Below are the grades for defense and special teams. You know what really annoys me? The fact that Tony Dungy said the Saints are "4-5 plays away from being 0-4" last night. Why does he hate us so much anyway? We're also one 29 yard field goal away from being 4-0. He's still bitter that we made his Super Bowl prediction look so uneducated, I guess. Anyway, make the jump for the grades!Will Smith: C (2.50) Another quiet day for Mr. Smith. He just looks a little slow to me this year. On the cut back run by DeAngelo Williams that went 39 yards for a touchdown, Smith broke containment to allow the open space for Williams to break free. Smith was largely neutralized in the passing game, too. He did finish with 3 tackles and a knockdown, and showed good physicality on running downs. Still, Smith is far from hitting his stride so far this year.
Alex Brown: D- (1.75) Does this guy even exist? Brown has done nothing all season pass rushing. He has been completely invisible. Is he even going to get a sack this year? Seriously, so far, he's arguably been worse than Charles Grant. At best, he's been the same, which really isn't good. He had no tackles, and didn't really provide much against the run, either.
Anthony Hargrove: C- (2.00) Hargrove showed his usual hustle, but the plays just didn't come his way. Give Jimmy Clausen credit, I guess, for getting rid of the ball pretty quickly most of the time. Still, the Saints didn't get nearly enough pressure from their edge rushers without blitzing. He had one tackle.
Sedrick Ellis: A- (2.75) Ellis got a little quieter as the game progressed, but he had a beast of a first half. He was dominating the interior and disrupting the backfield continuously. He made a really nifty move to post a sack, but he's really got to work on his sack celebration. He did a good job against the run, too, and he got his hands up to tip two passes . It was a very solid showing from Ellis, who is playing at a high level right now. He finished with 4 tackles and the aforementioned sack.
Remi Ayodele: A- (2.84) What a tandem we have at defensive tackle right now. Once again, Ayodele was plugging up the middle and completely dominating the line of scrimmage. The Panthers had 118 yards rushing on 23 carries, but you take away the one busted play where Williams ran for 39 yards and it would have been 79 yards on 22 carries (3.6 yard average). The Panthers had arguably the best running attack in the NFL two years ago, and it's largely the same personnel. The Saints did a great job against the run, and Ayodele finished with 5 tackles. He also tipped a Clausen pass, and got some penetration on the interior all day.
Scott Shanle: C+ (2.50) Like Ellis, Shanle started off hot and fizzled quietly as the game progressed. He tackled surely and his coverage overall was better than previous weeks. He gave way too much cushion to Dante Rosario on one third down conversion, though. When he had a chance to tackle, he did so with good technique. Shanle made no crucial errors, nor did he make any big plays. He finished with 3 tackles. Pretty neutral performance.
Jonathan Vilma: C+ (3.17) He had three tackles and a defended pass. Again, nothing terrible and nothing awesome. The Saints controlled the ball for so long in this game, there were less than 45 tackle opportunities for the whole team. Vilma did his usual captaining the defense.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: C- (2.50) Dunbar had one tackle, and no impact on the game whatsoever. He was very quiet, and was no help on run defense. Again, the reps were limited based on the Saints' clock control, but Dunbar wasn't aggressive enough in my opinion.
Marvin Mitchell: C- (2.50) Mitchell played pretty well defensively, and made some plays in limited reps. He finished with 2 tackles. I knocked his grade down, though, because he got flagged for a blatant 15 yard facemask personal foul penalty on a kickoff. No excuse for hanging on to Mike Goodson's facemask like that. I realize he's just going for the tackle and that's part of football sometimes, but Carolina's offense looked so bad that helping them out with a free 15 yards was a stupid gift.
Danny Clark: B- (2.84) Limited reps for Clark as well, but he made the most of them. He finished with 2 tackles, but was very physical against the run, which the Saints needed. They weren't really getting that from any other linebacker, so Clark came in in the second half and thumped around a little bit. He made a great play blasting up the middle to drop Williams for a two yard loss. Clark hurts his overall grade, though, for getting flagged for a stupid holding penalty on a punt return.
Jabari Greer: B- (2.92) On the first touchdown by Carolina, a 55 yard pass to Jonathan Stewart, I believe Greer is not responsible. Greer was running with him, but it looked like zone coverage because he left Stewart to run behind him assuming he had help over the top. Now I don't know what play was called, so it's possible Greer mixed up his assignment. Based on the fact that Malcolm Jenkins is new and inexperienced at the free safety position, and that Greer is a very reliable veteran, I'm guessing Greer was executing his responsibility and got left out to dry. He finished with 5 tackles on the day and a defended pass. As always, he was a huge help against the run, never afraid to stick his nose in there. He was beaten down the sideline once by David Gettis for a 21 yard gain. His coverage was decent, but not great. He benefited largely from Jimmy Clausen being grossly inaccurate. Still, Greer is a great tackler, because I saw him bring down Steve Smith in the open field once. Smith has run past, around and over Saints defenders for his entire career. No defensive back we've had has been capable of tackling him or stopping him. The fact that Greer could do so, in the open field no less, reaffirms how physical and fearless he is for a little cornerback.
Tracy Porter: C+ (2.50) He finished with 3 tackles and a defended pass. On Williams' 39 yard run, Porter was blocked completely out of the play by Steve Smith. Too bad, because once the cut back happen, the play came right at him. On several running plays Porter was manhandled by Smith, but he at least got a holding call for the trouble once. He ran one punt return back for 4 yards, and looked a little unsure doing it. That was random having him back there instead of Lance Moore. His coverage was solid overall. Again, he benefited in a big way from Clausen targeting his somewhat open man but lacking accuracy to complete the pass. Unlucky, his tipped pass went high up in the air on a third down play and fell into the waiting arms of Jeff King for a first down.
