Below are the player grades for the defense and special teams against Atlanta. I still can't believe Garrett Hartley missed that field goal. The letter grade represents the player's performance against the Falcons, and the GPA represents the cumulative effort over the course of the season.
Will Smith: A- (2.67) By far Smith's best game of the season. He was extremely quiet during the entirety of the first two games, so it was great to see him bounce back. He recorded his first sack, in overtime, thanks to a beautiful inside stunt that completely fooled Sam Baker, who barely got a hand on him. Before that, though, Will Smith did a good job in constant pursuit of Matt Ryan, who was able to escape most of the Saints' rushes with his pocket awareness and decent speed. Smith tipped a 4th down pass that Tony Gonzalez somehow still juggle in for a first down near the end zone... too bad on that play, the tip could have been a game changer. Smith finished with 6 tackles, and he was excellent against the run.
Alex Brown: B (2.11) Brown did a mediocre job in pass rushing situations, but he was phenomenal against the run. I know Michael Turner ended up with over 100 yards rushing, but the bulk of that yardage came on 2 rushes. Beyond those scampers of 32 and 17 yards, Michael Turner was completely stuffed all day long. His average was 3.8 yards per carry, but if you take out those two runs, his average would have been 2.32 yards per carry on 28 carries, if that gives you any idea how great of a job the Saints did against the run. Alex Brown was a huge part of that, like Smith, and on one play in particular he showed nice hustle and speed to come from the back side of a play to catch up to Turner and throw him for a loss. Brown ended up with 5 tackles, and a huge tipped pass on 4th down that gave the Saints the ball back with enough time to tie the game in regulation.
Remi Ayodele: A- (2.56) Ayodele was a beast in the middle all game long. This was by far the best game of his career. If you go back and watch the tape, the penetration he was getting up the middle was incredible. The Falcons honestly had no answer for him on running plays. When you look at the stats and see the ridiculously high number of tackles the defensive linemen and linebackers had, that was in large part due to Ayodele collapsing the interior. He got in on the tackling action, too, finishing with 5. All those plays where Michael Turner and Jason Snelling were stuffed was mostly because of Ayodele. The Falcons ran right at him all day, and with very little success. His play, along with Lance Moore's, was one of the few that was a real pleasure to watch. The only reason he gets an A- is he was flagged for a horsecollar on a goal line Michael Turner run. Too bad, because he hit Turner for a monumental loss on that play, and the Falcons would score on the heels of that penalty.
Sedrick Ellis: B (2.45) Ellis did get a sack, but he was less active than Ayodele. Specifically, on Turner's 17 yard scamper on the game winning drive, Ellis was handled which opened up a big gap. Ellis did finish with 4 tackles and helped against the run, but he was quiet for long stretches of time despite being on the field.
Anthony Hargrove: B- (2.11) Hargrove, per usual, was active in pass rushing situations. On Will Smith's sack, he was there a second late but was definitely in the mix. He easily could have been credited with a half sack there. He finished with 2 tackles. He also did a good job dropping into coverage once on an attempted pass to Michael Turner.
Jeff Charleston: C (2.00) Charleston got a good amount of reps, talked a lot of trash (or so it seemed) and didn't do a whole lot. He somehow finished with 3 tackles on the stat sheet, I'm not sure how. I noticed him on the field a good amount but never doing much. I didn't notice him screwing up egregiously either, though.
Jimmy Wilkerson: B- (2.17) Wilkerson was decent in pass rushing situations and solid against the run. I thought he should have played more and gotten Charleston's reps at end. Despite very limited snaps, he still managed to get in on plenty of tackles, tallying 4 total in the game.
Jonathan Vilma: B (3.44) Vilma finished with a team high 11 tackles, including one for a loss. He was all over the field, and was heavily involved in slowing down Turner. On Turner's 1 yard touchdown run, though, Vilma tried to make a physical stop and bounced off the big Falcons' back like a fly. Vilma also did a poor job in coverage, particularly on Tony Gonzalez. Despite his high number of tackles, he didn't seem to tackle as surely as usual.
Scott Shanle: C- (2.56) Shanle did finish with 11 tackles, which is worth something, but his coverage of Tony Gonzalez was atrocious. I don't know why the Saints kept resorting to leaving Shanle on Gonzalez, because he was getting repeatedly embarrassed. I would say that Shanle's high tackle total was a function of him getting beat by Gonzalez, but he was blowing the tackles on Gonzalez after the catches. He got most of that total helping his teammates against the run. Give him credit for helping his buddies finish off plays, but his pass coverage was a serious liability out there.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B (2.78) Dunbar was extremely physical against the run, and he was thumping people out there. It was great to see him sticking his nose into plays and really laying wood on the opposition. He finished with 10 tackles, 2 for a loss, and was very active out there. The only negative was that he was completely blown up on the 37 yard play that Michael Turner broke. He handle his block poorly, and instead of absorbing it or shedding it, he was knocked out of the play which allowed the run to break free. Still, it was another step in the right direction for the young linebacker in developing as a full time starter.
Marvin Mitchell: B- (2.78) Mitchell's biggest play was a goal line carry that he blew up for a loss, shooting the gap and making a big play for his team. He's a solid role player and a sure tackle, I think. He finished with 3 tackles.
Tracy Porter: D (2.55) Before leaving the game with an injury, Porter was one of the many Saints over the course of the game getting abused by Tony Gonzalez. He bit horribly on a sad excuse for a double move by Gonzalez that turned into a huge play. He showed decent coverage on the touchdown pass to Gonzalez, but was no match to stop it. Before he left, he was getting burned that entire drive. He never had a chance to redeem himself as he pulled a hamstring and was removed for the rest of the game.
Jabari Greer: B- (3.00) Greer was charged with covering Roddy White all game, and at first he was fantastic. As the game progressed, though, and especially late, Greer's performance started to drop. White ended with 5 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown, which is respectable, but Greer got beat badly for a 22 yard touchdown pass down the sideline in the 4th quarter. Greer finished with 6 tackles and a defended pass. He did a decent job helping out in run support.
Patrick Robinson: C+ (2.33) He was up and down. At times the first round pick was pretty impressive in coverage. He was lucky Matt Ryan overthrew Hugh Douglas in overtime because he was burned badly and that was a sure game ending touchdown if the ball was on the money. In fact, Douglas was open at least two other times and Robinson was lucky he didn't turn those plays into big completions. He had 5 tackles and a defended pass. He's going to get better and I did see some promising coverage from him for the most part of the game. He was giving huge cushions to his receivers at times, though.
Roman Harper: B- (3.45) Harper was probably the best of the Saints players that tried to cover Gonzalez, but he still didn't do a good job covering the future hall of fame tight end. He was flagged for a 25 yard penalty on a pretty clear pass interference call. Good thing he interfered, or Gonzalez would have approached 150 yards receiving. Harper was also late to get the Ryan on a blitz, which was the same play Porter got burned on that "double move". Despite his struggles in pass coverage, which are nothing new, he was good and physical against the run giving nice support in the box. He finished with 7 tackles.
Malcolm Jenkins: B- (2.60) I thought Jenkins was pretty solid overall, but unfortunately he didn't help Greer over the top on that touchdown pass to White. It's his job to help on that play, and for him to get beat deep showed a lack of speed. Jenkins was physical, though, and he did a good job providing big hits. It seemed like he was running his mouth at Roddy White all game long. I'm not sure what those two were talking about, but the trash talk was non stop. Jenkins finished with 7 tackles. He had a strip inside the 10 yard line of Jason Snelling, but unfortunately the review showed that play was down by contact.
Garrett Hartley: C- (2.11) I struggled grading Hartley. On one hand, he showed ice in his veins by drilling a 32 yarder before time expired to tie the game and send it to overtime. Then, in overtime, he missed a 29 yard gimme. That miss was just inexcusable. I could have failed him for it, but I decided to give him credit for hitting a big field goal. Honestly, though, I wish he had just missed the first one to spare my heart of the overtime period. If you're a professional kicker, you should never ever miss a kick inside 30 yards. Never. There is no excuse for it and Hartley needs to take a long look in the mirror. Instead of sitting pretty at 3-0 atop the NFC South, the Saints are 2-1 and down in the tie breaking scenario against their biggest competition. You can point at other reasons why the Saints lost that game, sure, but the bottom line is Hartley was in a position to end it and he choked. It was an epic failure.
Thomas Morstead: B+ (3.67) Morstead blasted a 57 yarder on one punt that ended up going for a touchback. He hit another punt that was very short, but he got lucky in that the play resulted in a fumble recovered by long snapper Jason Kyle. His punts averaged out to 49 yards, and 39 net. His kickoffs were mostly excellent, and two went for touchbacks, but I was severely annoyed that he saved his worst kickoff for the overtime period, which set up a great return and put the Falcons in solid field position.
Courtney Roby: B+ (3.55) Roby got tripped on one return where he was gone if he had kept his balance. It was still a solid return of 39 yards, and he finished with a solid 27 yard average on three returns. One of those returns was a kick he took out of the end zone where he ended up being rocked inside the 15, though. He had a tackle of his own around the 15, too, as a gunner on one kickoff. It was another solid performance overall. I think Roby's purpose in life was to play special teams. I don't really know why the Saints never put his play making ability on offense, but I guess they just have too much depth ahead of him at receiver.
Jimmy Graham: B+ (3.33) I docked Graham's grade a little bit for doing a bad job of boxing out Thomas DeCoud on that interception. Make no mistake, though, Drew Brees deserves most of the credit for that pathetic play. Graham also did a bad job blocking on a running play that I noticed. On special teams, offense aside, Graham was terrific. He had the first two tackles of his NFL career, and he was incredibly head's up staying in bounds on a loose ball touched by Atlanta on a punt, and shoveling the ball to Jason Kyle before falling out of bounds. Awesome job by the rookie tight end making plays for the Saints on special teams. Kudos to Kyle, as well, for being head's up in securing the football and keeping both feet in bounds.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Remi Ayodele
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead