Grading the defense was tricky because some of the starters got action before giving way to their backups. None the less, see below the player grades for defense and special teams at Carolina. The letter grade represents the player's individual performance in the game, the GPA represents the player's cumulative effort for the season.
Charles Grant: D+ (2.08) I could essentially copy and paste what I just wrote for Will Smith, including the 1 tackle performance, and that would mostly describe Charles Grant's limited action. Except, unlike Smith, he was responsible for a major error. On the second play of the game, Grant followed the line shift to the left, pushing Carolina's right tackle hard in that direction. Problem is, the play was a counter and with terrible containment Grant paved a massive lane for Jonathan Stewart to hit the second level. As Stewart made his cut back, Grant had his back to the ballcarrier and was completely clueless as to what was happening. Needless to say, Stewart made one guy miss and raced 67 yards to paydirt.
Bobby McCray: B- (1.98) Bobby got extended action and while his pass rushing was largely mediocre, he actually did a pretty good job against the run. He finished with 2 tackles, including an impressive stop in the backfield.
Anthony Hargrove: A- (2.36) In my estimation, Hargrove was by far the best Saint of the day. He was energetic, active, and looked like one of the few players that actually wanted to be out there. You have to love the guy's hustle. After Smith and Grant left the game, he also got extended action at his natural position of defensive end. No surprise, he looked a lot more comfortable and assertive in that role. He finished with a whooping 6 tackles, and he batted a 3rd down pass at the line of scrimmage to kill a drive. He was also in Matt Moore's face numerous times, and even got a sack. On the sack play, he appeared to pull off the rarely seen but always praised sack-strip-recovery-score play, but replay proved Moore was down by contact. Regardless, a head's up play by Hargrove and a really good game by the reserve pass rusher. He even did a very good job holding his own against the run, which has been his main struggle this season.
DeMario Pressley: B (2.67) Every time this guy comes in, he plays pretty well. I think the Saints should give him extended playing time because I think he's capabale of making an impact. He was good against the run and helped his teammates finish plays. 3 tackles on the day.
Remi Ayodele: C (2.38) Limited action for Ayodele so it's hard to grade the guy. He finished with 1 tackle and was fine overall. Certainly didn't do anything special, either.
Rodney Leisle: C (2.0) Leisle held his ground well against the run, but he looked slow and overmatched when he tried to move laterally. He finished with 1 tackle.
Scott Fujita: C- (2.70) Fujita actually played a good amount of the game, but either he was uninspired or the Panthers avoided running in his direction with so many weak links to pick on elsewhere. He finished with 4 tackles and did a decent job against the pass, but his tackles were soft and he just looked out of it. Anytime there was a running play, he was extremely slow to help his teammates. Perhaps he was playing not to get injured like so many others. I'm sure the Saints would've preferred to sit guys like Fujita, Meachem and Henderson, but when you've only got 45 gameday roster spots you can only sit so many players.
Jonathan Casillas: B (2.84) Casillas was active and has really shown promise. The guy is all over the place on the field and he has a nice mean streak. I think he can use a little work in his tackling, and showing a little containment in his pursuit, but for an undrafted free agent he's really played well the last few weeks and he's a promising prospect at linebacker. I was really impressed with his toughness up the middle. He finished with 7 tackles and had loads of involvement. He never really got exposed in passing situations though, and I wonder if maybe that would be a weakness for him. He's a bulky guy so he may not have the fluidity and range to cover as well.
Troy Evans: C- (1.87) Evans was the guy that whiffed miserably on Stewart's counter that went 67 yards. He was the only guy that really had a chance to save that play. He finished with 5 tackles, but too many times was he completely blown up by blocks or slow to make a play.
Marvin Mitchell: B+ (2.67) Mitchell started at middle linebacker and played the entirety. He was physical, hard nosed and quick to the ball. He had 6 tackles and was a major part of the impressive second half performance that saw the Saints give up only 6 points defensively. He acted like a leader despite his lack of experience and showed me a lot. We've got a good backup behind Vilma.
