The offense got off to a destabilizing start with John Kasay's first field goal attempt hitting the upright. I had painful memories of how the Rams game started last week when I saw Kasay miss that kick. This game couldn't have been more different, though.
The Saints committed to the run, were physical in the trenches and they dominated the line of scrimmage. Most notable was the 195 yards rushing at 7.0 yards per carry. Everyone contributed to that cause: Ivory, Thomas, Sproles and even Brees.
Each of the last two week's games started the same way: a Kasay miss. But the team responded in completely different ways to it. It wasn't a flawless performance by any means, but it was good enough to get a win and it was best when it mattered.
The biggest surprise to me in this one was what a difference the return of Zach Strief made. While I do think that helped a tremendous amount, I think it was less about his personal play and more about the increased focus of the offensive line. No doubt having a more consistent player at right tackle helped the overall performance, and most encouraging was the increased sense of urgency and energy that the team played with.
Let's just hope we see the same thing again next week because it's another must-win in Atlanta.
Make the jump for the grades!Drew Brees: B (3.22) There's mainly two throws I had issues with in this game. The first was a bomb to Henderson who was wide open that Brees grossly overthrew to cost his team a sure touchdown. Later, he threw a very predictable ball in the flat that Ronde Barber jumped all over. I don't know how many career interceptions Barber has against the Saints, but I remember him getting multiple picks per game the times he faced Aaron Brooks. I am so sick of that guy and he can't retire soon enough. That interception by Brees was a very poor read and mistake. Other than that, he played fairly well, going 27 of 36 for 258 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. His biggest play was a 20 yard run that converted a huge 3rd down on the Saints' last drive of the game. His first touchdown pass to Moore was one of the better throws I've ever seen him make, and that's really saying something.
Chris Ivory: B (2.34) Ivory finished with a solid 67 yards on 15 carries, getting the lion's share of the runs in between the tackles. He was stopped on a couple short yardage runs that I'm sure he wishes he had converted but overall it was a much better showing than his first game back last week. He ran hard and with authority, and in classic Chris Ivory style he was always falling forward. He also did a decent job the few times he was used in pass protection which has previously been a weakness.
Pierre Thomas: A (2.96) A flawless performance by PT despite a lack of significant touches. He finished with 66 yards on a measly 8 carries with one touchdown, and had 25 yards on 4 receptions. His value to the team is severely understated somehow, and his utilization is entirely too modest. He did start limping at one point and I was deathly afraid that was an injury to his surgically repaired ankle. That scare is the very reason why he doesn't play more, though. The Saints want him for 16 games this season. It does the team no good if he plays amazing in 4 games but is overworked before getting injured. The pitch count is in favor of his longevity, and ultimately the team and Thomas both benefit more from this approach. As usual he made the absolute most of his involvement (or lack thereof) and he was impossible to tackle. His strength and ability to shed tacklers is top notch.
Darren Sproles: A- (3.33) Another fantastic performance by the little man who is quickly gaining national recognition for his contributions to this offense. It was another vintage Sproles performance: 4 carries for 42 yards (35 came on one run), 5 catches for 57 yards and a touchdown, one punt return for 15 yards, and two kick returns for an average of 27. At this point I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the Pro Bowl, and he's clearly the best free agent signing of this offseason in the NFL.The only negative was a couple third down carries he saw where he was unable to get a first down. He is easy to bring down if you get his hands on him, but he is tough and he's incredibly fast.
Jed Collins: B+ (3.04) His lead blocking was mostly outstanding and he was a big reason for the success in the running game. He gets docked a bit, though, for getting hit right in stride and in the hands and dropping a pass in the flat. I've been praising his catching ability all season and that was a poor showing on that play.
Marques Colston: B (2.90) He had 5 catches for 52 yards and gave a solid contribution in the slot. He had one juggling reception where he went down easily on 3rd down short of a first. If he makes that catch cleanly I think he potentially makes that first time. That's my only gripe, though, a decent game for Colston.
Lance Moore: B+ (2.92) He finished with 3 catches for 20 yards and a touchdown. That doesn't sound like much, but each and every one of those receptions were huge. They converted big third downs, and his fade reception on the touchdown was a terrific reception. I'm not sure throwing fades to your 5'8" receiver is the best play call, but he once again showed he's got as good a pair of hands as any receiver in the league.
