It's official, through 5 games, we can now come out and say that the Saints' offense is in the middle of a full blown slump. They are turning the ball over, the play calling isn't solid, the offensive line is making crucial mistakes, the receivers are dropping passes, and they're not converting in the red zone. We saw less of a possession passing game from the Saints this time (thank God), and more plays downfield, but the result was just the same. 20 points on the board, and lots of gifts to the other team. In fact, Drew Brees and Ladell Betts combined to basically give the Cardinals 21 points. Take those away and the Cardinals accomplished next to nothing all day. It's a sad day when the Saints' defense gives up less than 200 yards of total offense (93 of which was gained by Larry Fitzgerald, imagine if he wasn't there!) and the offense that was ranked #1 two out of the last three years is incapable of converting that into a win. Make the jump for the sorry grades.
Ladell Betts: D- (2.00) Betts ran the ball fairly effectively and he was a decent receiver out of the backfield. It seemed like any time he caught a flare pass, though, he was unable to make the one man miss. He was tackled dead in his tracks every time, unable to shake a tackler loose. He finished with 44 yards on 10 carries and 5 catches for 26 yards. Unfortunately, his mistakes were arguably more costly than Brees'. He tried to trap a pass from Brees inside the Saints' five instead of going out and getting the ball with two hands, and let the pass go through his grasp and into the hands of a waiting defender. That mistake, plain and simple, can be blamed on nothing more than technique. You're always taught as a pee-wee football player to go out and catch the ball with your hands and not let the ball come to your body. That was a piss poor effort on Betts' part, and it really cost his team. Then, his fumble that was returned for a touchdown was nothing short of a back breaker. I wonder if the Saints will keep him around after this game. You never blame the loss on just one player, but Betts was a huge reason for it. On that second timeout in 3 plays that Brees called, it looked like it was due to Betts screwing up the play call. Maybe he's just got too much responsibility right now for a guy that just doesn't know the playbook that well. It's a lot for a guy to come in and handle all the different nuances and reps of Sean Payton's complex system when he wasn't here for most of training camp.
Chris Ivory: C+ (2.00) He had 39 yards on 10 carries. On the drive that resulted in a 29 yard missed field goal, he provided a nice spark and had some nice runs. Early on he was thrown for a loss and destroyed on running plays. As the game wore on, though, he ran with authority. He's been of no use whatsoever in the passing game. In fact, I couldn't count one play where he was in the game and the Saints didn't run the ball. Hey Coach Payton, care to be a little less obvious?
Heath Evans B (2.87) Personally, I think Evans needs to see the field more. Plain and simple. On that drive where the Saints methodically marched down the field running the ball, Evans was blowing up lanes. Then, the Saints went back to passing, and Evans went back to the sidelines. He didn't really get a chance to do much receiving, as the two times Brees looked his way he was completely covered. I guess teams now know to actually pay attention to him on passing plays. That may be an unfortunate side effect of Reggie Bush being injured. I thought his lead blocking overall was exceptionally good, though he did miss a block on a 3rd and short that cost his team.
Marques Colston: B- (2.73) Statistically, it was one of his better games of the season. He finished with 7 catches for 97 yards. If you watched the game, though, you'd know that Colston was as disappointing at times as he was good. Brees looked his way all game long with mixed results. Colston got some separation downfield but dropped too many passes. At least he was getting involved downfield, though. In previous games his receptions were 5-7 yard ins and outs underneath exclusively. This time he was actually hurting the defense with big chunks of yards. What's most maddening is that some of the catches he makes are just impossible, while the drops seem like balls I could catch.
Devery Henderson: B (2.60) He finished with 4 catches for 61 yards and made no major mistakes. He provided a big play on a 39 yard reception, but he juggled the football and almost dropped it. I didn't dock his grade because he came down with it, but once again he looked shaky catching the football.
Robert Meachem: B+ (2.25) For 3 quarters, Meachem was absolutely nowhere to be seen. The Saints were running three receiver sets almost exclusively, and Lance Moore was the #3 target. In the 4th quarter, he was targeted 4 times, and gave the Saints 4 catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. He beat his man badly and adjusted to make a terrific crouching catch for a 35 yard touchdown late in the game. It's almost like the coaching staff forgot how big of a playmaker he was for the team last year. Maybe it's time we incorporate him back into the offense. What do you guys think?
Lance Moore: D (2.27) He got no separation, and finished with 1 catch for 8 yards. He also let a ball hit the turf that he could have caught, which wasn't really his fault because it was a low throw by Brees, but still would have been nice to see him make. All of his punt returns were fair catches, and he made me incredibly nervous with his - make a fair catch and fall down backwards as you catch the ball routine.