Jabari Greer: B- (3.37) Greer looked rusty in coverage and got beat on a few throws. That said, he showed very clearly why he is the best cornerback on the roster. He was physical and wasn't afraid to stick his nose in to help against the run. Twice the Panthers tries to run screens to Mushin Muhammad, isolated one on one with Greer, and both times the dwarfed corner made impressive tackles short of a first down marker. As he gets acclimated to game speed and gets his feet under him, he should be back to performing like he did earlier in the season. He finished with 6 tackles, but did give up some yardage in pass situations.
Randall Gay: C (2.60) Gay was burned often by the Panthers, and he didn't do a good job of covering his man. More often than not it was Muhammad exposing Gay in the slot. That said, Gay was physical and at least able to limit the damage by making sure tackles. His coverage was bad enough that he deserved a worse grade, but he did an excellent job blitzing. Once he sacked Moore, and also blew up Moore on another play just as he released the ball. He finished with a team high 7 tackles, thanks in part to the plays he was giving up.
Tracy Porter: B- (3.06) Porter didn't play a fantastic game by any means, but he showed a few good things out there. He finished with 2 tackles and a defended pass. By and large his coverage was pretty good, though suspect on one pass to Dwayne Jarrett.
Chris Reis: C- (1.67) Reis looked extremely slow out there. On Stewart's long touchdown run, Reis was losing ground badly. There's no denying he was busting his tail off and he wasn't afraid to get physical, but the bottom line was he was too slow, too small, and of too little ability to really make an impact at free safety. I think Reis might be better off playing at strong safety, but he doesn't really have the size for that either. He did finish with 6 tackles, but by and large he was a boy among men out there. I feel mean saying it because I love Reis and he's liked by fans and praised as the "new Steve Gleason", but he really needs to stick to special teams.
Roman Harper: C+ (2.75) Harper was throwing his body around out there and showing some effort. He took risks and overpursued incessantly. Some of his gambles paid off but I hope he plays with a little more restraint in the playoffs. He finished with 3 tackles.
Pierson Prioleau: C+ (2.42) Prioleau played pretty well in coverage, against the run, and did a good job of keeping plays in front him - except for one horrendous play. With just 13 seconds left in the first half, he allowed Dwayne Jarrett to abuse him in single coverage on a flag route over the middle. The result was a 30 yard touchdown pass just before halftime which was essentially a back breaker given the Saints' anemic offense. Too bad, because Prioleau let down a defense that was actually playing pretty well. You take away that long run by Stewart and that terrible coverage by Prioleau and the Saints' defense, backups and all, would've played a whale of a game. Unfortunately, as always, the big plays will kill you even when you're playing well. As mentioned, though, beyond that play Prioleau was pretty solid. He finished with 4 tackles.
Garrett Hartley: B+ (2.67) Hartley was charged with handling kickoffs in this one and struggled to get much depth on his first two kicks. In his defense, though, the weather was cold and the conditions made it hard to really blast one. He did manage to kick his third one for a touchback. He also hit an extra point and his lone field goal try from 35 yards out right down the middle.
Thomas Morstead: A+ (3.00) Morstead was the Saints overall player of the game, in my opinion. His punting was a pure work of art. He punted 9 times, none of them touchbacks, and 7 of them pinned inside the 20. Just sick. It's not like he was punting from close either, as he averaged a very healthy 46.3 yards per punt. He gave the Panthers no chance to get much going with the field position he stuck them in. If you've been following my grades you know I do not give A+'s out frequently, but Morstead deserves this one. I believe it's the third one I've given out. Oh, and even though Captain Munnerlyn ripped off a 31 yard punt return at one point, Morstead's net average was still 42.3, which was very very good. It's sad when the punter is your best guy on gameday, but he deserves props.
Courtney Roby: C- (2.80) Roby was off to a great start in the game. He had a great tackle with the coverage unit, then he downed two of Morstead's punts inside the Panthers' 20. He was headed towards a really nice little grade. Then, he had to negate a big time Reggie Bush punt return with a block in the back, and he had to fumble a kick return with under 5 seconds left in the half to set up one last John Kasay field goal before going into the locker room. I'm sorry, but fumbling a kickoff like that before halftime is a cardinal sin. I realize he got hit hard and got a concussion, and I hope he's ok because we need him and he's a good player, but you just can't do that.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Anthony Hargrove
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead