A win is a win, sure, but the Saints are far from playoff form right now. They were sloppy on offense, and managed only 16 points despite controlling the football, clock, game and line of scrimmage for the entirety of 60 minutes. Based on the way the game went, you could tell the Saints were a far superior team, yet they were maybe 5 yards away from a John Kasay attempt that could have handed them a loss. Still, the Saints found a way to win and they're 3-1. We'll take it. One thing we can all be happy about is the fact that the Saints made big strides in the running game, showing more balance on offense. Make the jump for the grades!
Drew Brees: B+ (3.17) His rating was only 90.2 this time around, but I thought this was one of his better games of the season. It proves that rating number is just stupid. Brees was accurate, careful with the ball, directing traffic masterfully, and moving the ball well on the Panthers. My one gripe: what happened to the Saints making throws downfield? Is it just me, or is Brees constantly settling for the throw underneath? The Saints have become a possession passing team almost entirely through 4 games, and the big plays just aren't happening. It seemed like the few times Brees did go downfield -- bomb to Meachem that received a pass interference call, pass to Colston broken up, pass to Thomas broken up -- the Saints just weren't connecting. Consider this: longest reception for Colston - 15, Henderson - 12, Moore - 11, Meachem - 9. What's wrong with that picture? We need our perimeter to come up with bigger plays than that, and part of that is on Brees putting them in a position to do so. Still, the Saints did a great job of moving the chains and that was in large part thanks to Brees. He was 33 for 48 (at least 6 of those were drops) for 275 yards, 1 touchdown and no turnovers.
Chris Ivory: C+ (1.83) He ran with great authority and did a very effective job on the ground. In fact, he was deserving of a B, or even a B+, if he could just hold on to the football. The bottom line, though, is the guy has now fumbled twice in just 19 carries this season. Ball security is clearly an issue for Ivory, and he's going to have to fix that problem if he wants to continue to see the field. Matter of fact, if he develops a reputation for being a guy that puts it on the turf, he won't last in the league. He looked a little gimpy late in the game, so he's clearly still not 100% from that preseason injury, but give him a lot of credit for stepping in when he was needed and playing pretty well. He ran hard and looked fast. He finished with 67 yards on 12 carries (5.6 yard average).
Ladell Betts: B+ (3.33) Moose Johnston said it best in the broadcast, Betts does everything pretty well. Other than a couple plays that got blown up badly in the backfield, Betts ran the ball very effectively much like Ivory. What he did that Ivory didn't provide, was a reliable security valve in the passing game, and a terrific ability in pass protection. Betts reminded me of Deuce McAllister the way he pass blocked. Seriously, that guy is great to have back there on passing plays, because he gives Brees another deadly second to throw, and he has very soft hands. Betts may not be the guy that will run for 1500 yards in a season, but he's the type of guy that every team needs. He's different than Aaron Stecker in the style on player he is, but he is similar in that he's a terrific role player that plays to his strengths and executes his assignment well even if the play is running away from him. Sometimes it's the little things. Betts had 47 yards on 13 carries, and 23 yards on 4 receptions. I trust him much more than Chris Ivory right now, even if Ivory has more potential.
Heath Evans: B+ (2.83) It didn't matter who was back there, he was leading the way with some monster lead blocks. He also had a reception for 4 yards that was completely sniffed out. I'm not sure how the Panthers knew the ball was coming to Heath Evans, but the Saints may want to look into their personnel packages and see if that play was tipped off somehow. Evans did miss a block on an end around to Devery Henderson, but other than that he was on point pretty much all game opening holes for the Saints' backs. The team needed it, too, with Pierre Thomas inactive.
Marques Colston: C+ (2.75) Despite 8 balls coming his way, Colston had just 4 catches for 36 yards. He had a chance a a deep seam route that he momentarily got his hands on, but the Panthers' defender broke the pass up. He did make one terrific catch off his shoetop, but overall it was a quiet game for Colston.
Devery Henderson: B- (2.50) Once again Devery had a bad drop. He's starting to show shaky hands at times, a problem he seemed to correct last season. Still, Henderson provided a constant target underneath that moved the chains. He finished with 6 catches for 59 yards, while targeted 9 times. My question is, why is Henderson constant being thrown to underneath? He's not known for being a reliable chain moving target that makes the tough grabs over the middle. He's a deep threat. The Saints continue to ask him to do things that don't play to his strengths. It's pretty head scratching. Considering the fact that he's having to do something he's not accustom to, I have to commend him for coming out pretty good. He had some key 3rd down conversion receptions.
Lance Moore: C+ (2.58) His fumble inside the Panthers' 2 plain and simple took 7 points off the board for the Saints. That turnover was inexcusable, and gave the Panthers life. You always have to hold on to the football, but turnovers inside the red zone are back breakers. Honestly, he hangs onto that football and the game could have been a blowout. That play gave the Panthers' defense a lot of confidence. He finished with 5 catches for just 37 yards, with a number of short throws, but he was targeted almost too often. He did make up for the fumble by turning a 3rd and goal bubble screen from the 4 yard line into a touchdown. He was quick, slippery, and weaved his way through traffic on that play to find the goal line. I also saw Lance Moore make a nice block on a running play, crushing a would be tackler to the turf.
