If I had to pick one reason the Saints lost to the Ravens, it would be summed up with one word: tackling. Forget the lack of balance on offense, forget the horrible coverage units on special teams, forget the stupid penalties, the Saints lost this game because they couldn't tackle to save their lives. It was surprising to see Ray Rice and Willis McGahee take turns gashing the Saints' porous run defense because the Saints have been so stout all season against the run. It was very out of character, particularly because the biggest runs featured blown tackles by Harper, Vilma and Clark - the three men most responsible for how good the run defense has been to this point. I'll go ahead and say this now: if they don't correct the tackling, expect Michael Turner to run for 300 yards next Monday night. If they put out a tackling effort that's anything close to the Ravens' game performance, Rice's output will look like a joke compared to Michael Turner. No one in the entire league is tougher to bring down than Turner. Below are the grades.Will Smith: C (2.38) His most impressive play was early in the game where he bull rushed Michael Oher right into the backfield and right into Ray Rice, knocking the back down for a big loss. Oher had his hands full with Smith, having a couple of false start penalties to get try to get a good jump on blocking him. Smith's pass rush was about the same as we've seen all season - mediocre at best. Against the run he was ok at times, but I felt like his pursuit was lazy and he didn't always contain which led to huge cut back lanes for both McGahee and Rice that they took advantage of. He finished with 4 tackles. He also had a back breaking personal foul call late in the game which I still fail to understand, but talk about an idiotic move.
Alex Brown: B+ (2.26) Definitely one of his better games of the season. He finished with 5 tackles, 2 of which were for losses. While Ellis was credited with a sack, Brown also finished that play off nicely up high to drive Joe Flacco to the ground. I thought he was outstanding against the run, and while he was never rewarded with a sack his pass rushing was solid as well. On a day where the Saints' defense was a huge flop, Alex Brown was one of the few that showed up.
Jimmy Wilkerson: B- (2.19) Nice to see him get a sack for once, but that was his lone tackle and all that he really contributed.
Jeff Charleston: C (2.43) He didn't really do anything special, and more times than not he was pushed off the ball. He finished with 2 tackles and a qb knockdown. Probably for the best, I'd hate to see his sack celebration again.
Sedrick Ellis: B+ (2.79) It was a solid afternoon overall for Ellis, who finished with 5 tackles and a sack. He got good penetration up the middle and he put his playmakers in a position to make tackles by breaking down the line of scrimmage. That's all you can ask for. He was also hustling in pursuit, and helped his teammates bring down runners.
Remi Ayodele: B (2.57) Like Ellis, he did a great job of standing his ground around the line of scrimmage. At times the initial surge the Ravens got was overwhelming, but more times than not, again, Ayodele did his job in the trenches. He finished with 6 tackles, and put his linebackers in a position to make plays. Ayodele's play has dropped off considerably lately, so it was nice to see him bounce back and be active in this one. He got a lot more reps thanks to the Ravens' running style and Anthony Hargrove being ruled out.
Scott Shanle: D- (2.50) Horrible would be one way to describe Shanle's performance. He finished with 1 tackle, and was completely useless in an effort to contain the opposing running attack. He was isolated in coverage a few times, as well, and he was victimized accordingly. Most notable was a big 3rd down play that saw him get beat by Ray Rice down the sideline for a 17 yard touchdown pass. He really struggled to make any impact whatsoever in this contest, and was consistently a step slow or out of place around the field.
Jonathan Vilma: C (3.02) He did lead the team with 11 tackles, so there's that, but this game was more about what he did wrong. Vilma was also beat a few times by Ray Rice in coverage, though late in the game he was fortunate that Joe Flacco missed Rice wide open down the seam. My main problem with Vilma in this game is he decided to go after Flacco on a secondary blitz when the Saints were already getting good pressure. Both times, the extra blocker would leak out as a security valve (Vilma's responsibility) and break free for a big gain because Vilma decided to join the blitz party instead of containing. Specifically, those mistakes led to a 34 yard touchdown pass to Ed Dickson and a 14 yard screen to Ray Rice. There was also a play where Willis McGahee gashed the Saints up the middle thanks to Vilma getting completely neutralized at the second level by a blocker. Vilma was active, but I thought he made a number of mistakes that hurt his team.
Danny Clark: C+ (2.78) Like Vilma, he had a very high tackle number of 10. Like Vilma, it was less about his tackles made, and more about his misses. Every big run that Ray Rice had featured Clark having a clean shot at stopping him, and whiffing severely. The extra attention that Vilma got left a lot of openings for Clark to make tackles. He had opportunities to make stops all game long, and he was missing plays just as much as he was making them. Still, he was involved in a lot of stops so he deserves some credit.
