I thought the defense was fantastic in the first half, and dropped off a bit in the second half. They can't be fully blamed for what happened, though, as the Reggie Bush fumble was a back breaker. They also did a fantastic job at the end of not bending anymore, forcing the Cowboys to essentially attempt a hail mary field goal. Still, they gave up some big plays in that second half and some things will have to be done to get that corrected. At times I thought the tackling was spotty. Overall, though, no play was bigger than the crucial turnover they were able to come up with when Malcolm Jenkins stripped Roy Williams.Will Smith: A (2.47) He still looked slow to me, but there's no denying the impact he had on the game. He tipped a Jon Kitna pass early in the game and was able to come down with an interception on the play. He fumbled while being hit on the return, but luckily the Saints fell on it. That turnover would set up a field goal to give the Saints a 10-0 lead early. Smith also got the Saints' lone sack of the evening, and he was very solid holding his ground against the run. On the sack he stripped Kitna of the ball, but the Cowboys were able to recover. His lateral pursuit was the main negative, but he did manage to track down a scrambling Kitna late in the game just past the line of scrimmage. He finished with 3 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception. You can't ask for much more out of a defensive end in terms of playmaking. Probably his best game of the year.
Alex Brown: C (2.21) He had 2 tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage for a loss. That play was on a bad snap by Andre Gurode, and Brown touched Kitna as he fell on the ball way behind the line of scrimmage. That was a clear passing situation, so I'm not sure why Brown wasn't credited with a sack, but it was a big play early. Brown was also good as getting his hands up and disrupting passing lanes. He's long and does a good job of forcing passers to redirect throws when he gets up like that. He did an ok job against the run, but I saw him miss some tackles, and he had a stupid illegal hands to the face penalty that gave the Cowboys the necessary yardage before halftime to make a field goal. He was once again largely neutralized in passing situations.
Anthony Hargrove: B (2.33) For the second straight game I thought Hargrove did an excellent job against the run. That's not his strong suit traditionally, but give the guy credit for holding his own in the trenches. He finished with 3 tackles including one great goal line stop. He had one tackle for a loss. His pass rushing skills seem to have diminished from a year ago, though, and it would be nice to see him get after the quarterback a little bit more.
Jeff Charleston: C (2.33) He was quiet, despite lots of playing time, and he finished with 2 tackles. His pass rushing, like most Saints players on the night, was not much to write how about.
Sedrick Ellis: A- (2.76) He finished with a whooping 6 tackles, and he singlehandedly completely shut down the Cowboys' run game. Take away the Miles Austin reverse, and the primary rushers Felix Jones and Marion Barber combined for 23 carries for 63 yards (2.7 per carry). Ellis was mostly responsible for that playing a monster game on the interior getting tremendous push and always getting involved in the play. He also was head's up knocking the ball out of Felix Jones' grasp for a forced fumble, but the Cowboys recovered the loose ball.
Remi Ayodele: C (2.70) I was shocked he ended up with no tackles because he was in for large portions of the game, and he definitely had an impact causing running plays to be redirected into traffic. A quieter performance that we've been accustomed to this season, though.
Scott Shanle: C (2.82) I should give him an A+++ just to set off coldpizza. The truth is I couldn't because he played an average game. Shanle seemed to tackle much more poorly than he did in the Seattle game, and he was victimized a few times in pass coverage. Overall he looked slower to the play, and while he had 7 tackles, they were largely plays downfield. He did have one nice run stop near the line of scrimmage, but otherwise he was blocked out of the play. I know he left the game shortly with an arm/wrist ailment, so I wonder if that impacted his hitting/tackling later in the game. He did also have a strip early in the game near the sidelines but the ball fell harmlessly out of bounds.
Jonathan Vilma: B+ (2.94) He led the team with 11 tackles and his strength was most evident. Twice on goal line carries, Vilma absorbed a powerful block, shed it, and stood up the ball carrier. Vilma is a hard nose football player, and the Saints are lucky to have him. He did get beat to the sideline once or twice, and he was beat on a passing play or two, but overall he ran the unit extremely well. You can tell his communication out there is helpful to his teammates. He played a solid game.
Danny Clark: C+ (2.85) Par for the course, he was decent against the run. He did miss a few tackles he normally never misses, so that was a bit of a surprise. My major gripe with Clark is that twice he fell right on top of fumbles, and somehow the ball squirted out and ended up in the Cowboys' possession. I know he's not a playmaker as much as just a run stopper, and he's not known for his ball skills, but he has to come up with those recoveries. It would have made for less of a nerve wracking finish if he just comes up with those relatively easy recoveries. I know it's not that easy in the moment and things happen fast, but making those plays is often the difference between winning and losing. He also had a shot at tackling Miles Austin on the reverse touchdown play, but he was too slow in pursuit. He finished with 6 tackles.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B+ (2.75) When Shanle left the game for a bit with the aforementioned injury, Dunbar was in beast mode. He ended up making 3 tackles on 3 straight plays, and the sequence was significant. He laid a huge hit on Dez Bryant, then he pushed Martellus Bennett out of bounds just short of a first down to force a 4th and 1. The Cowboys went for it, and Dunbar was able to make a beautiful tackle on the edge in pursuit of Marion Barber short of the first down to give the Saints the ball back. I like Shanle, unlike some people, a lot. I think he's a very solid linebacker that rarely ever messes up his assignment. That said, Dunbar was on fire in that series and I kind of wish the Saints had left him in the game. He finished with 5 tackles for the game.
Marvin Mitchell: C- (2.60) He finished with 3 tackles. I'm usually a big fan of his, but he missed tackles, got beat, and allow passing plays to happen in front of him. He was not very good.
Jabari Greer: C+ (2.70) It was much better than last game, I'll give him that. He was solid in coverage on a couple of occasions and had a nice breakup. He had four tackles overall but he missed an open field tackle late in the game on Roy Williams that allowed the receiver to make a first down and get out of bounds. Greer has to make that play. He kept everything in front of him, but allowed some underneath throws and struggled to bring down Jason Witten, I'm used to seeing a bit more out of him.
Tracy Porter: B+ (2.71) He recovered the fumble by Will Smith early in the game to uphold that turnover, which was big. Porter was beaten in coverage at times, but considering he was matched up often against Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, I'd say things went well. Those guys combined for 3 catches for 25 yards. Roy Williams and Jason Witten gave the Saints teh most trouble. Porter showed physicality all day against the run, making a beautiful open field tackle behind the line of scrimmage on Felix Jones. He also helped on a goal line stop to push Marion Barber short of the goal line. He finished with 6 tackles.
Patrick Robinson: C- (2.61) He was pretty good most of the day in coverage, but he gave up two huge plays to Roy Williams on slant routes where he gave up a massive amount of space and was beaten badly. Turns out the second time worked out all right since the huge gain ended up with a turnover that changed the outcome of the game. He had 3 tackles, but he needs to do a better job of covering the inside slant.
Malcolm Jenkins: A- (2.60) He was demolished (and held) on a Jason Witten block that ended with the Miles Austin touchdown. Still, as the last line of defense he needs to come up with a better effort than that. He finished with 4 tackles, and honestly, was in line for a mediocre grade before he made "the play". He was quiet for the most part. Then, he came up with a strip and recovery to give the Saints new life just when we all thought it was over. The play was reminiscent of the DC miracle that happened last year with Meachem. You just knew when he made that play that the offense would go down and win the game. That play not only gives his grade a massive boost, it's arguably the play of the season so far for the Saints.
Roman Harper: C (3.17) He was once again very good against the run. On the play where Marion Barber was stopped by Jo-Lonn Dunbar on a 4th down attempt, Harper redirected that sweep by blowing up the initial blocking. Give him credit there. While he had 9 tackles, only 3 were solo, so most of his tackling was done helping teammates around the line of scrimmage. He also had a blitz where he popped Jon Kitna pretty good. In coverage, he struggled mightily with Jason Witten. At times his coverage was good and it didn't matter, and at times his coverage was poor. While he's been an amazing player this season and there is no doubt he's greatly improved, but he still showed some liability in pass coverage where he struggles mightily against superior tight ends. We saw the same thing against Tony Gonzalez.
Garrett Hartley: A+ (2.33) Well, he goes from F last game to A+ this week. What a difference one game makes, huh? Hartley was big time in this game, and the Saints needed every little ounce of his effort to win this game. The improvement was not necessarily any thanks to the new long snapper, either. Twice I noticed pretty poor snaps location wise by Justin Drescher, but that didn't seem to disrupt Hartley's timing. Give Chase Daniel a lot of credit too because he gave Hartley a chance by handling those imperfect snaps. Hartley nailed kicks of 50 (a career long), 45 and 28, and all three extra points. Every single one of those kicks proved instrumental. Hartley also did a phenomenal job on kickoffs by far getting his best depth of the season. He had two kicks go for touchbacks (one was let go as it seemed to be headed out of bounds but it ended up going into the end zone so he got a bit lucky there) and he also had a very good deep kick to Dez Bryant after the final touchdown. He could not have kicked better in this game, and as much as I've given him grief this season for struggling he deserves the credit when he kicks like this in a close game.
Thomas Morstead: A (3.33) After this game, Morstead moves ahead of Harper as the player with the highest GPA on the team. He had two punts, and both were massive. The first went 56 yards and was downed inside the 20. The second came from deep in Saints' territory with a little over 4 minutes to go. Morstead pinned Dallas back in average field position thanks to a booming 64 yard blast. That was with no roll, either. He absolutely murdered that ball. Dez Bryant did get a 13 yard return out of that, so on the day Morstead ends up with a 53.5 net punting average and 60 yard gross. That numbers are insane. The Saints have been very lucky to land such an outstanding punter in the draft.
Courtney Roby: C (2.79) His lone kickoff return went 22 yards but he was hit well inside the 20. Dallas' kicker David Buehler got ridiculous depth on his kickoffs thanks to a huge leg, so Roby never really got a shot at returning. Still, he seemed shy about trying to take one out. I know the kicks were all 5 to 8 yards deep, but I'd like to see our return man be maybe a little less conservative and show a little more confidence? Roby was the gunner that downed Morstead's 56 yarder, but that was about it. In general I think he's lost a bit of that swagger he had through the first 4 games.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Will Smith
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Garrett Hartley