Once again the defense was amazing. Sure they gave up 127 yards on the ground and 5.3 yards per carry, but that stat is a little misleading because Carolina got some decent runs early before being shut down completely. The secondary gave the plethora of Carolina quarterbacks no room to work with. The Saints got consistent pressure and played man to man coverage perfectly. They also benefited from playing grossly inaccurate passers. Still, anytime you hold a team to 3 points in the NFL, you deserve a massive amount of credit. Below are the grades.
Alex Brown: A- (2.15) Brown did a great job holding his ground against the run, and he was also very good in weakside pursuit of the run behind the play. He showed great hustle and strength throughout. He finished with 4 tackles, and should have notched a sack on Tony Pike but was unjustly harmed by horrendous refereeing. Pike chucked the ball that was clearly intended for no one as Brown threw him to the ground, but I guess there was almost no time left so the referee decided not to throw a grounding flag. If that's not intentional grounding, I don't know what is. I don't care if there's 1 second left in a blowout game, or 10 minutes left in the 1st quarter, that flag has to come out. The message it sends to QB's is - hey go ahead and just chuck the ball when you're getting sacked, I won't flag you. Brown not only lost a sack on that play, but it went down as ruled an incomplete pass. Ridiculous. Rules are what separate us from animals, and I've never seen a more painfully obvious case of grounding in my life. I'm still pissed off about that. Brown also came up with a huge fumble recovery when the Saints were still down 3-0. This strong showing gets his GPA back over 2.00.
Anthony Hargrove: B- (2.19) The stats won't show it because he ended with 1 tackle, but he provided a lot of pressure and he was flying around the field all day hustling like a man possessed. Late in the game he was flagged for a personal foul, but I decided not to dock him after watching the tape two or three times because he's just hustling and playing to the whistle. Excuse my language, but that was a complete chicken #$%! call by the refs. I thought that Ed Hoculi managed one of the worst officiated games I have ever seen. It's not like it's sour grapes, either, because my team won 34-3. I thought that personal foul, unnecessary roughness flag was awful. There was no whistle and the Panthers player was not down yet. I know Hoculi has a lot of respect around the league, but I'll always remember him for blown calls on that Jay Cutler pass and the Saints-Vikings game a few years ago when Adrian Peterson "didn't fumble because while the ball was coming out he still had possession". Some of you should remember that game. I thought the calls in this game were atrocious.
Jimmy Wilkerson: B- (2.17) Wilkerson finished with 2 tackles, but he also had a tremendous amount of hustle and effort out there. It was almost like the defensive ends got challenged to play better and they responded. Wilkerson was in the process of sacking Jimmy Clausen in the end zone, which could have resulted in a safety, but Clausen shoveled the ball to a running back deemed "close enough" to avoid grounding as he went down. That could easily have been flagged as well, but I agreed with the call. Still, Wilkerson got good pressure on that play, and he made a very nice pursuit tackle from behind once.
Jeff Charleston: B- (2.40) He got a garbage sack at the end of the game on Tony Pike, blitzing in completely unblocked. That's all he did, but he gets a decent grade for it. Plus, he looked really creepy and barbaric celebrating his sack. Definite bonus points.
Sedrick Ellis: B (2.74) Ellis had two tackles and a sack. His sack knocked Carolina starter Matt Moore out of the game, as if Carolina's offense could get any worse. That was actually a big play in the game because the Panthers' offense was never the same. He got decent push in the pocket all game and held his ground against the run.
Remi Ayodele: C (2.70) His play has dropped off a bit of late after getting off to a monstrous start early this season. While he wasn't manhandled quite like the Steelers game, there were a number of times where he was pushed off the ball which allowed the Panthers to get some successful runs early. His lone tackle was a nice play where he got great penetration and demolished Mike Goodson right at the line of scrimmage. Other than that, his performance at the point of attack was mediocre.
Scott Shanle: B (2.76) He was very solid, both tackling and in coverage. He made no mistakes, and he was his usual reliable self. He may not be flashy or make big plays, but you can always rely on Shanle to carry out his assignment. He finished with 5 tackles.
Jonathan Vilma: B (2.96) He finished with 7 tackles, but he allowed a couple to slip through his grasp. He did a great job of showing amazing anticipation and reading plays extremely well. Vilma is a much headier player than he gets credit for. That said, his tackling and pursuit speed got exposed on a couple of plays. Anytime you're getting more than 5 tackles, though, you're clearly all over the place.
Danny Clark: C+ (2.91) He had 5 tackles as well, but was exposed at least once in coverage and got flagged twice for illegal use of the hands. As always, he was effective against the run, but he did miss a couple of tackles he usually makes.
Marvin Mitchell: C (2.71) He finished with 2 tackles but didn't have any real impact on this game. Normally he's a huge asset and makes the most of his time on the field, but despite a decent amount of snaps in this game he was quiet.
Jabari Greer: A (3.00) Hey buddy, welcome back! His pick 6 was a thing of beauty. He read the play perfectly and jumped the route about as well as any corner in the league could. He showed nice speed and playmaking ability after the pick to get in the end zone and score the first defensive touchdown of the season for the Saints. That play aside, though, his coverage was on point all day. He came up with a big pass break up early in the game in the end zone that would force the Panthers to settle for a field goal attempt. He finished with 2 pass breakups and 4 tackles. His coverage was excellent.
