I will commend the Saints for carrying out the defensive gameplan. Perhaps you can't really blame the players for staying true to that gameplan. It was simple: stop the run and double team Calvin Johnson all game long. For the most part they did both. What was left, though, was boulevards for the Lions' other playmakers to run through.
The Saints took their chances playing man coverage and trusting their pass rush and neither delivered. The Lions took advantage from a yardage perspective mostly due to the Saints limitations in both areas. In the end, the team yielded 17 points to an elite offense, so maybe the gameplan worked.
Ultimately, I think the gameplan worked more because of the Lions killing themselves than the defense actually doing much positive. Right now the Saints can't generate a pass rush, they're mediocre at stopping the run when they apply themselves despite the mammoths they signed inside, they drop just about every opportunity to kill the other team's drive and they're underperforming in man coverage which is supposed to be their strong suit.
All of the negativity aside, I still believe in this defense. Sure, I'd prefer an elite pass rusher, better linebackers and a defensive back that can catch, but this unit has played well at times this season and with the best offense in the NFL they don't need to be the best defense, they just need to be pretty good. In this game, they just didn't live up to my somewhat limited expectations. On to the grades...Will Smith: C- (2.63) I have to say, Jeff Backus did a pretty good job against Smith overall. Smith held his ground fine against the run but he didn't do nearly well enough in pass rushing situations. I'm going to come out and say it: I think Will Smith is hurt and I think he's dealing with his hernia issues all over again. He looks slower to me and he looks like he's laboring in between plays. I hope I'm wrong but I'm just not seeing the same explosiveness we enjoyed earlier in the season when losing all that weight seemed to make such a difference. He finished with 1 tackle and his performance in recent weeks hasn't been helped by all the attention he gets.
Cameron Jordan: D- (2.22) Very poor game by the Saints' rookie. He couldn't getting any pressure on the passer, per usual, but he also struggled against the run. A few times he over-pursued the edge and left a big lane for nice gains. His worst play was the personal foul right after a sack where he drove an already sacked Matt Stafford to the ground. That play negated what would have been a 4th and 41 and instead gave the Lions' a first down. Beyond stupid. He had no tackles.
Junior Galette: A- (2.26) By far his best performance of the season. He did a nice job getting edge pressure and he terrific against the run, his supposed weakness. I've never seen him absorb blocks, run laterally and neutralize the line of scrimmage like that. I always knew he could get around his blocker and get upfield quickly, but he's turning a corner with this performance. How he played against the run was most shocking. If I'm Coach Payton, Galette gets rewarded with a start immediately based on this performance. He had 5 tackles and a sack.
Jeff Charleston: C- (2.06) He had no tackles but played the run tough. At this point he's nothing more than a good for giving the guys ahead of him a short breather.
Sedrick Ellis: A- (2.25) Consider how his 5 tackles panned out in this game: a 3 yard run, a 2 yard run, no gain run, 2 yard run, 3 yard run. He was clearly focused, getting penetration, and playing with passion in the trenches. He controlled the line of scrimmage and made a ton of plays thanks to the openings Franklin created for him. Excellent game. The only negative was his lack of interior pressure on 3rd and long.
Aubrayo Franklin: B+ (2.28) He had an impressive tackle demolishing Maurice Morris in the backfield for a two yard loss. Beyond that, he did a great job pushing the interior and forcing runs outside. This is what they signed this guy for. I'm hoping he can close out the season like this and continue to control the pile. The Lions' rushing attack is poor, so let's see how he does next week against the Titans.
Shaun Rogers: C (2.09) He didn't play much and he didn't have much notable, but he did a good job in pass pursuit once and laid the kind of remember me hit on Stafford that will have him sore for weeks. After that, insult to injury, he picked up Stafford by the collar like a ragdoll to help him up. Too funny. My ribs hurt just watching that.
Tom Johnson: D (2.34) He played a number of snaps but the run defense was poorest when he was in. He didn't do a good job on the interior and the vast majority of the plays saw the back of his jersey running behind the ballcarrier. He's usually more reliable in less reps than the starters in the middle, but he didn't come to play in this one getting knocked off the ball routinely.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: D (2.70) A horrible showing for Dunbar. He was blown off the ball, he covered poorly and he was especially bad in play recognition. Once it was clear the Lions were going to pass often, that's when Dunbar was taken out of the game because his ability to play the pass isn't great. He bit on play action and didn't find the ball. He had one tackle. Maybe it was tough moving out of the middle linebacker position but it was a high drop from his defensive player of the game performance a week ago.
Jonathan Vilma: A- (2.67) He led the team with 10 tackles and was fantastic in run help. Early in the game he absorbed blocks like the Vilma of old and was running like a gazelle. Then, he got chop blocked on his injured knee and he started to limp around and look a little slower out there. He still did a good job dropping into coverage and while he was slow to a couple plays as the game went on that was to be expected. How he recovers from this game to perform in the next one will be the big question. I thought overall he was very solid in play recognition and he looked strong out there. The big negative was the dropped interception that would have been a sure 6. He's got to come up with that ball, no excuses.
Jonathan Casillas: C- (2.50) He didn't bring much in his usual way of blitzing and his coverage was not good. Most of his 5 tackles were bringing down running backs after they made catches underneath and run well beyond the line of scrimmage, and his tackle total would have been higher if he didn't miss a few. Not too impressive.
Scott Shanle: B- (2.36) Most of his 6 tackles were helping his teammates in gang tackle situations. He respected his assignments but didn't accomplish much earth shattering. He did have a beautiful sack on a delayed blitz where he avoided his blocker and shot out of a canon straight to Stafford for the tackle.
Ramon Humber: A- (2.84) What an excellent showing by the Saints' reserve. I'm wondering if this showing is going to get him more reps. He had 5 tackles and was excellent against the run. He had a sack, had a huge pass breakup at the line of scrimmage tipping a pass on a crucial stop. He was good on special team too.
Jabari Greer: B- (2.72) He tackled well and came up on plays ahead of him physically. He was hit or miss in coverage but he was primarily responsible, with tons of safety help, for covering Calvin Johnson. Limiting him to 6 catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns is a decent showing. He did allow a pass to get over his head because he played it poorly by backpedaling and allowing the ball to get over his outstretched hands but overall he played hard. He had 6 tackles including one for a loss.
Tracy Porter: C- (2.37) I had him rated at D- until the interception, so that definitely boosts his grade a bit. I gave him a higher grade by a full letter and that was probably way too generous, but I was just so giddy someone actually held on to get an interception. Beyond that big play which ended the game, his play was bad. He was repeatedly beat. He had 7 tackles but was victimized all too often in single coverage which was really disappointing to see.
Patrick Robinson: C+ (2.51) He allowed his man to run down the sideline before halftime, which was criminal, but he also didn't get safety help from Jenkins. Then, he made one of the sickest plays of the season by racing to Jason Hanson and getting a full extension block to preserve the Saints' three score halftime lead. He finished with 3 tackles and a defended pass. Of the Saints' cornerbacks he had times where he looked like the best one out there, and other times where he looked terrible. Overall, though, you can't discount the massive play he made before halftime that kept momentum squarely with his team.
Malcolm Jenkins: C (2.28) By far his best play was a massive bone crushing hit on tight end Brandon Pettigrew to break up a pass. I thought Jenkins was better at play recognition in this game than he's been all season. Unfortunately, while he found his way to the ball many times he never really made a play. He did finished with 7 tackles and a defended pass, and he was physical, but he dropped two easy interceptions (granted one would have been erased by a blatant Tracy Porter penalty anyway). Still, it's encouraging that he's finally finding his way to the ball quicker. He also did a poor job at times giving his teammates help over the top. A very up and down game.
Roman Harper: C- (2.22) His best play was a spin more at the line of scrimmage where he absorbed the block of a 300 pound lineman to meet Kevin Smith and bring him down for no gain, showing tremendous strength. Otherwise, he was victimized by Tony Scheffler, a mediocre tight end, on a crucial 3rd down in single coverage and he was good for yet another token personal foul late hit out of bounds. He had 4 tackles and 2 pass breakups.
John Kasay: A (3.17) No complaints. He made his lone field goal from 39 yards out and he made all four extra points.
Thomas Morstead: B (3.42) His net average was a pretty good 41.5 and his gross was 44.8 on 4 punts with two inside the 20. He did outkick his coverage once but was fortunate a big return got called back by a hold. His kickoffs weren't as good as previous games, but overall he did his usual solid job.
Will Herring: B+ (2.40) He had one tackle on special teams but contributed once again. He also BLEW UP Stefan Logan with a vicious hit. Now that he's healthy he's out there helping the team which is great to see.
Korey Hall: A (3.22) He had two tackles on special teams and was physical blocking on wedge returns. This guy is REALLY good on special teams. I understand why the Saints kept two fullbacks and it's because Korey Hall helps them in other areas.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Jonathan Vilma
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Korey Hall