The defense really struggled as the game wore on to limit the Bengals' passing attack. Carson Palmer was on point, and Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens both got their yards in bunches on the New Orleans pass defense. The Saints kept Cedric Benson largely in check, but he was able to get some nice runs as the game wore on as well. Bernard Scott also hurt them significantly in both the return game and on the ground. In the end, this was one of the few games this season where the offense bailed out the defense. We can't think of too many times that's happened this year, but it was nice to see them return the favors. As for special teams coverage units, that was as bad as they've looked all season. I actually thought for a second there the Bengals might run back the kickoff after Marques Colston's touchdown all the way back with about 30 seconds left. Horrible. The grades are below!Will Smith: C (2.42) He was quiet and he didn't have much of an impact on the game. He was completely neutralized on pass rushes, as we've seen all too often this season. He did a decent job against the run, at one point stuffing Cedric Benson right at the line of scrimmage. He finished with 2 tackles.
Alex Brown: C (2.20) Same story as Will Smith really. He was great on the first play from scrimmage making a tackle around the line of scrimmage. When the Bengals tried to run off tackle to his side, he held his ground well. His pass rushing was non existent. The Saints' ends just don't generate enough pressure. He also finished with 2 tackles.
Anthony Hargrove: B (2.39) Hargrove was outstanding against the run, holding his ground well and tackling with ferocity. He showed nice effort and his body was flying around. He finished with 4 tackles and had nice hustle throughout. It blows my mind he still only has one sack on the year, though.
Jeff Charleston: B- (2.38) He had 3 tackles, and I just want to say that I think it's really sad Charleston and Hargrove are combining for 3 more tackles than Brown and Smith. What have our ends come to? Anyway, Charleston was also solid against the run, and he was active on rushes.
Sedrick Ellis: B+ (2.81) He was extremely solid holding his ground against the run, he was fairly quick for his size in pursuit, and he finished with 3 tackles and a sack. That's now 5 sacks on the season for Ellis, which leads the team. He also stripped the ball from Cedric Benson, but the Saints weren't able to come up with that recovery as -former LSU tackle turned Bengal- Andrew Whitworth fell on the ball.
Remi Ayodele: C- (2.61) He finished with 1 tackle and was a non factor in this game. He's normally a beast against the run that gets tremendous interior push, but the Bengals did a good job of pushing him off the line of scrimmage.
Scott Shanle: C- (2.70) Shanle had a lot of trouble covering tight end Jermaine Gresham. Shanle allowed Gresham to make a reception on a 3rd and 15 play, and he then completely whiffed on the tackle to allow Gresham to pick up a first down. Shanle did not look terribly effective in pursuit, and while his tackling was good in spots, he never really made an impact. He finished with 4 tackles, and he does deserve credit for pushing Gresham short of the first down on the opening series to force a 3 and out Bengals punt.
Jonathan Vilma: A (3.03) Vilma gets himself over the 3.00 gpa with another monstrous performance. He tackled like an animal and had more strength than anyone he tackled. The fact that he pushed a bruising back like Cedric Benson backwards so often was impressive. Vilma made a myriad of goal line stops, none bigger than the 4th and 1 run by Benson just before halftime that gave the Bengals a 0 point red zone trip. Vilma got initial contact on that play and just dominated Benson. He was very physical against the run and pretty good in coverage. He was also sent blitzing a few times, which notched him a sack and a knockdown. Tremendous performance. He ended with 8 tackles.
Danny Clark: C+ (2.80) This was a nothing special performance for Clark who was less prominent against the run than usual. He absorbed a lot of contact, though, and held his ground fairly well. The Bengals seemed to recognize he's been effective stopping the run, so they got a hat on him often, leaving Vilma so much room to make plays. He finished with 3 tackles but had a quiet afternoon.
Marvin Mitchell: D- (2.43) All season I've given Mitchell good grades for all the little things he's done. He seems to make a play or two each week that help the Saints out greatly, so I always recognize him. This time he had one notable play, but it was horrible. On a 4th and 3 punt situation, he ran onto the field late as the 12th man on the return unit. That was flagged, and it gave the Bengals a first down which would ultimately lead to a touchdown scoring drive. That kind of mistake is inexcusable. At the professional level, to flat out hand a first down to a previously stopped offense like that is suicide. Especially an offense like the Bengals. What on earth was he thinking? Had the Saints lost, Mitchell would've gotten a sure fire F for that. The Saints won, so he gets a passing grade. He finished with 1 tackle.
