This was an incredibly solid performance by the Saints defense as they kept the Bucs out of the end zone until late in the 4th quarter. Anytime the Saints can hold someone to 16 points you have to feel extremely confident about their chances of winning the game at about 99%.
I told Ralph Malbrough prior to the game that Jo-Lonn Dunbar playing at 'mike' may actually be an upgrade to the defense in this matchup because the Bucs were clearly going to run and Dunbar's specialty is his physicality in the trenches. In turns out the Vilma injury that held him out may have been a blessing in disguise. I'm not saying I prefer Dunbar to Vilma by any stretch, I'm just saying I like having Dunbar in the middle when it's against a smash mouth football team.
I will also say the Saints were extremely fortunate that Josh Freeman's accuracy in this game was by and large atrocious. He did not play a good game and I was not impressed by his showing at all. Not trying to take anything away from the Saints, who did a great job defensively, but does Freeman ever throw the ball downfield? I mean ever? To me he always settles for the underneath route and allows his safety valve to pick up tons of yardage to pad his stats. Maybe that was by design against the Saints because they blitz so much.
Nonetheless, below are the grades which point out a very solid performance by the Saints.Will Smith: B- (2.81) A pretty quiet day for Smith, who was held all day with no flags being thrown, per usual. Donald Penn also got constant help with him because he's clearly incapable of blocking him on his own as was evident in the previous matchup. He had one tackle and a defended pass that he batted down on a Freeman roll out pass out of the pocket. He did a great job on an end around of keeping containment and forcing the play backwards and while he doesn't make the tackle there he was responsible for causing a big loss.
Cameron Jordan: B (2.41) He had one tackle, for a loss on LeGarrette Blount, which was fantastic, a QB knock down, a tipped pass and in general showed good pursuit and energy. He was involved defensively and while he didn't have a high number of tackles, the big reason for how well the linebackers played was his terrific run defense which redirected a number of carries.
Turk McBride: C+ (1.95) No tackles for McBride, but he played pissed off, and I like that. He was actively bringing pressure off the edge and the biggest play of note was a pass play where he made contact with Freeman giving him a little shove after the ball was released. As the play went downfield, Freeman came after McBride to attempt to hit him back/block him. The play ended, and Freeman started smiling and gave McBride a half hearted hug. I don't know what McBride said to him, but I can only imagine it was along the lines of "you're going to regret coming after me..." you can fill in the blanks from there. I liked that a lot. The Saints aren't there to schmooze with opponents and ham it up in between plays. This was a huge game against a division rival, and McBride clearly communicated to Freeman that that wasn't the time and place for fun and games. A shoving match ensued.
Junior Galette: C (2.11) He got decent pressure off the edge but it didn't amount to anything.
Sedrick Ellis: C+ (2.08) Nothing special from Ellis but he did a good job of pushing the pocket and playing the run. He had 1 tackle. Sadly he's been so ho-hum this season a C+ actually boosts his GPA.
Shaun Rogers: B- (2.15) He had one tackle for a loss, but he also finished off a 4th and 1 run by Blount in Saints position to give the Saints a massive stop early in the game. The last three weeks his play has picked up.
Aubrayo Franklin: B+ (2.15) This was by far his best game of the season. The Bucs ran for just 84 yards, 27 of which came on one carry. You take that run away and they averaged just 3 yards per carry all game. Franklin was a big reason for that. The push he got in the pocket was excellent and he gave the Bucs' interior fits. He finished with 3 tackles and what was most encouraging was the effort I saw from him as he was often hustling downfield on plays.
Tom Johnson: B- (2.60) He had 2 tackles as a sub. As always, he came in and gave good energy and was active.
Scott Shanle: C+ (2.22) A quiet game for Shanle as he spent most of it respecting his assignment and helping teammates finish plays. His coverage was largely fine but he made one mistake switching off on an underneath route with Greer. Greer took the deep man, which was the right call as the fast corner, and he pointed at Shanle to take the underneath route. Shanle ran with the deep route at first and was slow rotating over which led to a big gain. Other than that no major mistakes. He had 4 tackles.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: A- (2.75) Outstanding showing by the Saints' physical linebacker. Like Franklin, he showed up ready to play and was extremely physical and intense all game long. He was fast sideline to sideline and laying monstrous hits on people. He was all over the field and showed great vision and power in his headhunting. He had 8 tackles, including one for a loss. The only negative is he continues to be a liability in coverage, and he was fortunate to not get beat on a touchdown as Freeman overthrew a wide open Kregg Lumpkin. I do think Vilma would be missed more against a pass first team.
