As far as I'm concerned, there's no need to look any further than the 4th and 1 overtime play. That stop was a season-defining moment and a reference point for the rest of the year. Say what you will about the struggles of the defense this year, that moment turned boys into men, figuratively speaking.
Moments before that, of course, the defense was gashed on a drive that almost went 95 yards in under two minutes with no timeouts, to cost the Saints the game. But while the defense gave up huge chunks of yards at times, the red zone defense came up big by keeping the opposition from getting in the end zone. That happened for the second straight week, just in time for crucial NFC South rival matchups.
This defense will never be confused with one of the best, but we're starting to see improved linebacker play, stronger showings from Roman Harper and better run defense. That should be good enough to win games with an offense like this. The coverage units happened to be pretty good, too.
Oh, and then there's the kicking game...outstanding as usual. I keep waiting for this Kasay experiment to blow up in the Saints face but his performance continues to be incredibly reliable. Garrett Hartley who? Make the jump for the grades.Will Smith: C- (2.67) He had one tackle and applied one hit on Matt Ryan on a nice inside move. Other than that, he failed to get good pressure on passing plays and he didn't factor in against the run like he normally does. A disappointing showing.
Cameron Jordan: B- (2.43) Once again, he's never going to be known for being an explosive pass rusher, but he's a reliable guy out there. He's physical, strong, he hustles and plays the run well. Those are all good things. He finished with 3 tackles and helped slow down Turner. He also had a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage to force an incomplete.
Junior Galette: C+ (2.14) He had no tackles but the lone sack of the afternoon was all because of him. In a 3 man front, he was still able to beat the right tackle around the edge and get a hand on Matt Ryan to disrupt him. Ryan had to step up in the pocket at that point where he was sacked by Harper on a delayed blitz. He deserves kudos for helping there.
Jeff Charleston: B- (2.33) He helped Herring finished off a tackle on special teams and he showed good hustle downfield on defense as a sub. And he was pretty good against the run too. He had 2 tackles.
Sedrick Ellis: B (2.17) Ellis was working hard in the middle and he redirected several running plays. He got involved many times and did a good job. He finished with 4 tackles. The first time we've had a good showing from him in a while. In fact, this is the best grade he's gotten all season.
Shaun Rogers: C (2.14) He had one tackle and a quiet day.
Aubrayo Franklin: C (2.13) Franklin redirected numerous runs up the middle due to his size. He was also pushed out of the way on a few which led to big gains. It's a tough game to grade him on because he had no tackles, but overall I thought he did a good job of being disruptive. The 4th and 1 play was obviously a shining moment.
Tom Johnson: C (2.50) He was in there and he was active chasing the play. He had no tackles but made no major mistakes.
Jonathan Casillas: B (2.57) It wasn't about his blitzing for a chance, but his coverage, which was honestly a huge improvement over what I've seen at other times this season, and his run support. He's getting more comfortable out there and you can tell his play recognition is improving. With reps he's turning into a pretty solid player. He had 7 tackles and ran well sideline to sideline. He actually looked like a complete linebacker out there. Who knew?
Scott Shanle: A- (2.37) He was physical against the run and did an admirable job the times he had to cover Tony Gonzalez. I know no one would want that job, but he did it and handled it well. Shanle's play has been improving considerably as of late, as he's making more plays around the line of scrimmage and tackling much better than he was earlier in the season. He also came up with a massive interception off the hands of Roddy White that he returned for 12 yards.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B (2.78) He wasn't always great as he missed some tackles, was suspect in coverage and recognized some plays poorly... but overall he was more than you could ask for out of a backup and then some. These two games have been very promising since Jonathan Vilma sat out because of what we now know was knee surgery. He had 7 tackles, none bigger than the tackle on fullback Mike Cox just short of the first down that set up that 4th and 1.