Devery Henderson: C+ (2.41) He had 2 catches for 13 yards. On the first reception, it was just before halftime and he failed to get out of bounds, which was disappointing. On his second reception he was open on a short throw because his speed was being respected. That speed was respected because he ran a textbook double move early in the game that left him completely wide open downfield. Too bad Brees missed him on that pass because it was an easy 7. I also refuse to dock Henderson's grade for that "holding" call that took back a Darren Sproles touchdown run. In fact, I'm boosting his grade, because he threw a very solid block. Those refs were awful.
Robert Meachem: D- (2.22) Meachem is starting to get Devery syndrome, becoming an afterthought in the offense. The lone pass to him was a great throw with Meachem wide open down the sideline, and he aloofly stepped out of bounds prior to keeping both feet in. That was horrible lack of attention and awareness. For him to not focus enough to bring those two feet in was shameful. In fact, Meachem has been gingerly getting out of bounds all season. He's been in a rush to get to the sidelines consistently and this time he managed to do so at the expense of a big reception. The good news is he avoided another hit. Shame on him. Can't really blame Brees for not throwing him the ball after that kind of lack of poise.
Jimmy Graham: B+ (3.30) It was a ho-hum 6 catch 78 yard performance by Graham. It's funny that he can have a "pedestrian" game like that and he's been so awesome he just kind of take it for granted. He just continues to tear it up this season.
David Thomas: B (1.67) Thomas was eased back into his old role but he did an exceptional job of blocking. It was nice to have a real backup tight end out there for a change. The depth all of a sudden feels pretty good now that Gilmore is back to being #3 and merely a blocking extra. Thomas was terrific off the edge especially offering chips and double teams to the tackles. His lone reception may have just been for 4 yards but it was a fantastic grab on a low throw. Nice to see him back out there. It's been a rough year for him but hopefully he can make the most of this second half.
John Gilmore: C+ (2.05) He blocked fine, especially on running plays. He had one pass in his hands that was dropped, and then he had a 9 yard reception where he was lit up like a Christmas tree. Impressive to see him hold onto that reception there, so I'll give him that. Too bad he didn't hang on to the easier one.
Jermon Bushrod: B+ (2.63) Another very solid performance. His run blocking in particular off the edge was as good as it's been all season. His pass blocking had some shaky spots, but overall it was a clean performance. He did have a false start penalty, which was apparently his very first penalty of the season. That's a pretty impressive stat right there, just one penalty in 9 games despite not missing a single snap.
Carl Nicks: A+ (2.85) Wow. All the big runs where behind him and he absolutely destroyed the opposition. Literally every time the runner went behind him he created massive lanes to run through by completely clearing out his assignment. More dominant performances you don't often see from a lineman. Clearly he was pissed off from last week and he played like it. He was a man among boys and his power in the trenches was astonishing. His pass blocking was also incredibly clean.
Brian De La Puente: B+ (2.53) He leaned on Nicks and Evans a bit to carry the incredibly strong interior performance, but De La Puente is surprising me as a totally capable player. His snaps seemed to be totally comfortable and on point now, and his blocking is more physical than I expected. This guy could end up being a longer term stay that I ever imagined.
Jahri Evans B+ (3.15) Overall his pass blocking and run blocking were both very good. He did miss a weakside pull block to seal the edge on a draw to Sproles which blew up the play. Besides that, he was slow to a handful of open field pulls but his effort, hustle and play till the whistle was indicative that he was taking his responsibilities seriously and playing with the right amount of intensity.
Zach Strief: A (2.67) The right edge could not have been more on lockdown all game long. I was shocked to see Strief come in after missing all that time and play like that. His pass blocking was absolutely impeccable and his return was a sorely needed boost. When Charles Brown is at his best, I think he's arguably better than Strief, but Strief offers way more consistency. With Strief you may get bad plays due to his limitations in lateral quickness, but it'll never be because of his lack of focus or propensity to "space out". That was the problem with Brown, super solid when he applied himself, but inconsistent due to lack of focus (or spacing out). A very serious performance by Strief, and most importantly, a very consistent performance. Just what the doctor ordered.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Carl Nicks