New Orleans Saints Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades vs. Falcons

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 26: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons fumbles the ball after catching a pass against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 26, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Falcons 45-16. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

I'm starting to come to terms with this Saints defense. Once again they did a tremendous job against the run and I'm starting to become a believer that the interior is meshing well together. Stopping the run the last few weeks has come at the expense of giving up some massive passing yardage, but that tactic hasn't been yielding a ton of points given up...so I'll buy into it.

The Saints, by the way, have now skyrocketed to 10th in the NFL against the run based on their recent success, though their pass defense is a woeful 30th. Teams right now are moving the ball at will on the Saints in between the 20's, but they are stalling in the red zone and the most impressive part is that they are having a really hard time converting 3rd and shorts.

Falcons vs Saints coverage

Falcons vs Saints recap

Falcons vs Saints boxscore

Once again the Saints' D was terrific on 3rd down. I don't know if you noticed, but despite having a bruising back like Michael Turner, the Falcons ran play action or a shotgun pass almost every single time in that game on 3rd and short. I was shocked. Clearly that 4th and 1 stop from the last matchup was still in Mike Smith's head and he got gun shy. The play action, by the way, didn't work at all, and the Falcons were 0-3 on 4th down attempts on the night.

Lost in the mix of Drew Brees' NFL passing yards record were huge nights by both Julio Jones and Roddy White, who gained yards in bunches against the Saints often soft pass defense. The Saints applied decent pressure at times, but credit Matt Ryan for having too quick of a release. As decent as their line is, Ryan is just a really tough guy to sack, like Brees, because he gets the ball out in a hurry.

The Saints added to what is undoubtedly another NFL record, by the way, with what I counted as at least five more dropped interceptions in this once. Once Chris Redman came in for Ryan it just started to get ridiculous. I have never seen a group so incapable of catching a pass. Yet the poor pash rush, countless dropped interceptions and the 434 passing yards yielded added up to just 16 points. Go figure. How this defense continues to keep opposing point totals so low will be the biggest secret of them all.

On to the grades...

Will Smith: B- (2.72) He was very solid using leverage against the run but he was never able to disrupt Matt Ryan's timing much because of his quick release. He had one QB knockdown but was mostly a non factor in pass rushing situations and finished with 3 tackles. He was stout against the run and showed good effort in pursuit. He was also robbed of a sack when Matt Ryan threw the ball away for grounding.

Junior Galette: B- (2.42) He was rewarded with a start based on his good play lately and I think it was well deserved. At one point, he hit Ryan as he was throwing on just a 3 man rush where despite the numbers not being in the Saints' favor he was able to beat the right tackle around the edge and make a play to cause an incompletion. Most notable once again is his continued improvement against the run and he's becoming a more complete player. He finished with 2 tackles and 2 qb knockdowns.

Cameron Jordan: C+ (2.22) He had 2 tackles and defended a pass on a tip. He was being used as a defensive tackle a bit in pass rushing situations on 3rd and long which I found interesting. Per usual, he was mostly neutralized on pass rushing downs, but he gave the Saints a strong able body against the run.

Jeff Charleston: C- (2.15) Despite a good amount of playing time he recorded no statistic. I'd love to see the Saints keep the Smith-Galette-Jordan rotation but add a speed rushing specialist to that mix next season and maybe move Charleston down the depth chart. He gives effort but from an ability standpoint he's clearly not as capable as the other ends the Saints have.

Sedrick Ellis: B+ (2.38) For an injured player and a big man, he ran sideline to sideline very well. I was impressed with his pressure inside the pocket which forced Ryan to scramble a couple of times, and his run support was outstanding. He had a QB knockdown and 3 tackles and he helped a great deal against the load that is Michael Turner.

Aubrayo Franklin: B+ (2.40) His interior presence was very evident and he completely neutralized the middle. An outstanding game from Franklin and he made it clear why the Saints found him valuable this offseason. He played an instrumental role in setting up tacklers to finish off Turner, and he re-directed his runs by plugging up holes which ultimately led to short yardage on runs. Statistically he just had two tackles but make no mistake, he played well.

Shaun Rogers: B+ (2.25) He also had two tackles and a QB knockdown, and he obliterated Michael Turner on one run like few I've seen do before, if ever. He's playing with a mean streak right now and clearly he's getting more motivation from the high stakes he's not used to seeing playing for a good team.

Tom Johnson: D (2.27) His lone stat was a 15 yard penalty.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar: C (2.55) Dunbar dropped an interception off his fingertips late from Chris Redman to cap off the night of numerous drops by the D. Surprisingly, though, despite being a weakness I thought he fared ok dropping in coverage. His tackling wasn't as impressive as usual but he was flying around and active. He had 4 tackles and two defended passes. Most of his plays were downfield, though, and never around the line of scrimmage.

Jonathan Vilma: B- (2.55) He did finish with 7 tackles and competed hard, but clearly he's just not 100% out there. The Saints need him for playcalling and leadership, but he just looks slow to the play, which causes him to miss tackles at times. Like Dunbar, most of his plays came well past the line of scrimmage. Give him credit, though, the effort is definitely there, and he knows the defense and his assignment so well that for the most part he's able to get away with not being right.

