The Saints offense put up 22 points and if you had told me before the game that would be their total output, I would have been fairly pessimistic. In the end, though, considering how flag happy the officiating crew was, 22 points was about as much as you could hope for.
Still, you can't help but feel like the offense left points out there thanks to a combination of poor discipline and lack of execution in the red zone. As much as I fault the players at times for making mistakes, I thought the play calling in this game was often questionable.
Most bothersome was the 3rd and 7 pass play on the Saints final offensive series that was almost intercepted and stopped the clock with 1:45 left. The Saints should have run the ball there since the Titans had no timeouts and they would have given the ball back to them deep in their own territory with well under a minute left. Instead, they gave us the scare of a lifetime. While the execution was poor, I just don't understand throwing the ball to Chris Ivory, a player who hasn't caught a pass all season, in that situation. If you're trying to kill the game, that's not the way to do it.
I was also annoyed by the fact that Pierre Thomas ran for 10 yards on the very first play of the game but only saw one other carry for the remainder of the first half. The team's refusal to run is fine, but you would think they'd at least attempt to do so a bit more in sub 40 degree temperatures against a team that can't stop the run.
Instead the pass to run ratio was 47 to 26. I realize the penalties forced their hand a bit but the play calling has to be more balanced. The Saints, after all, are a very good running team, they just happen to be better at passing. On to the grades...Drew Brees: A (3.46) Brees finished yet another game with no turnovers and a rating over 100. Pretty impressive. In this one I did find he was slower to get the ball out than we're used to, though I'm sure Graham's ailments had something to do with that, and he threw two balls that were very poor decisions. One was in a sea of Titans jerseys upfield when he was getting heavy pressure that hit a defender in the hands. The other was the aforementioned flare pass to Ivory that also should have been picked off. He finished 36 for 47 for 337 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had 2 carries for 6 yards, one of which was a QB sneak that got a critical first down. His passing on 3rd downs was especially crucial as he often kept the chains moving by fitting balls into extremely tight windows. Overall his play was outstanding, particularly in the 4th quarter. A better ball than that second TD pass to Colston cannot be thrown. I was told he needs to average 239 yards per game over the next 3 to break Marino's record. Should be a done deal. He also got flagged once for snap simulation for moving slightly as he faked a snap count, but watching that again that was one of the many tick-tack calls this crew decided to make.
Chris Ivory: B- (2.44) It was a bit of feast or famine with Ivory. At times he hit the hole with authority and looked both speed and powerful, and at times he tried to bounce plays outside which resulted in worse yardage Reggie Bush style. His 25 yard scamper early in the game was nice, but too often he was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. He did a good job for the most part in short yardage situations running tough in the trenches. He did have a few moments of decent pass protection. He finished with 13 carries for 53 yards.
Darren Sproles: B+ (3.15) Sproles must have had about 200 total yards called back by penalties. It seemed like all his big plays got flagged for holding. It's too bad, his eletric punt return for a touchdown featured the nastiest spin move I have ever seen. True to form, though, he was explosive in the running game through the hole, and he was a reliable receiver that made things happen after the catch. He had 5 useful carries for 33 yards and 7 catches for 58 yards. His returning besides the touchdown called back was mediocre.
Pierre Thomas: B- (3.00) Stop me if you've heard this before but I thought he was underutilized. He had 10 yards rushing on the first play of the game and quickly became an afterthought. He did have 6 catches (mostly underneath stuff) for 35 yards and 6 carries for 22 yards. He didn't turn any of his plays into much but he ran hard and got some useful first downs on a couple occasions. Still, 12 touches is more than he usually gets this year and he didn't turn them into as big of plays as he normally does.
Jed Collins: D (2.82) He had two catches for 4 yards and while one of them was just a 1 yarder, he hauled it in one handed going out of bounds. That was a crazy catch. He had another reception negated for offensive pass interference. In fact, this game will mostly remember Collins for his inability to help his team due to getting flagged too often. He had 3 penalties, which not only cost the team yards, but negated 30 yards the team had gained on those plays. Hands down his worst game of the season.
