At 9-3 the Saints are now firmly in control of both the NFC South and the No. 3 seed in the conference, so now we can turn our focus to rooting against the 49ers and hoping for a chance at the two seed and a first round bye.
The offense against the Lions performed pretty well, but it did suffer a lull for the entire third quarter and parts of the fourth. When things really got tight, though, the Saints just turned to Jimmy Graham and that took care of securing the result.
Most importantly the offense once again did a terrific job of limiting turnovers and staying away from crucial mistakes. They didn't quite move the ball as they did against the Giants, and too often faced 3rd and long, but in the end 31 points was more than enough to get the 'W' against a very worthy opponent. Not facing Ndamukong Suh in this game was a blessing. On to the grades...Drew Brees: A (3.42) He finished 26 of 36 for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. The Lions did apply decent pressure on Brees, sacking him twice and knocking him down four times. He did throw a few passes in traffic that he was very fortunate to escape with no interceptions, and he had a borderline fumble before halftime on that final drive that wasn't called and he alertly snapped the ball quickly before it could go to booth review. Overall Brees played well and he did a good job of killing the game by finding Graham when the game mattered most. I don't like his jump lob pass on screens, sometimes I think he executes that poorly, but that's just nit-picking. The best part about Brees lately is he's not turning it over. If the Saints avoid turnovers they are virtually unbeatable. He continues to have arguably the best season of his career. We're all spoiled than in some ways we take him awesomeness for granted.
Mark Ingram: B- (2.57) He dropped a screen pass that was too high and he finished with 16 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown. He ran very well early and as the game progressed it got harder for him to get good yardage. I feel like the light is starting to come on for Ingram but he's still getting used to running in the NFL.
Pierre Thomas: B- (3.03) He had 2 catches for 11 yards and 2 rushes for 10 yards. He had 4 touches. I realize the guy is on a pitch count and he has been all season, but 4 touches is just absurd. Once again he did well with his reps, but how am I supposed to grade him when a good player like him has almost no role in the offense? Pierre Thomas getting 4 touches is shameful, really, and Sean Payton has to do a better job than that.
Darren Sproles: B (3.14) His return habits have been maddening as of late. He too often takes kicks out that are more than 5 yards deep and often barely gets back to the 20, if that. I wouldn't mind it if he broke one every once in a while, but that hasn't been happening. On offense he had 28 yards on 4 carries, 20 of it coming on a pitch sweep. He also had 5 receptions for 46 yards and an easy touchdown, including a crucial third down conversion and a big 22 yard reception that ultimately set up a touchdown.
Jed Collins: B- (2.97) Good blocking at times, other times not so much. His best block was on Ingram's first run where he sealed the edge to stop pursuit and open up a huge cut back lane. He continues to do a pretty good job.
Marques Colston: B+ (3.03) He finished with 6 catches for 54 yards and while he never made huge plays in this one he was constantly giving the Saints nice secure throws underneath. Many of Brees' passes to him were off target and either wide or low and Colston showed incredible and effortless hands and wingspan to make those passes seem routine. He was also called for an incredibly suspect holding call that negated a nice run by Ingram, but I didn't dock his grade there because watching the replay that flag was ridiculous.
Lance Moore: B (3.03) He had a bad drop after absorbing contact on his first reception attempt. He finished with just 2 catches for 23 yards, but both were huge. One was a short yardage conversion where he showed good body control to extend for the needed yardage, and one was an incredible catch where he got blown up in the end zone and held onto the ball for a touchdown. You'll notice through 12 games that he and Colston have the same GPA, so it'll be interesting to see how ends up the higher rated receiver for the season with 4 games left. He also drew a pass interference call with an awesome acting job.
Devery Henderson: C- (2.31) He was never targeted but he does deserve credit for drawing the defense deep with a number of seam routes and he blocked extremely well.
Robert Meachem: A (2.45) After being so quiet lately he finally exploded in this one. He finished with 3 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown which included a beautiful grab down the sideline for 38 yards and a 67 yard touchdown pass where he made Eric Wright look like an absolute fool. He was a willing blocker but he was fortunate not to get flagged for holding on Ingram's touchdown run. What I think Meachem deserves the most credit for is two passes where he turned into a defender. Twice on bad passes by Brees that should have been interceptions, he came back and found the ball to break up the pass. He also had a reverse were he broke a tackle in the open field and gained 8 yards.
Jimmy Graham: A- (3.28) He finished with 8 catches for 89 yards and as I mentioned above he completely took over the game at a critical time. He moved the chains that entire drive to set up the Sproles touchdown. His receiving ability is out of this world. The only negative I have was mediocre run blocking and a I think he does a very poor job of breaking tackles.
John Gilmore: C+ (2.17) His blocking seems to improve every game as he gets more comfortable with the offense but he continues to be a complete non factor in the passing game.
Jermon Bushrod: A (2.81) Facing a very tough assignment in blocking Kyle Vanden Bosch, he completely shut down the accomplished pass rusher. Vanden Bosch finished with 1 tackle and never so much as touched Brees. Bushrod did get some help with chips on occasion, but I thought this was his best game of the season. He continues to improve and I feel better than ever about having him blocking Brees' blind spot. His run blocking continues to improve, too.
Carl Nicks: C- (2.78) I thought he'd get a bit of a break with Suh out, but he had his hands full with rookie Nick Fairley. Before leaving the game with an injury, which is about when Nicks started playing better, Fairley wreaked havoc in the Saints backfield. While his Fairley's sack was more of a coverage sack, he also got solid penetration on numerous running plays and was able to push Nicks off the ball. Nicks was surprised by the talented rookie and this wasn't his best showing.
Brian de la Puente: B- (2.64) Another pretty solid game by de la Puente particularly pass blocking. He didn't get as much push up the middle as I'd like but he's been a great replacement overall for Kreutz. He did disrupt Brees' timing with one very low and poor snap out of the shotgun which resulted in Brees getting hit and almost throwing an interception.
Jahri Evans: B (3.14) Like Nicks he didn't get the push we're used to seeing but he made no mistakes and kept a very clean pocket on his side for Brees. He's having an excellent season. Sammie Hill is a very good defensive tackle and for the most part Evans kept him in check.
Zach Strief: B- (2.86) He got Brees hit a couple of times with suspect blocks off the edge but otherwise he had another pretty good game. His size is a nice addition to the team's physicality in the trenches and he's been a different player since coming back from his knee injury.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Drew Brees