Tracy Porter: B+ (2.66) Like Greer, it was nice to have him back. He had to deal with Steve Smith for parts of the game, and Smith ended with 1 catch for 9 yards. Porter did get beat twice by David Gettis, but overall his coverage was very good as well. He finished with 4 tackles and 1 pass defended. He tackled well and helped in run support. I decided not to make his grade suffer from a pass interference call that he was flagged on downfield. Why? Because the coverage couldn't have been more perfect. That was worse than the no-call on the grounding/Alex Brown play. It was the worst call I've maybe ever seen. He runs side by side with David Gettis, the ball goes up, he turns around, and plays the ball. So what happens? Pass interference. If you watch the replay, it's egregious. That play happened on a 3rd down too. At least the refs made up for it by calling Steve Smith for offensive pass interference on Porter later in the game. There was a slight push off on that play and Smith made a big reception, but again I thought it was a horrible call. Those two pass interference calls took the game out of the player's hands and it become a yellow flag game. Both of those calls were horrible. I guess they negate themselves, but it's really sad to see referees taking away from the game with calls like that.
Leigh Torrence: B+ (2.80) Mr. Torrence is kind of playing at a pretty high level right now. He came in on a number of sub packages and covered really well, once again. His big play was blitzing off the edge and notching a sack. After being the defensive player of the week last week it was nice to see him come back and play that well again.
Malcolm Jenkins: B- (2.48) He tackled well. He finished with 3 before getting injured and leaving the game. He did a good job as a safety on running downs of not letting anything behind him on play action plays. That was the way for Carolina to attack the Saints and Jenkins never bit.
Roman Harper: A+ (3.29) So there you go. It took a while this year, but Roman Harper notches my first A+ of the season. He played a perfect game, pretty much. When he was in coverage, mostly on tight ends (Dante Rosario and others), the Panthers went after him. Didn't matter, because Harper was with them step for step and had a couple really impressive breakups. He also batted down a ball coming off the edge on a blitz. He also got a sack on another blitz. Oh, and he led the team with 10 tackles. He was playing in the box all day and he had so many plays in the backfield it was ridiculous. Harper was unstoppable. His hitting and tackling was out of this world. The only player I can think of to compare Harper to in this game is maybe Rodney Harrison in his prime. That's not because Harrison played dirty as much as it was because Harper played with the same ferociousness, tackling technique, speed, coverage and complete ability. For one game, I thought it was a hall of fame type performance from Roman Harper. He was incredible and scary good.
Darren Sharper: B (2.78) Sharper had just one tackle, but he came up with a blowout tackle on Jonathan Stewart that not only knocked Stewart out of the game, but forced a fumble that Alex Brown would recover. Once again, Sharper just finds the balls and makes plays. That's his trademark and he lives up to it so consistently it's mind boggling. That fumble was huge because the Saints were down 3-0 and that turnover later set up Jeremy Shockey's touchdown. Sharper left the game with a hammy injury, so hopefully he's ok. We need his back end playmaking. He looked more comfortable in coverage, too, getting better jumps on passes. He could have had a pick on a couple of passes, actually, if they hadn't been so poorly thrown.
Usama Young: B- (2.80) The Saints have so many good defensive backs, Young doesn't get enough reps back there. The guy is getting better and better, and he always does well when he's in, but the Saints are just too deep. He'd never see the field at all, besides special teams, if the Saints didn't have so many injuries back there. He was solid filling in for Sharper, though. He finished with 2 tackles including a devastating hit late in the game.
Garrett Hartley: B+ (2.38) I don't have much to complain about, Hartley did his job and connected on all his tries. He made kicks of 31 and 36 yards and converted on all four extra points. His field goal makes made me nervous, though. Both times he was on the right hash mark and tried to push his kicks left. Both times they went just inside the left upright. He definitely didn't hit them perfectly, and it's not like he was given any really hard assignments. Still, give him credit, he converted what he needed to.
Thomas Morstead: B+ (3.30) Once again Morstead had a terrific average and a decent net. He averaged 46.4 yards per punt, but 38.8 net yards per. Right now he's number 4 in the NFL in average yards per punt, but just 11th by comparison in net average. That's because, at times, he's out-kicking his coverage. He was able to pin three punts inside the 20, including one punt he blasted for 63 yards. One punt he hit out of the end zone for a touchback, and he did allow Captain Munnerlyn some room to run on a couple of punts, which landed an 18 yard return once. He was good overall, though. He also handled kickoffs and got better depth than we were used to seeing with Hartley, including one touchback out of the end zone. He butchered one kickoff badly, and it ended up getting juggled and the Panthers got tackled around the 5 yard line. Talk about blessing in disguise there.
Courtney Roby: C+ (2.89) He had one return for 21 yards and one tackle on special teams. He had limited reps, obviously, with the Saints giving up only 3 points. He did also down a Morstead punt at the 3 yard line. At this point his worth as a gunner is much more valuable than his worth as a returner. The guy gets at least a tackle every single week, it seems.
My Defensive Player of the Week: Roman Harper
My Special Teams Player of the Week: Thomas Morstead