Marques Colston: A+ (3.15) Of the 7 times he was thrown to, he caught all 7, for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did a little bit of everything: gave Brees a safety valve underneath, stretched the defense downfield with big plays, blocked well, moved the chains... Another amazing performance by Colston who's quietly having a monster year. I'm sure he'll be snubbed from a Pro Bowl invite yet again this year, but he's as deserving as ever. The catch he made on the first touchdown was on a ball that was thrown high. I'm not sure how many receivers in this league are tall and long enough to make that reception look so easy.
Devery Henderson: B (2.36) He had 3 receptions but they were all huge. They converted 3rd and 4, 3rd and 9 and while the other came on first and 10, it was tied up with a defender and he did a good job to muscle the ball in to avoid an interception. He also had another reception that I thought was a catch, but it was ruled incomplete on a low throw and probably too close to challenge. 3 catches for 36 yards, good blocking, and a pretty good contribution. He's matured into a very reliable and sure handed possession receiver. Who would have thought that when he was in the league the first 3-4 years when he was nothing more than a burner who couldn't catch? His hard work and commitment to his craft deserve recognition.
Lance Moore: C- (2.92) He had 4 catches for 20 yards and a drop in the end zone that forced the Saints to settle for 3 points. At one point he seemed very willing to go out of bounds with about 5 minutes left in the game with the Saints trying to milk the clock. In fact, he was quick to go to the sidelines to avoid a hit all game long. I get it, he's small and needs to be careful, but have some clock awareness man. That's football 101.
Robert Meachem: C- (2.45) He was flagged once for holding on a play where I thought he threw a decent block, and he caught one pass for 15 yards. A slow afternoon.
Jimmy Graham: B (3.26) I want to give him an A+ for toughness and battling through back spasms, but at times I really questioned him being out there. He was clearly hampered by his ailments and slow to get off the line of scrimmage. He also struggled to leap and make the athletic plays like he normally does. He also had a horrible drop on a 3rd down play. Otherwise, he played the entire game and deserves credit for going out there and giving it his all. The timing wasn't great, but he did manage to finish with 5 catches for 55 yards. He had a close call on a pass in the end zone that easily could have been ruled a touchdown, but indeed it looked like his cleat literally touched a blade of white grass. It's amazing, this guy is so good he can be hampered like that and still go out and make a difference.
John Gilmore: B- (2.21) He caught us all off guard, and the Titans too, with his 9 yard reception. He blocked fairly well off the edge but did nothing special.
Jermon Bushrod: C- (2.72) His run blocking was poor, his pass blocking was passable, but he was flagged twice. Once for holding and once for illegal formation - both which were good calls. I've been praising him a lot lately but he didn't have a very good game. His hold negated a 21 yard pass to Sproles.
Carl Nicks: D+ (2.67) A nightmare game for the Saints' left guard. He gave up two sacks to rookie Karl Klug. The first was more of a coverage sack, but the second he was beaten like a drum and cast aside like a ragdoll. Klug got to Brees to end an important drive late in the game and force a punt. His run blocking was also nowhere near the usual push he gets. Could he be playing hurt?
Brian De La Puente: B- (2.64) He played hard and did a really good job in pass protection of keeping the pocket clean, but he got little push on running plays. He continues to have a completely acceptable season for a guy that was considered the #3 center coming into camp.
Jahri Evans: B (3.13) Nothing major but Evans was definitely the more reliable pass blocker. He moves well laterally and he was effective in getting the rushes to his side to the second level.
Zach Strief: B+ (2.92) Another impressive showing by Strief who is slowly coming into his own. His edge run blocking was powerful and mean. For me he was the Saints' best offensive lineman on the day. His pass blocking was also impeccable and while this isn't the biggest challenge he's ever faced he deserves credit for lining up some consistently solid performances in succession here. Strief has had a fantastic season overall that's seen him get rated as the 2nd best lineman after Jahri Evans by me.
Pat McQuistan: C (1.92) The Saints used him late to anchor the running game but he didn't give them much muscle off the edge like they had bargained for.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Marques Colston