Jeremy Shockey: B (3.00) I'm always curious as to why Shockey spends so much time on the sidelines. Do the Saints consider Thomas a better blocker? Is he injured? Regardless of the reason, I think the Saints could stand to benefit from Shockey actually getting more reps. He was on the sidelines, at times, for long stretches of play. Shockey did score a touchdown at the goal line on a 1 yard pass where he was wide open. He finished with 3 catches for 30 yards. He did beat his coverage and had a big step on his defender, but Brees underthrew the pass and it was intercepted by Greg Toler. Shockey was at least heads up in tackling him immediately. Too bad on that play, though, because Shockey was headed for a big gain otherwise if the ball is thrown with any semblance of accuracy. He did a good job of breaking a tackle and looked faster than usual after the catch. He didn't really have any impact on the running game.
David Thomas: C- (2.47) He didn't block particularly well from what I reviewed on the replay of the game, and he was never targeted in the passing game. You can't really point to one thing he did that was terrible, but he had almost no impact on the game.
Jermon Bushrod: C (2.53) It's amazing how well Drew Brees sees pressure coming from his "blind side". Bushrod had lots of heat coming from his edge and his pass blocking was not as good as usual, but Brees would just calmly step up in the pocket and get rid of the football. If Max Hall had been playing for the Saints, Bushrod would have given up at least a couple sacks. He was flagged for holding on the play that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned a pick six. Obviously that was declined. His run blocking was fine. Nothing special.
Carl Nicks: B- (2.94) The Saints had some success running behind him, He didn't dominate at the line of scrimmage like he sometimes does, but Nicks held his own. The main disappointment here is the Saints didn't get the usual gaping lanes behind him they normally get.
Jonathan Goodwin: A- (2.87) Unlike the rest of this offense, I thought Goodwin played a very clean and solid game. He was at the second level playing aggressively, he was solid in pass protection, and he was throwing his weight around on running plays. He got decent push at the point of attack and I think his play was one of the real bright spots for the Saints in this game. Still, the fact that he's my "offensive player of the game" is pretty sad. And hey! He didn't get flagged for a penalty! That's a huge accomplishment if you block for the Saints lately.
Jahri Evans: B- (2.67) It's just so hard to grade Evans after this game. If you watch the game over, he completely dominated his man all day long. Granted, he got flagged three times and that is really bad. But if you watch how much he manhandled Bryan Robinson and Alan Branch, it was pretty close to work of art. On the holding call, Brees took way too long to get the ball out. That flag came as Brees released the ball, after Evans had given his man the business for a good 5-6 seconds. I looked at the replay and I still don't really see a hold there. Evans' rash of penalties lately is incredibly frustrating, but I will say he played at a high level otherwise. His run blocking was superb, and his pass blocking was better. Considering how much pressure the Cardinals were able to get outside the edge, that's a huge credit to the Nicks-Goodwin-Evans trio that the o-line rarely gives up sacks, and only gave up one in this game. Brees steps up in the pocket and he's got that extra time to throw almost every time because the interior blocking is so impeccable. Take away the penalties and that was A grade level blocking from Evans.
Jon Stinchcomb: D (2.33) One of Stinchcomb's worst games, I thought. On third and goal from the 4, he had a false start penalty. 2 plays later, John Carney missed a 29 yard field goal. That penalty was a back breaker for the team. He was also beaten badly around the edge by Clark Haggans who rocked Brees and caused a fumble. Good head's up by Stinchcomb, at least, to fall on the ball and prevent the turnover. That was just the one play where his spotty pass blocking was exposed. There was pressure coming from his side all day. He had his hands full all day with Darnell Dockett. Considering how good Dockett is, holding him to 3 tackles and no sacks is a solid accomplishment, but Dockett did blow up Brees twice just after he released the pass. Like all of you, anytime Brees takes a hit my heart stops. I was close to needing a defibrillator for this game. Stinchcomb almost got him killed. Thank God the Cards moved Dockett around a little bit throughout the game. If he played Stinchcomb straight up the whole game that could have been a disaster. Chris Ivory got blown up on a couple of running plays behind him, as well.
Zach Strief: C (2.00) He gave the Saints some physicality on the edge as the hybrid blocking tight end, and the Saints had some success half the time running behind him. He's still yet to assert his dominating size, and I still suspect it's because his movement is severely hampered by his knee issues. It's not like his movement was a strength of his to begin with. Got to get the big man healthy.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Jonathan Goodwin