Tracy Porter: C- (2.58) Whether is was covering TO or Chad Ochocinco, he had severe issues. Carson Palmer went after him all afternoon with mixed results, but many times Porter was victimized. He was beaten badly deep on a deep route by Terrell Owens and got flagged for a horrible and obvious pass interference call trying to catch up. That penalty alone cost the Saints 45 yards. He had 7 tackles, most of which came downfield tackling players that had easily gained a first down. Ochocinco beat him at least twice, if not three times, pretty badly on deep slant routes. He did have a nice break up on a jump ball to TO in the end zone, which would force the Bengals to later settle for a field goal. He also did a good job of pushing TO out of bounds short of a first down in the red zone on another 3rd down play that forced another field goal. Finally, he laid a nice hit on Jordan Shipley around the line of scrimmage on a screen pass. Overall, though, he could have been a lot better. The pass interference play in particular was really bad.
Jabari Greer: C- (2.60) He wasn't any better than Porter. He had 5 tackles and was helpful in run support. He was beaten on an out route on the sideline for a 33 yard completion to Ochocinco, which was an outstanding catch. He was beaten badly on a touchdown pass to TO where he had to run across the entire field with him. TO still has amazing speed for an old man, and he left Greer in his dust on that play. He was also flagged for a defensive holding penalty. A game to forget for our usually reliable corners.
Malcolm Jenkins: B (2.64 ) The guy was drafted as the heir apparent to Darren Sharper, but it turns out he's a pretty different player. First of, man, can this guy hit. He's got good ball awareness, too, but in a different way than Sharper. Sharper is best at reading the quarterback and the ball in the air. Jenkins is more similar to Harper in that he's terrific and recognizing the direction of the ball, wielding his way through blockers, and laying a hard hat on someone. Jenkins has also benefited from reps at the cornerback position in the past, because his coverage skills for a safety are as good as it gets and that was evident in this game. He was good in run support and good in coverage. He benefited from playing closer to the line of scrimmage with Sharper back, which allowed him to amount other things blast Jordan Shipley for a 2 yard loss. He finished with 6 tackles.
Roman Harper: A- (3.21) Another huge performance, no surprise, by the most consistent Saints player this year. He led the team with 10 tackles and ended the game by sacking Carson Palmer on the final play. He teamed up with Vilma to stop Benson dead in his tracks on the aforementioned 4th and short red zone play. He was incredibly good in the box against the run, twice dropping Benson for big losses. He did get beat once badly on a passing play where he whiffed on the tackle, though, and he was flagged once for defensive holding. As we know very well by now, he's great in the box and around the line of scrimmage, and he's not as strong downfield in coverage.
Darren Sharper: C (2.58) Sharper was a step slow to pretty much any play involving him. He did have 4 tackles, but had little to no impact whatsoever on the game. He's definitely not playing at the level he was a season ago, but hopefully he's working his way back into shape.
Garrett Hartley: B (2.40) He struggled mightily to get depth on his kickoffs, though the weather played a big part in that. I don't play him for the horrible field position the Saints were consistently yielding, though, because the coverage units were horrible. Still, his kickoff out of bounds was ridiculous. An NFL kicker should never do that. On field goals, he took care of all his assignments, and he seems to be going on a little bit of a run here lately becoming more reliable with his kicks. He hit a 48 yarder early, which was a bomb, and a 24 yarder later, finishing a steady and reliable 2 for 2. He also made all 4 extra points right down the middle. I'm feeling better about Hartley overall these days, though his kickoff off needs serious work.
Thomas Morstead: C+ (3.25) He punted 3 times for an average of 45.3 yards, but he didn't get great hang time and he set up some decent returns from Bengals' return man Quan Cosby. His net worked out to 35.3 which isn't that great. He wasn't getting his usual boom on punts, but I'm sure the weather had a bit to do with it. He was also banged up a little bit on his first punt as the Bengals ran into him, which gave the Saints 5 yards and a Garrett Hartley field goal instead of a punt.
Courtney Roby: C- (2.70) He had four returns for an average of 20 yards even, and he over-pursued on coverage way too much as a gunner. He's been quiet lately on special teams and hasn't been performing like he did earlier in the season. Another mediocre showing.
Pierson Prioleau: B (2.78) It seems stupid that on a day where special teams coverage units were so horrible, I single one guy out and give him a good grade. As a unit, punt and kickoff coverage teams deserve a collective D-. Had it not been for Prioleau, though, it could have been much much worse. He finished with 3 tackles, the first coming on a beautiful open field stop of Bernard Scott. He also made a big tackle near the 50 on Scott's last return which saved the Saints from giving up a touchdown. That kickoff came right after Colston's touchdown, so Prioleau deserves his B for saving the Saints despite his unit being woefully atrocious.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Jonathan Vilma
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Pierson Prioleau