Below are the last players grades I'll do this season. Thanks for all the great feedback and comments you've given me, it's been a lot of fun doing this. I look forward to doing it again next year, though the time away from studying game film will be nice. The letter grade represents the players performance in the game, whereas the GPA in parentheses represents the player's cumulative effort for the season. You'll also notice that because I'm taking Tracy Porter as the player of the game defensively as a given, the poll will be for your special teams player of the game. Lots of great options to choose from there. Sidenote, was anyone else shocked that no roughing the passer calls were made all game? I'm not saying that any hits deserved that designation at all, but I am saying that with pressure being a major part of the gameplan for both teams and all the rules that favor the quarterback's health: I am shocked we never saw a roughing call.
Will Smith: C (2.75) Very quiet day for Smith. As always, the effort was very evidently there. It's no secret he's by far the Saints' biggest pass rushing threat, especially when they only send four. Everyone knows by now: you neutralize Smith and you have time to throw the ball. That's exactly what happened, which is why Gregg Williams dialed up the blitz incessantly. Will Smith ended with 1 tackle, and his best pressure was on the very last Colts offensive play of the game where he hurried Peyton Manning into throwing the ball incomplete on 4th and goal. The Saints are going to have to get Smith some kind of help in the offseason because the Saints can't just count on one player on their front four to consistently get to the quarterback. Sidenote, on Tracy Porter's interception runback for a touchdown, the Saints were very fortunate that Smith didn't get flagged for a block in the back on Manning. Peyton's back was turned to the play as Porter cut inside of him, and Smith felt free to give him a shove and knock him to the ground. The referee missed that call.
Bobby McCray: B- (2.07) Maybe the answer to Smith getting help is a healthy Bobby McCray? He's still a far cry from the performances he had a year ago, but the two weeks off seemed to help his aching back. McCray finished with 2 tackles and was able to get to Manning and force hurries a few times. He also put a nice hit on the Colts' QB at one point. For what it's worth, I do feel like McCray has made some strides against the run because in the pass he's been a bit of a one trick pony. The less of a liability he is against the run, the more the Saints will trust him on running downs. Give McCray credit for also causing the Colts' right tackle to jump early.
Anthony Hargrove: B (2.43) Hargrove was actually very solid against the run, and put good pressure up the middle. He finished with 3 tackles. I was surprised to see the Saints even use random blitz packages where they'd drop Hargrove into zone coverage over the middle, and he handled himself well in that capacity as well. I think the Saints adopted that option because Manning was dumping the ball off over the middle to Joe Addai so much. I don't remember having seen that defensive wrinkle this season, so I think it's fair to say Gregg Williams gave Manning looks he wasn't expecting. The only reason Hargrove's grade isn't higher is the completely idiotic personal foul penalty he got near the end of the game for spearing Addai. Totally unecessary.
Sedrick Ellis: B- (2.72) The Saints are completely and utterly reliant on Ellis to stop the run. If he didn't get push inside and pressure at the point of attack, Addai usually ripped significant runs. If he did, Addai was usually stopped dead in his tracks. He finished with 3 tackles, including one for a loss. While Addai did hurt the Saints for a massive 5.9 yards per carry average, give Ellis credit for his good play in short yardage situations. I will say, though, that I've seen Ellis tackle much better than he did in this game.
Scott Fujita: B- (2.74) Fujita was sent blitzing a lot, and the Colts were ready for it. As much as we praise Drew Brees for how quickly he gets the ball out of there, Peyton Manning was getting the ball out of his hands quicker. Fujita was able to get to Manning and hit him just once. He finished with 4 tackles, but allowed a few to slip past him. He was decent in this game, but nothing special.
Scott Shanle: B (2.69) Shanle was the player most responsible for covering Dallas Clark, and he was victimized often. More often than not, his coverage was actually exceptionally good. Clark would often have Shanle draped all over him, only for Manning to fit his passes into the tightest of windows and Clark to make very sure catches in traffic. Very tough assignment for Shanle, who wasn't able to help as much in run support because of his duty in coverage. I can't really blame Shanle for getting beat as often as he did, because I'm not sure Ray Lewis would've fared much better. When a quarterback is that accurate and a tight end is that good, there only so much you can do. Shanle did have 6 tackles and made a lot of beautiful open field stops. He was sure in his tackles and coverage, so I thought he was pretty solid overall. I can't give him too good of a grade because of the amount of times he was beat, but let's not forget he also had two defended passes with textbook coverage and a big hit on Manning on a blitz.
Jonathan Vilma: B (2.93) I think that perhaps Vilma would've handled the Dallas Clark assignment slightly better than Shanle did, but it's clear Gregg Williams trusted that task to Shanle because he wanted Vilma free to roam the middle of the field to make open field plays with Darren Sharper playing so deep. Vilma finished with 7 tackles, 2 of them for a loss, and a defended pass. When he shot upfield and into the backfield he was able to make a couple of sick plays. He did a nice job, especially late, in pass coverage as well. My only complaint is that he whiffed badly on a few running plays, especially early. Addai made him look pretty silly on a few running plays where Vilma assumed a play action and was late to respond once he realized the play was actually a run. Part of the Colts' success running the ball was Vilma's bad angles and poor tackling at times. Still, the good outweighed the bad.
Jabari Greer: B- (3.28) Greer was covering Pierre Garcon for a large majority of the evening, and he did fine. Greer finished with 4 tackles and no defended passes. He got banged up at one point, came out, and Garcon immediately caught a 19 yard touchdown pass, if that gives you any idea how valuable Greer's coverage is to the Saints. Give him credit for a couple of terrific open field tackles, too. That said, Greer's coverage wasn't the usual blanket shut down style we've all grown accustomed to. Many times his coverage on Garcon was entirely too soft, though he never allowed the speedster behind him. On the big third down drop by Pierre Garcon, Greer was beaten badly. Not only would that catch have been a big conversion to keep an important drive alive for the Colts, but Garcon could have gained significant yardage after that catch. That drop was a huge play in the game. I'm not saying the Saints lose if Garcon makes that catch, but it wasn't good coverage at all by Greer and the complexion of the game would have changed.
Tracy Porter: A (3.15) I just can't say enough about the game Tracy Porter played. Forget the game winning 74 yard interception return for a touchdown that might just be the biggest play in Saints' history, the guy was on his game all night. Is it possible Porter ended this season as the Saints' best cover corner over Greer? It's possible. Either way, the Saints have a dynamite tandem and if these two stay healthy then our pass defense will be very good for a long time. Porter ended the game with 4 tackles, and the only minus was I saw him miss a couple of tackles that he's capable of making. I know Reggie Wayne was battling a sore knee, but to hold him to 5 catches for 46 yards in the biggest game of the season is a monster performance. Tracy Porter might get my award for the Saints' player of the playoffs ahead of Drew Brees and Pierre Thomas. Can you guys remember the last time we had a young cornerback that was this good? I can't.
Randall Gay: B- (2.64) Like Shanle, Gay was victimized a couple of times despite textbook coverage. That's what happens when you play Peyton Manning, I suppose. Any other quarterback for any other team and those passes probably fell incomplete or got intercepted. The Saints missed him when he left the game with an injury, because Usama Young struggled in the slot before giving way to Malcolm Jenkins. Gay finished with 2 tackles.
Malcolm Jenkins: A- (2.46) What a game by the rookie cornerback. Wow! I was so pumped to see Jenkins come up and finally put together a very composed and legitimate performance. If not for Tracy Porter, Jenkins would have a case for the defensive player of the game. Maybe he's turning a corner, no pun intended, but I felt pretty reassured that Jenkins is very capable in the slot. He finished with 5 tackles, including one for a loss. Keep in mind these tackles came mostly in the second half once Randall Gay left with an injury which increased Jenkins' workload. He was all over the field. He made big hits, sure tackles in the open field, and was mostly great in coverage. Jenkins did get beat deep once by Austin Collie for a 40 yard pass on the Colts' final drive. That's been a bad habit of his to allow receivers behind him, and his biggest liability continues to be his speed. He just doesn't have the catch up speed to make up for his mistakes, so they are magnified when he makes them. The thing about Porter and Greer is that they make less mistakes, but they're also so fast that they can get away with more than Jenkins. Anyway, Jenkins played a whale of a game, and he almost got himself a pick by masterfully jumping an out route but Manning's pass was just outside of his reach. He also put a monstrous hit on Dallas Clark late that let the tight end know "if you keep hurting us, I'm going to start hurting you". Love it.
Roman Harper: B+ (2.74) Harper was the secondary cover guy on Dallas Clark, when Shanle was sent blitzing or left to help in run support. Like Shanle, he had a couple of times where terrific coverage led to nice breakups and a couple of times where nice coverage could do nothing to stop a completion. Harper was around the box and making tackles all day. His coverage was overall much better than usual. He finished with a team high 8 tackles, and minus a few slipped tackles I thought he had a very solid performance. I will say that his help over the top on the touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, though, was terrible.
Darren Sharper: C+ (2.86) Did any of you see how far back Sharper was playing all game? It was like Gregg Williams was saying: "you can do your underneath stuff all you want all game long, I'm not going to let you beat us deep over the top". That strategy worked for the most part, because besides the 40 yard Collie reception late (where Sharper provided poor help over the top to Jenkins) the Colts didn't have any success throwing deep. In fact, they hardly ever tried to. Overall Sharper did a good job of taking that option away from Manning, but he finished with just 3 tackles and didn't do a great job in run support when he'd come up to back a play. It was a quiet day for Sharper overall, but the gameplan was partly to blame for that.
Pierson Prioleau: B- (2.50) Prioleau was solid in coverage the few times he was asked to come in and play defense. He was also solid on special teams. Small sample size, but I thought I'd recognize that I liked what I saw. He finished with 1 tackle.
Usama Young: C- (2.80) Young was good on special teams, too, but when he came in to replace Jabari Greer on defense, Peyton Manning immediately went after him. His coverage on the 19 yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon was not good and he was burned badly. He finished with 1 tackle and wasn't really allowed to see the field again on defense after that play.
Jeff Charleston: C+ (2.33) Like Smith I saw a lot of effort and he put decent pressure on Manning, finishing with 1 tackle. Too many times, though, it just seemed like anytime Charleston was on the field I saw him running after the play as oppose to making it.
Thomas Morstead: A- (3.12) I was surprised to see that his kickoffs were a lot shorter than usual, as he never got one to go for a touchback. That's the only negative, because the kickoff coverage units were on it. Chad Simpson averaged just 22.2 yards per kick return and was tackled at least behind the 30 on almost every return but one that I could remember. He also averaged a healthy 44 yards per punt, again getting one inside the 20, and the other punt was returned for no gain. So that means his net average was also 44 yards. What else can you say about the guy? Hands down the Saints' rookie of the year. Give him credit, too, for hitting that onside kick to start the second half perfectly.
Courtney Roby: A (2.91) Roby is clearly the Saints' best gunner, and he's turning himself into arguably one of the best gunner's in the league. That no gain punt return I spoke of was T.J. Rushing getting obliterated by Roby right after he caught the punt. Hey T.J., you should've fair caught that one buddy. Roby was also the man that downed the punt inside the 20. His 4 kickoff returns also went for a solid 25.5 average, including one for 34 yards. Give Roby props for coming back from an apparent leg injury just two weeks prior in the Vikings game. The guy is a stud.
Garrett Hartley: A+ (3.17) Hartley was perfect on 3 field goals and 2 extra points. Every kick he hit went right down the middle. He was the first kicker in SuperBowl history to connect on three kicks from 40+ yards. None of those kicks were easy chip shots, and there was absolutely no doubt when they left his foot that they would be good. He's got a case for SuperBowl MVP, in my opinion, just like Brees and Porter. In summary, he carried out his job to perfection. He deserves an A+, because literally, he couldn't physically have performed his duty any better than he did. It's funny because I heard an ESPN analyst say in the pregame that the kicking game was a major advantage to the Colts because of Matt Stover's experience, but look who missed the big time kick and look who was solid all game long.
Chris Reis: B+ (2.50) He didn't do much in this game, but he recovered the onside kick and his GPA was hurting prior to this game, so I decided to give him a little boost. Upon review, the ball was trapped between his hamstring and his hand. I'm not sure how he came out of the pile with the football. Give him credit for great strength. That recovery was one of the biggest plays of the game.
My Saints' Defensive Player of the Game: Tracy Porter
My Saints' Special Teams Player of the Game: Garrett Hartley