If you're counting, that's now six straight wins for the Saints and five straight have seen the offense score 30 or more points. The offense is starting to find that complete effectiveness it was missing early this season. They are now able to run, pass, control the clock, convert on 3rd downs, make big plays - you name it. When the offense is producing like this, the Saints are arguably the toughest team to beat in the NFL. On to the grades.Drew Brees; B+ (2.92) I caught some grief last week for giving Brees a B+, but he's getting the same grade from me again. I'm sure some of you will contend that I've been spoiled by his play and that I grade him too harshly. The bottom line is once again, while he was masterful most of the game and very accurate downfield, he didn't take care of the football. He has 18 interceptions on the season, a career high. Brees needs to take better care of the football. He finished 25-40 for 221 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The first interception was a horrible pass, and the second was a bad read where he didn't look off the safety and tried to force a ball downfield. In his defense, he was victimized by numerous drops in the game. I counted at least 6, if not more. You take away two really bad decisions, and I thought that Brees was mostly perfect overall. His pocket awareness was terrific and he even ran for a nice 7 yard scamper before sliding to smartly avoid a hit.
Chris Ivory: B+ (2.82) He made the most of just 7 carries, finishing with 47 yards. On the first two touchdown drives he had a number of big runs to move the chains, and one 18 yard breakout. He showed his usual strength and speed. Ivory has really improved the Saints' run game. With Bush and Pierre healthy, I think the Saints' running game is actually in better shape now than last year. Unfortunately for Ivory, he tweaked his hammy and never returned. That's something to keep a close eye on because he's become such an integral part to the offense's success. Without him, the Saints would lose a real presence in the running game and physicality department.
Pierre Thomas: B (2.83) Welcome back Pierre! While he wasn't back to his Super Bowl form maybe just yet, he didn't show much rust either. He was a useful contributor that helped move the chains and keep the offense so effective. He finished with 39 yards on 12 carries, and 29 yards on 4 catches. Not a bad game at all. He did a solid job of running the ball late to run some clock, filling in for Ivory, and he made an immediate impact in the passing game. I loved seeing him in dual sets with Reggie. Pierre reminded us all that no one runs the screen play better.
Reggie Bush: B+ (2.33) Reggie had a similar game to Pierre. He wasn't breaking away with big plays or turning heads with anything spectacular, but he was just reliable, and getting good yardage. Most commendable was how Bush turned a few plays that looked like they could go for huge losses into small gains. Reggie also ran for 39 yards, but on 9 carries. I was impressed with how well he did on handoffs, typically not his forte. He also caught 5 passes for 22 yards and returned two punts, running forward, for an 8 yard average. We're so used to Reggie either making a huge play or a disastrous play. In this game he was just extremely steady, a welcomed sight.
Heath Evans: C (2.69) He was an afterthought most of the game because the Saints decided they were going to go after the Rams with 3 receiver and multiple tight end sets. When the Saints did run two back sets, it was Thomas and Bush more than anyone else. When Evans was in the game, his blocking was fine, nothing special.
Marques Colston: B- (3.10) No joke, I counted 4 drops by Colston. Many of which were very catchable balls. You'd think he deserves an F for that, but he also had 2 touchdowns. How do I grade that?! I thought about giving him a C, since that's what A and F add up to, but ultimately I decided to give him a bit better because the degree of difficulty on both touchdown catches were high. The first was a very high pass that he snatched out of the air in the back of the end zone, and he showed great awareness to also get two feet down before falling out of the end zone. That was a big time play. Then, on 3rd and goal from the 17, Brees drilled a throw into very tight coverage that Colston made a tough catch on before absorbing a big hit. He was able to hold onto that one for a touchdown as well. How he makes catches like that and drops some easy ones is puzzling. One of his drops was another high pass in the end zone, though, that was difficult to make. He finished with 5 catches for 46 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Lance Moore: A- (2.82) He was just so good at finding that soft spot in zone coverage all day. Brees found him numerous times for huge 3rd down conversions. Moore was quick after the catch, and very sure with his hands. He finished with 5 catches for 70 yards and a touchdown and his TD was on a 31 yard pump and go where he ran right by two defenders and left them in his dust.
Devery Henderson: D (2.00) Does this guy still play on the team? How can he be listed as a starter? Brees threw one pass his way, just to humor him I guess, that was horribly off target on a harmless 3 yard out. Otherwise, he just ran a bunch of meaningless routes. He's a non factor in the gameplan, per usual.