Patrick Robinson: C (2.17) Robinson had two tackles, one on Rosario on a third down passing play that led to a conversion, and once on a kickoff. Overall, his coverage was unspectacular, but fine. Quiet day overall.
Randall Gay: B (2.84) I actually noticed in this game that Gay's coverage in the slot was impeccable. Clausen never even tried to go his way because he was a blanket on his man every single time. He got a limited number of snaps, but when he was in I thought his coverage was excellent. He finished with one tackle.
Chris Reis: B (3.00) Reis came in for an injured Pierson Prioleau, before getting injured himself. I was surprised, but he was actually very physical around the line of scrimmage. Thank God Clausen never thought to go after him on passing downs. I was terrified of watching him cover a big tight end or fleet footed running back. His coverage skills were never really exposed, though. Against the run he was very solid. He finished with 4 tackles.
Malcolm Jenkins: C- (2.42) Jenkins saves his grade with possibly the biggest play of the game. On 3rd in 12 from the Saints' 40, he sacked Jimmy Clausen on a blitz that would force a long pass attempt instead of a field goal. Before that, he was partly responsible for the two Carolina touchdowns. On DeAngelo's long touchdown run, he was the last line of defense and he had a clear shot at tackling him. He took a bad angle, though, and whiffed at Williams' horsecollar before falling to the turf without slowing him down. As a free safety, the last line of defense, you have to make that play. Earlier, he failed to pick up Jonathan Stewart on a wheel right which left the running back wide open and able to waltz into the end zone for a 55 yard touchdown. Stewart stumbled around the 10 and almost fell, and Jenkins was so far behind him he still couldn't catch up. Jenkins has been up and down so far in his new role, but you can bet that's a mistake Darren Sharper would never have made. Jenkins did have 5 tackles, but those two costly errors were bad. At least he came up with the big play when it mattered most.
Usama Young: A (4.00) So here's Mr. 4th string strong safety playing extended time after the first three guys ahead of him all get injured. Young was basically an afterthought playing this position, and he steps up and plays like an all pro. He did give a receiver too much cushion which allowed a short throw early in the game, but after that he was completely locked in. He blitzed a couple times, landing a sack once and causing pressure another time. He was excellent on special teams, in pass coverage, and he led the team with 6 tackles. Arguably bigger than Jenkins' sack, too, was the play just before that. On 2nd and 8 from the Saints' 36 yard line, which was pretty much range for John Kasay to break our hearts once again (he's made a habit out of that in the Dome), the Panthers gave the ball to DeAngelo Williams, who cut against the grain and went away from the play much like the 39 yard touchdown run he had earlier. On that play, Usama Young had a shot at him in the backfield in the open field. If he misses that tackle, the Saints lose the game, it's that simple. Young dropped Williams for a 4 yard loss on that play, which forced the Panthers to pass, and get sacked, on the following play. That was the play of the game, and Young came up huge. Good thing he made the roster for final cuts because he was a bubble player for sure!
John Carney: A- (3.67) Carney went 3 for 3, making kicks we all expect any NFL kicker to make. Both 32 yard field goals he connected on were perfect and right down the middle. On the game winning 25 yarder with 4 minutes left, he hooked it just inside the upright and came extremely close to missing it. He made my heart stop for a good 15 seconds there. Still, he comes in for Garrett Hartley and it pays off, as he connects on all three kicks. Who knows based on Hartley's confidence how he would have fared on each kick, and the Saints needed every single one of them. I'd like to believe Hartley would have made them all, but you never know.
Thomas Morstead: B- (3.42) Morstead's 53.3 punt average for the game is amazing, but it's a little misleading because his net was 40.3. He gave Captain Munnerlyn a couple shots at returns, and his kickoffs didn't have quite the depth they normally do as he wasn't able to get any of them to go for touchbacks. One of his punts went for a touchback, too. By no means a bad game for Morstead, but not one of his best by any stretch either.
Courtney Roby: B+ (3.50) He had his two kickoff returns go for 25.5 yards. Nothing too fancy, just a steady and fine average. Where he made his mark, yet again, was as a gunner. The NFC Special Teams player of the month recovered yet another fumble. How does this guy continually happen to be at the right place at the right time? It's ridiculous. He makes a play for the team every single week on special teams, it's getting to be pretty much a given. I'll say it again: just go ahead and give him his Pro Bowl invite already.
Jason Kyle: A (4.00) You know, I never give this guy a grade because the long snapper really never plays enough or does enough to get noticed most of the time. It's pretty simple, he makes his snaps and no one notices, or he butchers a snap and gets an F. I guess I could get really picky and grade the exact location of all his snaps (high, low, on target, slightly off target...) but I have no interest in doing that. I'm going to give the guy a grade this time, though. Why? Because for the second straight week he made a huge play in coverage. Forget for a second that this guy routinely puts snap after snap on the money and that he's one of the best at what he does, he's recovered a fumble and forced a fumble in consecutive weeks. He's been involved in two huge momentum swinging turnovers. His job is to accurately snap the ball, and nothing else. He's not supposed to be a gunner. Yet, somehow, the guy has been largely responsible for the Saints winning the last two weeks. Made props to Jason Kyle.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Usama Young
My Special Teams Player of the Game: John Carney