Marvin Mitchell: B- (2.44) He was credited with a sack for chasing Flacco harmlessly out of bounds on a play that featured good coverage. He finished with 3 tackles, and made no glaring mistakes, but certainly didn't help the leaky plays the defense was giving up all day long.
Tracy Porter: B (2.63) He missed a couple of tackles, but he was helpful against the run and excellent in coverage. Flacco mostly didn't even bother going after him because he was foaming out the mouth at the possibility of going after Shanle and Torrence. The one pass that came his way was intended for Derrick Mason, and Porter broke it up with a nice timing tip. He had 5 tackles and completely shut down Anquan Boldin. My only gripe is I wish he had helped more against the run.
Leigh Torrence: C (2.67) When the Ravens decided to pass, which was hardly necessary, they were either going after Shanle or Torrence. Torrence gave up a deep ball down the sideline getting beat very badly by Derrick Mason for 42 yards. Torrence also gave up a 15 yard pass to T.J. Houshmanzadeh because he gave the receiver about a 20 yard cushion. It wasn't all bad, though, because he had a really nice tackle on a short throw to Anquan Boldin, and he was able to force Houshmanzadeh out of the end zone on a deep pass that was ruled incomplete. There's no question that the injury to Jabari Greer was a big blow for the Saints, and Torrence struggled to replace him. Because the Saints were so bad against the run, it made every play Torrence gave up a little more pronounced. He finished with 4 tackles. Let's hope Greer comes back soon because Leigh Torrence starting at corner sounds like a shaky proposition.
Malcolm Jenkins: D+ (2.67) He whiffed on his fair share of tackles and was a complete non factor, finishing with just 2 tackles. For the number of big runs the Ravens had and the hitting ability and play recognition that Jenkins has, you figured he would have stuck his neck in more plays. Why the Saints didn't move him to corner in place of Torrence and just have Sharper play full time at safety, I'm not sure I understand.
Roman Harper: C- (3.15) He got flagged for a late hit out of bounds on Ray Rice late in the game that gave the Ravens a free 15 yards. It was a close call, but Rice was heading out of bounds and Harper should have used more poise. Give him credit for being vocal out there and trying to rally his troops, but he was a big part of the reason why the Saints couldn't tackle. He was too busy trying to strip every football as oppose to just making a clean tackle. He finished with 7 tackles, but I thought it was one of his worst games of the season overall. He did not play at the level we are accustomed to, and his tackling was horrible. Considering that's normally what he does best, add his already poor coverage skills and we had ourselves a pretty poor strong safety in this game.
Darren Sharper: D (2.22) The guy that played at an all pro level last season has all but vanished. I'm not sure who this guy was, but he wasn't good. He was good for a unnecessary roughness penalty on a completely unnecessary lazy love tap at the end of the play. It deserved a flag because it was so late, but the shove was so pathetic he almost got away with it. I feel like "unnecessary roughness" necessitates a minimum amount of "roughness" that Sharper barely met, it at all. He finished with 1 tackle, missing numerous others, and was late in both recognition and position getting to both of Flacco's touchdown passes. The recovery from microfracture surgery isn't going on that great, obviously. I still wonder if the Saints should start Malcolm Jenkins at corner with Greer out, over Torrence, and move Sharper back to full time free safety? I feel like maybe a full game at free safety would maybe yield a token turnover?
Garrett Hartley: A (2.64) That GPA is somehow creeping it's way back to respectable. Hard to say anything but good things about Hartley lately, who has really found a nice rhythm on kicks. He was perfect on all three extra points with high kicks right down the middle, and he made his lone field goal. That field goal kick, in my opinion, was a big time clutch make. From 47 yards out with brutal windy conditions, he was able to drill his attempt right down the middle. It's nice to see Garrett playing so well lately. He's really turned his season around.
Thomas Morstead: C+ (3.14) The Saints gave up big return yards in this game, and Morstead struggled to set the Saints up in the field position battle. His kickoff depth was poor thanks to the windy conditions, which you would think would mean less return yards, but the Ravens still managed a solid 24.3 yard average on 4 returns. He did pin two punts inside the Ravens 20, but his net average was only 36.3 on 6 punts, which saw Lardarius Webb get a couple of good returns off of. Morstead was fine, nothing great and nothing awful. He's still just a fraction behind Roman Harper as the best GPA on the team.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Alex Brown
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Garrett Hartley