Ramon Humber: B- (2.17) His lone tackle was in the open field on a 3rd down play where he did get pushed backwards a bit, but he was still able to make a stop short of a first down to force a punt. That was an important play.
Jabari Greer: B+ (2.73) He got abused, poor guy, coming up to tackle fullback Mike Cox on a screen play. Just completely run over. Sorry to point that one out Jabari. Otherwise, his coverage was once again excellent. He was on Roddy White for the majority of the game and at times he even shadowed Tony Gonzalez. He had 3 tackles and a defended pass. White was held to 4 catches for 62 yards, not nearly good enough for the amount of trash he talks. He was very solid out there.
Tracy Porter: B (2.57) He tackled well and was pretty physical. He came very close on two occasions to coming up with interceptions. You can just feel he's going to get one very soon as he gets good jumps on the ball. He absorbed blocking contact, fought through it, and blew up a bubble screen to Harry Douglas at one point for a 2 yard loss. He was flagged for pass interference on a 3rd down play on the final drive of regulation which was just criminal. That was a clean breakup in my book. He had 6 tackles.
Leigh Torrence: D (2.62) A very bad day in coverage. All the big plays that happened he was mostly responsible for. Harry Douglas victimized him often, usually running routes over the middle of the field. He got injured late in the game.
Roman Harper: A- (2.30) A very impressive showing from Harper. He was all over the field and largely responsible for the team slowing down Michael Turner thanks to his physical play in the trenches. He was all over the field and finished with a game high 13 tackles, including the only sack of the day. He had another tackle in the backfield as well, 2 QB knockdowns and a defended pass. The only negative which docks his grade slightly was a dropped interception in the end zone that would have ended the game but instead almost cost his team the victory. No excuses. He has to come up with that ball. I wouldn't call his GPA respectable just yet, but these last two A-'s have him going in the right direction. He was also one of the countless players that should have made a stop on Jason Snelling's touchdown.
Malcolm Jenkins: B (2.27) He missed a couple tackles on Michael Turner, but who didn't? Overall Jenkins laid some massive hits, many short of first downs, and was excellent not biting on numerous play fakes. His play recognition was excellent and I thought he was quick to the ball. My only regret is I wish he tackled cleaner in the open field. When he's closing on the ball, though, his hits are as ferocious as they come. He had 8 tackles.
John Kasay: A- (3.10) His field goal attempts went in this sequence: Makes 52 yarder. Misses 40 yarder. Makes 48 yarder. Makes 44 yarder. Makes 45 yarder nullified by a penalty. Makes game ending/winning 26 yarder. He went 4 for 5 on field goals with 3 of the 4 makes 44 yards or further. Oddly his 40 yard attempt was one of the easier ones. He bounced back from that miss, though, and he made some huge kicks. And what's better than the game winner in overtime? Losing Hartley to IR was a devastating blow to the Saints but Kasay has managed to do every bit if not better than Hartley could have done. Quite impressive performance.
Thomas Morstead: B (3.50) Three out of his five kickoffs were touchbacks, and the other two only were returned for a 20.5 yard average. On punts, he completely shanked a 29 yarder out of bounds, and he blasted one 64 yards that ended up going for a touchback. He did pin three punts inside the 20, including one at the 1, with great backspin. He averaged 40.4 on 5 punts with a net average of 36.4. That's not quite up to his standard, but the Falcons got no return yardage at all.
Courtney Roby: B (3.08) He had quite the eventful afternoon on special teams. He was a decoy on Darren Sproles' big kickoff return as they faked an end around to him, which helped keep the coverage honest. He downed two punts inside the 20. He also got flagged for holding but also drew a personal foul from Eric Weems who hit him after a play was over. Busy day. It was all positive except for that holding penalty which docks his grade.
Will Herring: B (1.67) He blew up Eric Weems short of the 20 on a kickoff. What's not to like?
My Defensive Player of the Game: Roman Harper & Scott Shanle (tie)
My Special Teams Player of the Game: John Kasay