the tackle breaking ability of Craig Heyward. Bush looked decisive in his cuts, and authoritative through the hole. I've never seen him run with so much power and determination, but he definitely looked good enough to be an every down back. I'm sure Reggie will have his doubters in the future, but it was nice to see him shut them up if only for a week. I'm glad I patiently put up with a season full of horrendous punt returning, because I was rewarded as a fan with one of his most electrifying punt returns of his career.
Mike Bell: C- (2.43) Bell's first carry was a bruising 5 yard run that saw him hit the hole hard and bull over a couple Cardinals. Sadly, he only got 5 more carries for 6 yards from there. I'm not sure what happened to Bell, but he just doesn't seem like he has that fire in his belly that he had earlier in the season.
Pierre Thomas: B (3.09) Thomas was very brave, considering his broken ribs, and he showed nice toughness throughout the game. He finished with 52 yards on 13 carries and 4 catches for 18 yards. I was a little annoyed with the playing time he got late with the game out of hand, which of course resulted in him turning an ankle. Give Thomas credit as well for doing a good job in his blitz assignment pickups. He also threw a nice pass block after pitching the flea-flicker.
Lynell Hamilton: B+ (2.67) Hamilton was a surprise red zone option ahead of Mike Bell, and he did an impressive job getting his first carry over the goal line for the Saints' first touchdown. On the very next play he went down and got a tackle on special teams. With the Saints up big late, he got numerous clock running reps. He moved the chains and showed a lot of promise. He finished with 23 yards on 5 carries and a touchdown.
Marques Colston: A- (2.98) Colston was Brees' main target and he was making plays all game long. Whenever it seemed like the Saints really needed a play, Colston was there to answer the call. With the number of blitzes the Cards sent, Colston was often isolated in man to man coverage, and Brees just put the ball in places where Colston could take advantage of his massive frame to outplay his opponents to the ball. He finished with 6 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Lance Moore: B- (2.56) Moore made two catches for just 6 yards. His first was a nice play in the flat for 7 yards, and his next was a yard loss on a bubble screen. At one point Brees targeted Moore over the middle on a 3rd down play, but Moore struggled to get much separation. It just seemed like he wasn't able to really run away from the defensive backs, which means he's lost some game speed because of the two bum ankles and his time away from the game. I don't think he's quite at 100% yet, and he's not a big vertical threat right now. I gave him a big grade boost, though, because despite his diminutive size he threw two key blocks. Specifically, he threw a terrific block on Reggie's touchdown run. Not only did he a good job on manning up on his guy to create an initial lane, he also threw a secondary block once Reggie broke a tackle and cut back to blow up a seam. He was also wide open another time in the flat, but Brees elected to overthrow a triple covered Colston in the end zone.
Devery Henderson: A- (2.82) If you want any more evidence of the progress this player has made over his time with the Saints, look no further than the 44 yard touchdown catch he made in this game. Two to three years ago, he makes that catch maybe 25% of the time. Now? He makes it at least 75% of the time. When you have to turn around completely, come to a total stop, and focus on a ball with a defender running full speed at you, that is not an easy catch. Let's be clear on this one: Drew Brees didn't make that good of a throw. Henderson made a terrific adjustment to the ball, and showed terrific hands to corral that in and hang onto it as he absorbed a hit. That catch was just sick. He also broke several tackles on a 16 yard screen pass that showed good strength and toughness. He finished with 4 catches for 80 yards and that touchdown. I can't tell you guys how glad I am that Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton decided to re-sign him this offseason, because that move was very much in question.
Robert Meachem: C- (2.93) Very quiet day for Meachem. He did get a first down in the red zone on a four yard end around, but he had no catches and wasn't involved in the passing game. Why does Sean Payton love that play on a short field so much? In his defense, he was wide open on the flea-flicker and could easily have been the touchdown recipient had Brees thrown his way instead of Henderson's. On another play, Meachem ran free from coverage and was overthrown, literally running out of his shoes to try to catch up to Brees' pass. Otherwise, he was completely uninvolved.
Jeremy Shockey: B+ (2.91) In a word, Shockey was a "warrior". He was clearly hampered by the turf toe that continues to bother him. At different points in the game he could barely walk, and yet he kept going out there to give his team everything he had. He finished with 3 catches for 36 yards and a touchdown, and most of the plays he made came early. I thought the Saints made a bad decision to de-activate Darnell Dinkins before the game. That left them with only two tight ends, and when Kyle Eckel left the game with an injury, David Thomas had to move to fullback. This meant that Shockey, could he walk, was forced to play more than he likely should have. Give him a ton of credit for having sure hands and making plays despite clearly being well below 100%. I would expect Dinkins to be active next week to give Shockey more of a rest and give the Saints the versatility to play Thomas at fullback if they need him to.
David Thomas: C+ (2.41) Thomas did a decent job playing fullback, but struggled at times. In the passing game he was a non-factor and Brees stayed away from him. I don't blame him for taking a terrible angle on his end around that ended a yard short of the first down, because it was a stupid call. I hate to criticize Sean Payton because I think he's very creative, innovative, and one of the best offensive minds in the game... but that play shouldn't even exist in the playbook. I'm sorry, but an end around to David Thomas? Seriously? And you're going to run in on a third and short? The thing is, Thomas could have gotten the first down easily had he turned upfield and plowed over the defender, but he tried to bounce it outside. But again, that's not playing to a player's strengths. Normally Payton is so good at getting the most out of his players by putting them in positions to succeed. A complete brain cramp by the coaching staff there.
Jermon Bushrod: A- (2.59) Granted Bushrod got a lot of help, whether it was Pierre Thomas chipping, or Carl Nicks rotating over to double team, but he was very solid. This was arguably Bushrod's best performance as a Saint. He was lights out in pass protection, and extremely effective on running plays. Most of the Saints' big running plays were off the edge to the left side, including Reggie's gamebreaker where Bushrod threw a devastating block. Maybe the bye week did him some good because I know he was nursing an injury. He'll have his hands full with Jared Allen next week.
Zach Strief: B (2.36) Strief didn't play as much as I was hoping he would, but when he came in he was usually a 3rd tight end with Dinkins inactive. He did a great job of sealing the edge and using his size to get defenders off the line of scrimmage. He was a big reason for the Saints doing a good job late of running the clock.
Carl Nicks: B (2.98) Nicks shuffled between playing amazing and mediocre. The help he gave Bushrod was largely outstanding in passing situations. The Saints ran continually behind him on the ground, and he had mixed results. He also pushed a first and goal from the 2 yard line way back with a holding penalty.
Jonathan Goodwin: B+ (3.04) Goodwin was overall solid, but he allowed some interior penetration on a couple of weak running plays by Mike Bell. His pass blocking was good. As always, he was most dangerous pulling and leading the way for plays downfield.
Jahri Evans: A+ (3.20) Evans was a dominant force for the entirety of the day. Watching game tape, it was like seeing a 30 year old athlete blocking a 5 year old child. Seriously, he was just toying with rushers and pushing them around however he wanted. This guy should have been elected to the Pro Bowl long before now. On a number of play action plays, he rolled to the left to seal the edge of Brees' backside, and his blocks were so good Brees could have sat back there for a week. On any running plays that hit the second level, there was Jahri, already responsible for a great initial block, running down field blowing people up. I don't think some Saints fans realize how lucky we are to have a player of this quality. If not for Brees, he's my Offensive MVP of the season, hands down. And the margin between Brees and Evans is very close. Just look at their GPAs. He is that good. I don't get a chance to watch many other guards around the league this closely, but I would defy anyone to show me someone better.
Jon Stinchcomb: A (2.82) Stinchcomb's pass blocking was impeccable. I have a feeling the Vikings' front four will give the Saints more trouble than Arizona did, so Brees may not see the same kind of time. The were times where Brees could've had 10 seconds to throw if he needed it. He's got a quick release anyway, but I think Ben Roethlisberger would love to play behind this pass blocking offensive line with the amount of time he takes. The right side of the line in particular was rock solid all day. It was almost like Stinchcomb and Evans wanted to validate their Pro Bowl selections. Stinchcomb was also much more physical and active in run blocking than I'm used to, and he was never beaten around the edge.
Kyle Eckel: B (2.34) Eckel gets a warrior tag, too, because the Saints were short at fullback/tight end, and he came back with what appeared to be a stinger. His lead blocking was significantly improved from what I've seen at other times during the season, but boy do the Saints miss Heath Evans.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Reggie Bush