Robert Meachem: F (2.44) It was a game to forget. He had two bad drops, and no catches. His first drop came on a 4th down play that was a very easy grab. He comes up with that catch and the Saints convert and get a 1st down. Instead, the Saints gave the ball back to the Rams. That play started a downward spiral for the Saints that would see the Rams get back in the game and get within striking distance until Malcolm Jenkins' pick six turned back the tide for good. Later in the game, Brees went deep for Meachem in double coverage. The coverage was good, overall, and there was some incidental content which made this one a tougher catch, but it still hit Meachem right in his bread basket in the end zone and it's a ball he has to come up with. For a guy that usually has a knack for big plays, he really struggled to be clutch in this one.
Jeremy Shockey: B- (2.73) He finished with 4 catches for 29 yards and was a target in the possession passing game. He showed good hands all game, but he is slower than ever. His size and superior catching ability still make him a weapon, but Shockey is basically useless after the catch these days.
David Thomas: C (2.36) Like Colston, Thomas was extremely difficult to grade. His blocking in the game overall was exceptional. On every big key run the Saints had, he either did a fantastic job of sealing the edge, or he got great push at the point of attack. If you go back and watch every successful run the Saints had in that game, Thomas was involved in almost every single one with a key block. He almost deserves blocker of the game. That said, he was penalized with two flags. One was a holding call, and the other was a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I still have yet to understand that ruling and probably never will. My understanding is an illegal substitution penalty is 5 yards. From what I could tell, that was the infraction. The ref actually said "unsportsmanlike conduct, illegal substitution" and flagged Thomas for 15 yards. Those two infractions are completely different things. Maybe Thomas mouthed off or got busted trying to cover up his penalty? I guess we'll never know but I don't understand why that wasn't 5 yards instead of 15. The Saints would end up getting a touchdown on the next play anyway so it's not a huge deal. He had one catch for 4 yards and was mostly a non-factor in the passing game.
Jimmy Graham: B (2.92) His lone catch was a nice 21 yard play. He also made a ridiculous catch on a jump ball in the end zone, but that play was called back by the weird penalty I just described on Thomas. Graham provides the Saints with a really attractive red zone target. Watch him get huge looks when people least expect it in the playoffs.
Jermon Bushrod: B+ (2.56) I thought he was solid, though he was the most spotty in pass protection. There was a bit of pressure coming off the edge from his side, but per usual Brees would just feel it and step into the pocket to buy time. Bushrod is fortunate to benefit from one from one of the most aware quarterbacks in NFL history. Run blocking wise, I thought he was outstanding. He showed more of a mean streak than I'm used to seeing.
Carl Nicks: A- (2.93) Nicks is pulling away as the offensive lineman of the year for the Saints. Once again, he was a difference maker in the run game with his mammoth size and strength. The sizes of the running lanes he creates can be massive at times. Getting blocked by Nicks cannot be fun. He was also solid in pass protection. Of particular note was solid blocks he made pulling on screen passes. Still, when you see Evans do it, who's a little more fleet of foot, you notice that speed is maybe the one thing missing from Nicks' arsenal.
Jonathan Goodwin: B (2.72) He missed a blitz pickup late in the game on a safety coming up the middle which resulted in a sack. Otherwise, he was pretty solid most of the day.
Jahri Evans: A+ (2.69) First off, he deserves an A for going an entire game without getting penalized. Are you guys as shocked as I am? I said I'd donate $100 to a charity of his choice if he went an entire game without a penalty. If he contacts me, I will. Seriously, though, he was an animal. It was by far his best game of the season. He was very physical in the run game and got terrific push. In pass protection, he was impeccable all game long. He really put a display out there. When the Saints would have a roll out play action play, he would pull to protect the weak side, and he always made a terrific block to keep Brees clean. The few times Brees felt outside pressure, he would step into a perfectly calm pocket. Outstanding game from big Jahri, who actually played like a superstar guard in this game.
Jon Stinchcomb: B+ (2.46) Ok, before you blast me for being nice to all the offensive lineman, the Saints ran for 132 yards and 4.6 yards per carry. They gave up 1 sack all day and Brees was hardly hit. It was a dominant performance by the entire unit in this game. The Rams were largely neutralized. Chris Long is an up and coming superstar end in the league, and the Saints completely shut him down. Stinchcomb in particular was solid as well, quietly going about his work and lining up another steady performance.
Zach Strief: B- (2.40) We all know the drill with Strief by now and what he brings to the table. He was doing his thing out there.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Jahri Evans