The Saints offense gave the team the bare minimum that was needed in this game in order to get a victory. They amassed yards, had some big plays and clearly showed their superiority, yet 23 points was all they could come up with.
This game should have been a blowout, but instead the offense just couldn't put the Jags away and allowed them to hang around. The offense can thank the defense and the Jaguars horrific offense for bailing them out.
It's not that there wasn't a lot of positives... throwing for 351 yards and rushing for 177 at 5.2 yards a pop is outstanding stuff. If you had told me the offense would put up those kind of numbers before the game, I would have assumed they scored over 40 points. Instead, the Saints sat at 23. Sloppy mistakes, poor red zone efficiency and lack of a killer instinct are what stood in the way of the offense in this game.
Not that I'm complaining, a win is a win and on the road that's all you can ask for. Mission accomplished. Make the jump for the grades.Drew Brees: B- (3.67) The interception he threw before halftime was criminal. Up 14-7 just before halftime, Brees gave a vastly inferior and struggling team a chance to get back in the game on one play with his mistake. When it was first intercepted, I thought it was a pick 6 for sure. Kudos to the team for tackling him, and kudos for the defense for coming up with a huge three and out deep in their own territory. Thanks to that, it was 14-10 at halftime instead. For a second I had shades of the Browns and/or Cardinals games last year. Brees was close to getting picked off a couple of other times, including once in the end zone right before the Saints settled for a field goal. His second interception was all on Meachem for dropping the ball. This was Brees' worst game of the season so far, but he was still efficient and mostly in control. Just a few throws I'm sure he'd like to have back. He finished 31 for 44 for 351 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. I do think he was to blame in big part for the lack of red zone success. He needs to get better down there. He also had 3 rushes for 10 yards and was sacked 3 times. My main gripe with Brees in this one is he got a little predictable throwing to Sproles and Graham almost exclusively at times.
Darren Sproles: A (3.75) After this game, Sproles leapfrogs Brees as the player on the offense with the highest GPA, and you know what? He absolutely deserves it. This guy has just been doing everything right. The offense is currently running through him. He rushed for 75 yards on just 7 carries. He's averaging 8.9 yards per carry so far this season. Granted that's just 15 carries, but 8.9!! Sproles also had 5 catches for 56 yards, 2 kickoff returns for 48 yards and one punt return for 9 yards. That's 188 yards he contributed by himself to the team. The only thing missing from an A+ performance was a touchdown, and he was just a yard away from that. Reggie Bush was never this good for the Saints in any 4 game stretch. Eventually the comparisons need to stop because at this point it's not even fair anymore. There is no comparison between the two. Darren Sproles is an outstanding football player and his addition to the Saints' offense is monumental. Give him credit for good pass blocking on blitz pickups in this game as well. He was fantastic.
Pierre Thomas: A- (3.09) He finished with 6 carries for 36 yards, and 4 catches for 43 yards. That's 79 yards of total offense on 10 touches. We've talked about him being on a "pitch count' before, and that doesn't look to change anytime soon. What Thomas continues to do, though, is really make the most of his opportunities. In this game, like Sproles, he was just doing everything right. Also like Sproles, the only thing missing from a higher grade was a touchdown. Sean Payton seems to love using Thomas most in misdirection situations, whether it be draws or screens, and you can understand why as he always seems to make good plays. Per usual, he finished his runs very well and was extremely hard to bring down.
Mark Ingram: B (2.50) He's the horse of this team right now. He doesn't get the sexy stats like Sproles and Thomas, yet, but make no mistake he's the one getting the tough yards for this team. He had 55 yards on 17 carries (3.2 average) but his contribution in this one was much more than those numbers. I thought this was his best game so far from a pure effort standpoint. He's got a nice combination of power, speed and toughness that is going to be valuable to the Saints for years to come. He also had 2 catches for 3 yards, and converted a 4th and 1 at the 50 despite being initially hit 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Jed Collins: A (2.75) This was by far his best game of the season so far. His lead blocking is the main reason why and he just continually make vicious blocks to open up huge lanes for his runners. He also scored from a yard out for his first career touchdown. He also showed good effort on special teams. Thanks to my loyal supporter Marjin P. who also pointed out to me that Collins was responsible for Ingram converting that 4th and 1. On that play, Ingram was stopped dead in his tracks and Collins literally grabbed Ingram by the jersey, picked him up, and threw him over the pile. Go back and watch that play over again if you get a chance, and you'll see all you need to see as reason why I gave this kid an A.
Marques Colston: C- (1.67) He had limited reps, but he was valuable blocking in numerous situations. His frame and willingness to block is more useful to the offense than most realize. He also converted a big 3rd and 2 with his lone 8 yard reception. He did have a bad drop, though, and looked rusty. To be expected, and I fully believe he'll get more involved as he continues to heal.
Lance Moore: B (2.89) He had 5 receptions for 50 yards and he was by far the best Saints' wideout on the day. He showed good hands and did a good job getting open. Moore is the kind of receiver that keeps the chains moving, something uncommon for a guy so slight of size.
