The first half of the Saints 45-28 victory over the Lions was stressful but the offense flipped a switch in the second half which eventually led to a comfortable lead. Most impressive was five touchdowns on their five first drives of the second half which put the game out of reach.
The Saints put together an impressive combination of effective running, top shelf blocking and explosive passing. Quite simply, this is the best offense in NFL history, I'm going to come out and say it. The statistics already prove it, but they certainly pass the eye test as well. Anyone who thinks this offense will struggle against the 49ers outdoors needs to have their head examined and is clearly in denial.
Below are the grades and remember, the GPA's reset as I keep the regular season grades separate from the playoff grades.Drew Brees: A- (3.67) Looking at statistics alone: 34-43 for 466 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, plus that crucial 4th and 1 dive/stretch for the first down, and you would think Brees deserves an A+. Besides that lost fumble that wasn't really his fault, though, Brees' accuracy in the first half was sometimes not perfect and he threw a number of dangerous passes into coverage and he can thank the Lions' defensive backs for having hands like the Saints' DB's during the regular season. There were 2-3 clear interception drops and a few others that were borderline. Still, it's hard to criticize Brees when he had a largely excellent performance. Once again he led the troops to a 40+ output at home.
Darren Sproles: A- (3.67) His return output was average at best (27 yard average on kickoffs, 2 yard average on punts) but his contribution to the offense was critical. You can point to a number of crucial plays, but none was bigger than his 4th and 2 conversion on a sweep in traffic. For such a small player, his ability to run between the tackles is shocking as well. His ability to make himself small through the hole results in him avoiding tacklers. He finished with 10 carries for 51 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 4 catches for 34 yards. It's truly amazing he's performed this well all season so consistently. What a huge component to the offense.
Pierre Thomas: A+ (4.33) Late in the game I was thinking "the only thing missing from an A+ is a touchdown" and sure enough he got one moments later. Thomas' performance was in my opinion the best of his career. He was impossible to tackle and often gained at least 5 more yards when the play seemed dead to rights. He had 8 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown, as well as 6 catches for 55 yards. He turned a 3rd and 10 screen pass that should have gained no more than 4 yards into a first down by avoid a few tacklers with a nice juke, and then carrying three defenders to the sticks. I still think he could have seen more touches, but it was nice to see him getting more reps than he did on average in the regular season. He was not to be denied in this game.
Chris Ivory: B- (2.67) He didn't see as much time as he did against the Panthers due to PT's increased workload, but late in the game he saw some clock killing carries. He finished with 13 carries for 47 yards. For the most part he did a good job in short yardage situations especially, but he was stopped on a no gain on a 3rd and 1 run prior to Brees' super sneak. Overall I just didn't feel like he ran with the same purpose and conviction as last week. He did convert a 4th and 1 which was incredibly useful to preserving the lead.
Jed Collins: A (4.00) Statistically he had two receptions for 20 yards including a 15 yarder that picked up a big first down. Blocking wise he was excellent all day. His ability to open holes for his runners and make contact with an uncoming tackler has been a big addition to the running game this season.
Marques Colston: B+ (3.33) There's no question his impact on the game was huge, but a couple of mistakes almost cost the Saints dearly. He lost a fumble early and he had a touchdown reversed by not securing the ball as he went to the ground before halftime, which would ultimately force the Saints to settle for 4 points less before halftime which was the deficit (14-10). Still, he secured the football well besides those plays despite taking an absolute beating out there. He took some hard shots from Lions' DBs and kept coming back for more. He had 7 catches for 120 yards. He was as useful underneath as he was vertically.
Devery Henderson: B+ (3.00) He had 2 catches for 64 yards and a huge 41 yard touchdown reception. His catch on the TD was on the ball that got just beyond the fingertips of a defender and Devery made it look like a much easier catch than it was. He also had an end around in the red zone that went for 4 yards but might have scored if he had cut inside instead of going for the sideline. Also, I've said this before, but Devery is an excellent blocker.
Robert Meachem: A- (3.33) He had a criminal drop on a long ball that went right through his hands, but it's hard to criticize him when his contribution was 4 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. One out route in particular was an outstanding catch. He and Henderson did a great job stepping up in the absence of Lance Moore to make plays down the field.
Adrian Arrington: C (2.00) He didn't get to play much but he did contribute a reception for 7 yards on his lone target from Brees.
Jimmy Graham: B+ (3.33) The Lions keyed on Graham for large portions of the game and they did a good job slowing him down. On his touchdown, Brees caught the defense not set properly and he was able to catch a pass wide open and bring a tackler into the end zone. He finished with 7 catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. His one handed grab was sick, but it does worry me that he tries for the highlight reel grab a bit too often. One other time he tried that move on a play where I felt like he easily could have gotten two hands on the ball. He did a good job of staying relevant in the game despite all the attention and he's getting better as a blocker. He really helped out pass protection a lot with chips off the edge.
Michael Higgins: C- (1.67) He came in a good deal as a blocker, and he seemed ok at that task... but he's going to need to bulk up for sure in the offseason if he wants to be a tight end in the NFL. He's very light in the pads and he doesn't strike me as a real threat in the passing game. It'll be interesting to see how he develops, and he was definitely thrown into the fire being forced to play with the injuries to John Gilmore and David Thomas (earlier in the season). The Saints may want to pursue better depth next offseason behind Jimmy Graham. Anyway, Higgins' main play was a reception nullified by offsetting penalties with him guilty of offensive pass interference.
Jermon Bushrod: A- (3.67) Kyle Vanden Bosch was a very tough assignment but Bushrod got a lot of help from chips and double teams. Give credit to the design and scheme for helping Bushrod out, but give credit to him as a player too because he was able to keep Brees clean. Bushrod was solid off the edge helping sweeps and screen passes especially. His pass protection was overall excellent.
Carl Nicks: A (4.00) He was a mammoth inside. There were two times I noticed he struggled with Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, but for the most part he completely outplayed both players. The Lions rotated their DT's and the times he faced Sammie Hill he embarrassed him. His physical presence in run support was incredibly awesome. So many times you'd see him push the player he was engaged with 5 yards past the line of scrimmage. His strength is clearly superior to almost anyone he faces and he was playing pissed off. The Saints ran right at Suh many times to offset his attempts to get upfield and it worked to perfection.
Brian De La Puente: B+ (3.33) No question he benefits greatly from All-Pro's playing on either side of him, but he continues to play well. He showed effort and played reasonably well in all assignments. The challenge of facing that Lions' interior defense was significant, and he handled it.
Jahri Evans: B (3.00) My only gripe with Evans is twice I saw him not playing to the whistle where it looked like the play was over but Pierre kept fighting for more yards. Usually Evans is physical to the end of the play and is always game for getting one last extra push at the end of a play. Thomas' second/third and fourth effort was so good he actually caught Evans napping a could times. He struggled at times with his pass protection due to the fact that he was helping out Strief so much, but overall he was solid.
Zach Strief: C (2.00) By far the worst performer on the line in the game, but he still had good moments. He was involved in both sacks by Detroit, including the forced fumble of Brees where he was clearly responsible. Chris Collinsworth did say that was the first time Strief was pass blocking on his own without help and I'd like to correct that statement. Please don't buy anything that guys says, he's clearly clueless. Yes, Strief got a lot of chips and double team help throughout the game (as did Bushrod), but he was also left out on an island quite often. Clearly Collinsworth chose not to see that. For the most part he did well in pass protection save those two sacks, many times all on his own. In run blocking he was average.
Pat McQuistan: B+ (3.33) His size off the edge was crucial on both running and play action passing plays. With no real #2 tight end McQuistan got extended reps as the extra blocker and he helped the Saints with his size. This was a tough front four and he contributed a lot to blocking them very well.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Pierre Thomas