Jonathan Casillas: B+ (2.52) Casillas' typical role of just being a blitzer was enhanced due to Vilma being out as he became a starter and played the whole game. He led the team with 10 tackles, most of which was assists finishing off the play. That was good to see, though, because he was active and found the ball on many occasions and he played to the whistle. He made the most of his increased reps and opportunity. He showed the Saints can trust him in a more prominent role. I'm feeling a little better about the linebackers lately and I want to see Vilma fully healthy before he takes the field again because the guys behind him are capable.
Jabari Greer: A- (2.67) The only negative is he can't catch the balls he gets hands on. He has dropped so many interceptions this year. Still, beyond that, Greer was very strong in this game. His coverage was largely impeccable and his tackling was out of this world. Every time he came up in run support or he needed to bring down a receiver underneath, he used good technique and got the man down. He had 6 tackles including one for a loss and a defended pass.
Patrick Robinson: B- (2.67) His coverage wasn't as great as it's been lately but it was fine and he was physical in run support. He seemed to bang up his shoulder but was able to return. Nothing special but he did a good job. Finished with 4 tackles.
Leigh Torrence: C- (2.89) The big play he made was a third down tackle 2 yards short of the first down in the open field. That was a big stop for the defense. For the most part his filling in for Tracy Porter was ok, but he was beat deep once, blew an assignment once to leave a Bucs' receiver wide open and got flagged downfield for a questionable pass interference call.
Malcolm Jenkins: C (2.18) A mostly quiet day for Jenkins. He had 3 tackles and hit Freeman once on a blitz as he released the football. He continues to quietly assemble a really disappointing season.
Roman Harper: A- (2.15) This is the Roman Harper I remember for large stretches of last season. He was doing what he does best: being physical, playing in the box, making tackles, and helping tremendously in run support. I thought his coverage on Kellen Winslow overall was outstanding. He even drew an offensive pass interference. He was instrumental in limiting the Bucs' run game. He was beaten on the lone touchdown, so that's the only negative, but to otherwise limit Winslow to 4 catches for 29 yards is a big win in my estimation. A colossal performance in the trenches by Harper, who finished with 9 tackles and a sack. Hopefully he can build off this monster performance.
John Kasay: C (3.04) He hit all three extra points and went 2 for 3 on field goals. He did ice the game by nailing a 34 yarder with 1:17 left and at the time the Saints were up 8 so that was an important make for our collective nerves. Still, his miss from 42 yards out on the Saints' first drive, which hit the right upright, was a bad miss. It started similar to the Rams game and gave the Bucs momentum. Those early misses really deflate a team and he's got to be able to hit that in a dome inside 45 yards. No excuses. If this guy can't make the long kicks, he's at least gotta be reliable inside 45. For the most part he has been, but that was one I'm sure he wishes he had back.
Thomas Morstead: A- (3.56) His season just keeps getting better and better. This guy better make it to the Pro Bowl. As fans we need to start lobbying hard for this soon. He deserves it. His averaged 56.5 yards per punt on 2 punts, crushing them both with booming kicks. In both cases he gave up more return yardage than usual, but still ended up with an amazing 48.5 net yards per punt. That number is astonishing and he does it every week. His kickoffs all went back for touchbacks, except for one that was run back 45 yards. That's the reason for the slight dock in his grade, as he set up some return situations. Overall, though, it was another great showing that helped the Saints win the field position battle (again).
Jonathon Amaya: A- (2.42) He made a beautiful open field tackle on Preston Parker who otherwise may have taken his return a good bit further, and on that play he caused a fumble which the Saints were unfortunate to not recover. He also had another special teams tackle for 2 total. I can see why the Saints asked for him in the Reggie Bush trade - he really is a gunner standout.
Courtney Roby: B+ (3.11) He had a tackle on special teams and he also made a tremendous block on a punt return to prevent a gunner from downing a punt inside the 5. Instead, the Saints got the ball at the 20 because of his excellent special teams play.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Roman Harper
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead