Happy post Thanksgiving/Saintsgiving! Hopefully everyone had a good one filled with fun times, good food, and quality time spent with families. Like many of you, the way the game turned out sadly had a major impact on how my "Thanksgiving" experience as a whole was judged. Thankfully the Saints won, so it was an amazing day. As for the offense, was there any question in your mind when Malcolm Jenkins made that play that the Saints would score? After a play like that, there was no way we weren't going down to score. Make the jump for the grades!
Drew Brees: A- (2.85) I thought he was operating at one of his highest levels all season in this game. His accuracy downfield, for the most part, was uncanny. Some passes were thrown so perfectly I question if anyone in the world could do it better. He did have mistakes, but the interception was not one of them. That ball has to be caught by Graham. I actually thought the first deep ball to Devery Henderson was an average thrown ball, and Brees was rewarded by a ridiculous circus catch. I also thought his deep ball to Colston in triple coverage on a flea flicker was horrible, and very fortunate not to get picked off. I'm nitpicking, though. Overall he was great, and no two throws in the entire game were better or more huge than his last two. His 55 yard toss to Meachem was in stride and could not have been more perfect, then he pinpointed a dart in tight coverage for the game winning touchdown. Talk about saving your best for last when the game was in the balance. Brees finished with 352 yards on 23 of 39, with one touchdown and one interception. I also want to manage a third down conversion play that was amazing. Brees somehow avoided the pass rush, and made an alert shovel pass to Julius Jones that Jones turned upfield for a first down. Brees just showed terrific athleticism there. I also think we sometimes take for granted how good of a job Brees does of keeping all his playmakers involved.
Chris Ivory: A- (2.63) Even if Bush and Pierre come back at full strength, I think this guy deserves to continue getting reps. He's proven as this season has progressed that he's a legitimate NFL running back that deserves to be on the field. In this game, his short yardage interior running was most impressive. He showed nice power and a niche for finding the small hole. He did a fantastic job ripping one run on the right side for a 17 yard game with sheer will and strength. He finished with 7 carries for 38 yards and 2 touchdowns (5.4 per carry). I thought he should have gotten more opportunities to run the football, but not being 100% may have had something to do with his lighter workload. As usual, he was a non factor in the passing game.
Julius Jones: B+ (2.60) I thought this was an extremely balanced and solid effort from Jones. He didn't have the flashy run like Ivory, or the touchdowns, but he did every assignment well. He helped the Saints pass blocking with chips and double teams on DeMarcus Ware, he ran the ball well, and he turned a few short throws into gains. He had 45 yards on 10 carries and 3 catches for 21 yards. Not bad for a guy the Saints' last two opponents had given up on. He clearly still has some football left in those legs.
Reggie Bush: F (1.89) Many have come out and blamed Sean Payton for his performance, saying he was rushed back too soon and wasn't ready. I disagree. Physically, Reggie Bush is ready to start playing football. The problem is that he hasn't been practicing for 8 weeks and getting acclimated again to the speed of the game is not easy. We saw a similar performance from Bush when he came back from extended time off before. The bottom line is he was rusty and was missing timing, more than anything else. This wasn't a health issue. Bush will rebound from this awful performance and play better as he gets used to game speed. In this game, Bush was an atrocity. With the Saints coasting, he was almost solely responsible for an 11 point turnaround that put a Cowboy team on life support back into striking distance. First, he dropped an easy catch that would have resulted in a touchdown on a 3rd and goal play which forced the Saints to kick a field goal. Then, he had a crucial fumble deep in Saints' territory on a punt which punt the Cowboys right back in the football game. He had one carry for 1 yard, and one catch for 12 yards. Better days ahead...
Heath Evans: C+ (2.73) The Saints opted to put more blockers at the line of scrimmage to contain DeMarcus Ware, which meant less of Evans, and more of 2/3 tight end sets. Thomas, Humphrey and Strief benefited from the game plan with increased reps. When Evans was in the game, he was fine, but he didn't do much to distinguish himself. The lone play I really saw from Evans that was impressive was the 17 yard run by Ivory. He swallowed Keith Brooking at the point of attack to create a small seam for Chris Ivory to squirt through. Other than springing that nice run, he was very quiet.
Jimmy Graham: C- (2.83) He gave the Saints a big target in the passing game and he was able to get a little bit involved. He finished with 3 catches for 23 yards. He was wide open on a seam route down the middle of the field and Brees threw a perfect pass that went off Graham's fingertips and into the hands of safety Gerald Sensabaugh for an interception. That pick is on Graham as he has to come up with a catch there. You'll remember the Saints made a run at Sensabaugh two offseasons ago in free agency before "settling" on Darren Sharper. Graham was also late running onto the field on a punt play that cost the Saints a 5 yard penalty. Not very head's up. He looked more like a rookie and less like a phenom in the making in this game. He also had a drop.
David Thomas: D+ (2.42) He was very useful as a lead blocker and edge blocker in this game, and completely useless in the passing game. Anytime Brees looked his way he was completely covered, unable to get any separation, and he couldn't come up with a reception. He had no catches despite being targeted 4 times.
Marques Colston: B+ (3.09) He was effective throughout the game, and was continually making plays downfield for the Saints' passing game. He also broke up an sure interception downfield on a pass thrown into triple coverage. He did have one horrible drop that hit him right between the numbers, but when he's giving you 6 catches for 105 yards that's easily forgiven. Colston continues to get this offense the tough yards and he's somewhat quietly having a remarkable season. His most impressive catch came on a crossing route on a ball thrown clearly behind him, and Colston made a fabulous adjustment and nice grab to get the first down.
Devery Henderson: B (2.18) It was a tough game to grade for Henderson. He made two spectacular, tough catches downfield in the first quarter, both of which set up the Ivory touchdown runs. On the first pass, the ball was thrown behind him, and he made a fantastic adjustment, while being interfered with, and came up with a circus grab. That 57 yard reception was amazing. He finished the first quarter with 3 catches for 91 yards and was having a major impact on the game. After that, though, he went into hibernation. He was unable to come up with a very low but catchable ball thrown by Brees, and on the final touchdown drive he dropped a pass downfield that was perfectly thrown that got stripped away from Terrence Newman at the last second. Devery should have come up with that ball. He finished with 4 catches for 97 yards. Still, he's been so quiet lately it was great to see him get involved and make plays downfield. Those two catches in particular were spectacular.
Lance Moore: B+ (2.76) His 5 catches for just 39 yards were relatively modest, but no play in the game was bigger than his game winning 12 yard touchdown reception. The play to Meachem and the play by Jenkins will likely be more talked about and remembered, based on how the game went, but none of that gets rewarded without the winning touchdown at the end. Moore was covered well, but Brees made a perfect pass and Moore made an outstanding catch. Moore was the target of a Brees pass on a 4th down conversion attempt, but the pass sailed too high. Perhaps that play pointed out Moore's stature limitation. He made up for it though, and once again caught anything catchable.
Robert Meachem: B (2.53) He had just one catch, but oh boy was it a big one. He was completely invisible the entire game, but he beats Terrence Newman badly on a deep route downfield and he catches a perfectly thrown ball by Drew Brees for a 55 yard gain. That was on a third and 10 play, by the way, for a crucial first down conversion. On the very next play, the Saints would score the game winning touchdown. You can say that reception was as big of a play, arguably, as Malcolm Jenkins' strip/recovery. Meachem, like Heath Evans, suffered from less reps because the Saints wanted an extra blocker to be in the game to help against the Cowboys' vaunted pass rush. Meachem has a knack for making big plays with the game on the line, and this was no different. That reception could have saved the season.
Jermon Bushrod: C+ (2.45) Based on how the Dallas game played out last year, Brees was obviously very aware of Bushrod's assignment at all times, and he was able to help Bushrod out with some terrific pocket awareness. Still, Bushrod had his hands full. When he wasn't getting the help of a chip or double team, he was routinely getting beat around the edge, forcing Brees to step up in the pocket. That said, he made no major mistakes and he came out of this one light years better than the last matchup with Ware.
Carl Nicks: A- (2.88) Last week Nicks, Goodwin and Evans all had the same GPA, so on the heals of this solid performance, Nicks pulls away from the pack. His blocking was impeccable all game long. He was very solid creating holes for Julius Jones to run through. In particular, he mauled his man and practically got the first down on his own on a 3rd and 2 shotgun inside draw play to Jones. He was always in the pile and pushing the play forward. He had nice blocks on both of Ivory's touchdown runs. Solid performance.
Jonathan Goodwin: B- (2.79) He was partially responsible, along with Evans, for the sack by Ratliff. There was a miscommunication on the assignment between the two, and when Brees stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure from the edge, he ran right into the waiting arms of the Cowboys' defender. Overall I thought Goodwin was pretty good. You have to be thankful that we have a heady center without snap issues, because Andre Gurode on the other side was killing his team. Luckily I didn't have to grade him because that was one of the worst performances I've ever seen from a center. He deserves a straight F. Goodwin was helpful on running plays at the second level, but wasn't attacked much on passing plays as the Cowboys focused on getting their pressure from the edges.
Jahri Evans: C- (2.70) Evans was caught holding on a 3rd and 1 play. On that said play, the Saints would have had 4th and 1 if the Cowboys had declined it, but they took the penalty and sure enough, the Saints converted 3rd and 11 on a passing play. I guess that holding was a blessing in disguise. Brees felt pressure up the middle when stepping into the pocket, more so than usual. Evans was not as dominant in pass protection as he usually is, and he was partially responsible for the sack that Jay Ratliff got. He was fairly effective run blocking.
Jon Stinchcomb: D+ (2.30) Stinchcomb had a lot of trouble with DeMarcus Ware. Ware appeared to line up on both sides of the line of scrimmage to confuse the Saints, and when he was on Stinchcomb's side he was disruptive. In the first half Stinchcomb was flagged for holding once and he also gave up a sack by getting beat badly. On running plays I often saw Stinchcomb on the ground getting pushed around. He did a better job in the second half overall, but I just don't think he'll be getting another Pro Bowl invite this year based on the way he's playing.
Zach Strief: B (2.25) Strief's passing blocking was decent, though again he benefited from Brees' pocket awareness. He forced his man outside a number of times, which could have been bad news to a quarterback without good pocket presence. Brees would step up, though, and so Strief did a good job of forcing the rushers he faced away from the interior. Strief was most of a service on running plays, where he was a big help off the edge. On the 17 yard run by Ivory, he combined with Heath Evans to open that crease. He was able to hold off Ware just long enough to allow Ivory to squirt through. He really helped the Saints' physicality off the edge to continually get tough yards.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Drew Brees