Robert Meachem: C+ (1.89) Meachem, once again, didn't accomplish much in terms of statistics. He's clearly dropped behind Lance Moore in the rotation and is #4 in the pecking order at receiver. At times last year, he seemed to be the best receiver on the team. He hasn't even been close to that this year. I hope he keeps his head in the game, though, because as much as the Saints spread the ball around, his time will come to have a big game. There's a lot of season left. Meachem finished with 2 catches for 16 yards, one of which was a big third down conversion. Still, like Henderson, what's with his completions being these little ins and outs? His strength, like Devery, is stretching the field. His biggest contribution was the pass interference call he drew inside the Panthers' 5 deep down the field that led to the Saints' only touchdown of the day. He gets a big grade boost for that play.
Jeremy Shockey: B (3.00) It was a weird game for Shockey. He had two very bad drops with balls that hit him right in his bread basket. Then, he'd make a sick catch that very few people could make. Brees didn't let those drops effect his confidence in Shockey, and that was a good thing, because Shockey rewarded him on numerous throws. Shockey was a major contributor in the passing game, finishing with 6 catches for 58 yards. He was limping around a little bit, which you all probably know by now really annoys me. The guy is never not limping. Where he earned his grade, though, was blocking. Based on his receptions and drops, he was probably at a C+ or a B-, but I gave him a B because he sealed the edge incredibly well on running plays, and showed amazing toughness at the second level. Shockey was a big part in helping the running game succeed.
David Thomas: B+ (2.67) Thomas blocked well and he was another reliable target that moved the sticks. He finished with 5 catches for 42 yards, including a few grabs on the Saints' final drive that led to John Carney's game winning field goal. Thomas is always going to get opportunities based on the number of weapons the Saints have on offense, so it's nice to see him making the most of them in this game.
Jermon Bushrod: B+ (2.67) Bushrod's blocking overall was excellent, although he did get some help from tight ends and running backs on chips and double teams. His pass blocking was shaky at times, but Brees was able to step up in the pocket as he does so well to avoid pressure. Still, he kept his quarterback clean for the most part and he was physical in the run game.
Carl Nicks: A- (3.00) Nicks mauled people all game long. He was unmovable on passing plays, and he demolished the Panthers' interior line. He played a clean game and was very solid.
Jonathan Goodwin: A- (2.67) Like Nicks, Goodwin got great push on the interior and he was very steady throughout the game. The Saints rushed for 121 yards and an average of 4.2, and gave up just 2 sacks in 50 pass attempts. Goodwin, showed his usual hustle getting his hat on linebackers as well when he was freed up to do so.
Jahri Evans: B- (2.67) Late in the game with the Saints close to scoring, he completely whiffed on a block that allowed Ladell Betts to get blown up in the backfield right as he took the handoff. That play would end up forcing the Saints to settle for 3, which gave the Panthers a chance to win the game with a field goal. He also had a holding penalty that would end up forcing the Saints to punt. On a sack by Charles Johnson, he was responsible for blocking him, though Brees was partly to blame for not getting rid of the ball quick enough. Based on those 3 plays, which were all admittedly bad, you'd think he deserves a worse grade... but the truth is besides those plays, he was outstanding. On Lance Moore's touchdown, he blew up a Panthers' defender at the goal line to give Moore just enough room to score. On a couple delay hand offs to Ladell Betts, he muscled the interior to create a huge path for Betts to gain significant yards. He was very good on passing plays and running plays. The reality is, though, that while Nicks and Goodwin were both solid throughout, Evans navigated between spectacular and mediocre. Ultimately, spectacular mixed with bad earns you a worse grade than continually solid.
Jon Stinchcomb: B- (2.67) Like big Jahri, Stinchcomb made more big plays that stood out, both good and bad. On a rush around the edge by Chris Ivory, Stinchcomb opened up a huge lane for Ivory that allowed him to bulldoze for a first down on the right edge on a sweep for a 12 yard gain. Shockey sealed the edge perfectly, by the way, on that same play. Stinchcomb was beaten very badly by James Anderson on a blitz on the last play of the first half, where Anderson got a sack and forced fumble. Stinchcomb made some big time blocks, but looked a bit shaky at other times.
Zach Strief: C- (2.00) Strief looked a little slow and wasn't as lights out as usual blocking off the edge. The guy just isn't a tight end, so while it's nice to have his size in the game from time to time, maybe the Saints should just go ahead and give him some snaps at tackle? I noticed the Panthers did a good job of getting around Strief when he was in the game. His biggest mishap was that he had a clear and easy chance at recovering Chris Ivory's fumble. He landed on the ball and it squirted out of his grasp. It's not in his job description to come up with that loose ball, he's a big lineman blocker and not a ball handler, but he really could have helped out his team by grabbing that ball.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Drew Brees