Scott Shanle: A- (2.40) One of the better games of the year for Shanle. He did a good job in run support, he was pretty good in pass coverage despite drawing the Tony Gonzalez assignment often times. He did a nice job at one point breaking up a would be touchdown pass down the seam. His biggest play by far was the ball he jarred loose from Julio Jones which was scooped up and led to the Saints' lone turnover. That play went for a touchdown and sealed the Falcons' fate. Nice to see someone on this defense create a play. He had 7 tackles, that forced fumble, and that defended pass.

Ramon Humber: B (2.67) He played a good bit especially in pass coverage and he did a fairly good job underneath. His best play was a blitz where he drew a holding penalty to negate a first down and force a 3rd and long instead. He finished with 4 tackles.

Jabari Greer: A- (2.82) The only thing missing was an interception. He led the team with 10 tackles and for a little guy he did a fantastic job coming up at the line of scrimmage and tackling. He was run over by Turner once, but his help bringing him down at times around the line of scrimmage was excellent. Anytime he was tackling anyone else his physicality was way beyond his size. He was disruptive in passing situations and while he did give up some passing plays, he was never beat badly and he did a good job contesting numerous throws that came his way. A gritty performance. He also had a tackle for a loss and a defended pass. So many times he'd allow short passes underneath only to come up and make a perfectly clean open field tackle to make sure the play went nowhere. He's got the best GPA on defense so he's running away with defensive MVP for me now and created more separation after this game.

Patrick Robinson: B (2.67) He was victimized a couple of times but for the most part he did ok in coverage. He also, like Greer, did a fantastic job in run support and came up to make tackles a couple of times. He's firmly entrenched ahead of Porter at this point as the starter and with good reason. He had four tackles and a defended pass, but he kind of disappeared towards the tail end of the game. I must have missed it. Did he get hurt?

Tracy Porter: C (2.39) His coverage skills have been struggling for a while and he gave up some plays. He finished with 2 tackles and 2 "defended pass", one of his was a horrible drop on an easy interception. Come on man, you have got to catch that. It hasn't been a good season for Tracy Porter.

Johnny Patrick: B- (2.50) He came in late and I thought overall he did a decent job in both coverage and tackling. I'm not sure why he's playing over Leigh Torrence right now, who was inactive, but I assume the staff likes his special teams play better? He had 2 tackles.

Malcolm Jenkins: B+ (2.40) Jenkins played very deep in this game with most players in the box, so it was clear his job was to leave the intermediate throws underneath to zone coverage and just make sure he didn't give up the huge play. For the most part he did that. He did not record a tackle but he registered 2 defended passes. The first was a HUGE hit on 3rd and short against Reggie Kelly were he practically broke the tight end in half. That was a big play for the Saints to get them off the field defensively. I did notice one thing in this game: he's not the ballhawk we once hoped he'd be. Perhaps this explains his lack of interceptions: he doesn't look for the ball and try to make a play on it all too often. Instead, he goes for the big hit. That's the major difference between him and Darren Sharper. A couple of times I saw long throws where he could have ranged to the ball if he had tracked it, but he kept his eyes firmly on the receiver in an attempt to go for the knock out blow. That doesn't mean he's not good at what he does, but it made me realize he'll probably never be the player we hoped he would be in terms of playmaking. He's more like Roman Harper as a free safety, and less like Darren Sharper. He also had an unforgivable drop, of course yet again, that went right through his hands before halftime. His grade does get a well deserved boost for his 30 yard fumble return for a touchdown which put the game clearly out of reach and cemented the win.

Roman Harper: C- (2.27) He had 5 tackles and a qb knockdown. It wasn't a very good day for Harper, though, as the lion share of his contribution was Matt Ryan finding him wherever he was in coverage and victimizing him on third down. Definitely not the first time that's happened.

Isa Abdul-Quddus: C (2.29) Fantastic special teams player. Defensive back? Not so much. He had 4 tackles.

Jonathon Amaya: B- (2.47) He had 3 tackles late and seemed to have good control of the back end and he came up to make some sound and physical hits.

John Kasay: B+ (3.11) He did what he needed to do, making all six extra points and a chip shot 29 yard field goal.

Thomas Morstead: A+ (3.51) Believe it or not he's tied with Drew Brees after this game with the best GPA on the entire team. I hear most of you saying/thinking "that's ridiculous", and obviously a punter giving a 3.51 consistent type performance helps less than a QB giving the same output, but while Morstead's craft may be less instrumental... that's how good he's been at it this year. He's been as good punting as Brees has been throwing, and that's really saying something. I don't know what Morstead ate before the game but his kickoffs were going out of the end zone every single time. His leg strength seems to be getting better at the end of the season. He also averaged 52 yards in two punts, neither of which was returned. How a punter can kick the ball high enough on a 59 yard punt to force a fair catch is frankly shocking. Legatron/The Leg/whatever other ridiculous nicknames were have concocted for him this season is a beast. He probably won't go to the Pro Bowl this season due to lack of exposure and that will be one of the most criminal things I will witness in football.

My Defensive Player of the Game: Jabari Greer

My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead

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