Robert Meachem: C- (2.75) He had 4 catches for 59 yards, so he made more plays than some of the Saints' receivers, but he also made more mistakes. Once again he's always quick to go out of bounds or shy away from contact. I just question if Meachem has the physical instinct in him needed to really excel. To me he just plays scared sometimes. He also had two drops... on in the end zone that was a tough catch on a long pass that I thought he still should have come up with, and one that bounced off his hands and went for an interception. The latter prevented the offense from killing the game, a common theme throughout. It wasn't all bad though, he definitely made some nice plays.
Devery Henderson: D+ (3.17) This is the Devery I remember from last year. He was completely invisible in the passing game, and almost never targeted. On one play, I saw him run a crossing route over the middle and Brees look his way right before he got chipped by a DB and fell to the ground. Brees would get sacked as he had nowhere to go with the ball. Henderson needs to do a better job of running his route and absorbing a little contact on that play. I did boost his grade a tad because he was a willing and able blocker, but his lone reception chance came on a 3rd and 24 bomb to the end zone that should have been a catch. Henderson did a bad job of making sure he got that second foot in, and the pass was incomplete and the Saints would settle for another Kasay miss. He did a nice job catching the ball, but there was no defender around him and no contact, so he's got to keep those feet in bounds. Just one bad game though and he's otherwise been awesome this year.
Jimmy Graham: A (3.25) He blocked reasonably well and he contributed a 10 receptions, 132 yard and 1 touchdown pass catching day. Why didn't he get an A+, you ask? Well, he dropped a couple passes in tight coverage that I thought he should have had. Still, when your tight end gives you a 10 catch 132 yard performance... wow. The dude is good. Through 4 games, Graham and Sproles have been the constants. As long as Brees has those two you get the feeling everything will be alright. He's well on his way to a Pro Bowl invite.
John Gilmore: B- (1.84) His one job is to block and he did that pretty well off the edge. I still don't love that this is the best the Saints could find as a #3 tight end, but he honestly blocked better than David Thomas has all season, so his fill in work was helpful.
Jermon Bushrod: B- (2.67) He had trouble at times with Jeremy Mincey, especially run blocking. Overall I thought he was pretty good, though. His pass blocking was largely solid and his run blocking was passable. Still, I've yet to see Bushrod make that leap to dominant status and I'm beginning to wonder if I ever will.
Carl Nicks: A- (2.67) His performance was consistent with how I felt the line played as a whole. Through 3 quarters, I had Nicks rated as an A+. The Saints pass blocking was absolutely terrific up to that point, and they were dominating in the trenches. Nicks more than anyone was responsible for the gashing runs the Saints kept making. Most of the runs came behind Nicks and he was blowing people up left and right. Then, the play dipped significantly in the fourth quarter. The Jags started to sack, hit and hurry Brees and the running game struggled. It was almost like they decided the game was won and they were going to stop trying as hard. Nicks did a bad job rotating over on a linebacker blitz that resulted in a sack, and he just didn't get the push we were seeing earlier in the game. Like I said, though, through 3 quarters he played at an A+ level - and that's good to see. Hopefully he's hitting his stride. I'd just like to see him finish the game better next time.
Brian de la Puente: B (2.11) Coming into the game, I wondered if Matt Tennant (this time active) would take over as the starting center, or if de la Puente would hold onto the job after he filled in reasonably well for Olin Kreutz last week. Tennant, after all, was drafted to eventually become the starting center. When I saw de la Puente was starting, I thought "wow, I guess it's time to part ways with Tennant if he can't even beat this guy out". As the game progressed, though, I saw why the Saints like him and started him ahead of Tennant. I'm not ready to write off Tennant as hopeless just yet (though getting beat out as the #2 center is a bad sign) but I am ready to say I see some promise in de la Puente. Specifically, he had a fabulous seal block right up the gut on one of Sproles' big runs up the middle. Overall he was physical on running plays, able to push guys around, and kept a pretty clean pocket on passing downs. His snaps, shotgun or otherwise, were all solid too. The only negative was getting beat once and allowing a sack, but otherwise I think this guy played better than anything we have seen from Kreutz to this point.
Jahri Evans: A (3.33) He's been by far the best lineman on the team this year. Once again, he was terrific. Evans, pulled magnificently, specifically as a lead on a screen pass to Pierre that went for big yardage. He was a mammoth in the trenches and he dominated in pass blocking. He manhandled every guy they threw at him. He was also often seen downfield at the end of a play giving a little shove to help the ballcarrier get an extra yard or two. His effort out there was awesome, and his dominant performance had shades of LeCharles Bentley in his prime. And this is like three straight games without a penalty now. Didn't know he had that kind of run in him.
Charles Brown: C (2.78) I actually thought Brown, save two plays, was very good. Unfortunately the two plays were bad ones and they could have been even worse. One was a false start deep in Saints' territory to pin his offense even further back. Fortunately for him, Darren Sproles went off on that drive, starting with a 3rd and 12 conversion from the Saints 3, to bail out his mistake. He was also beaten like a drum yielding a sack to Austen Lane, costing the Saints a chance at a red zone touchdown. Those are things he'll have to clean up, but otherwise he was physical on running plays and pretty solid in pass blocking.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Darren Sproles