Give the Saints offense credit, they at least cleaned up the two major things that plagued them a week ago. Staying committed to the run, which Pete Carmichael Jr. did even when it would have been easy to abandon it given the way the game was going, and limiting penalties (the Saints had two penalties all game, only one of which was offensive).
Unfortunately for the Saints, the offense still got inefficient play from their quarterback at least partly due to poor pass protection. The Saints were able to move the ball fairly well in this game, but cost the team with a couple major mistakes. Make the jump for the grades!
Drew Brees: C- (1.84) Brees is off to a bad start this season as he's really struggled so far. You can blame pass protection all you want, but if I were to pick one play by the offense that ultimately killed the team's chances, it was Brees' pick 6 with the team still up 7-0. That play was reminiscent of the Aaron Brooks era and the especially bad turnovers affectionately known as "brooksies". That mistake was shockingly out of character for Brees who took a big risk on a play that was going nowhere, just not smart. Brees also had an intentional grounding penalty, and he threw a pick to end the game by staring down Graham the whole way. He was also running for his life much of the game. He finished 31 of 49 for 325 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. He also scored a mostly meaningless touchdown late in the game "rushing" with his trademark "qb sneak dive", leaping and stretching his hands over the goal line. He wasn't clutch and he wasn't helped by dropped passes either.
Pierre Thomas: A+ (3.50) PT Cruiser receives the first A+ of the season for what was a truly memorable performance. For this to go to waste in a loss is a true injustice. Thomas' ability to absorb initial contact and dismiss it, continually, is like nothing I've seen. Thomas runs with the purpose and power of some of the game's very best. Perhaps lack of reps and injury history (to an extent) are what will hold him back from truly being a a great. The first tackler was never able to bring him down, and even when the outcome of the game was all but given, he was still out there giving more effort than anyone else on the field. He finished with 9 carries for 110 yards and 33 yards on 4 catches. That's right, 143 yards on 13 touches. For a running back. Unreal.
Darren Sproles: A- (3.34) Sproles was basically a slot receiver in this game. He took a real beating in game getting pummeled numerous times around the middle of the field and he kept getting up and helping the Saints' passing game immensely. Without him Brees would have been completely lost because the Saints' receivers couldn't get open. He finished with 13 catches for 128 yards. He showed very secure hands, blocked fairly well to help anemic protection, and stopped on a dime to make defenders miss with devastating cuts. The only negative if when a guy gets a finger on him, he's going down. He can make guys miss, but he can't break tackles. He also had a 16 yard punt return, a 14 yard punt return and a 38 yard kick return.
Mark Ingram: B- (2.50) His stats may not look great at just 3.3 yards per carry, but he got 53 tough yards on 16 carries. He may not have looked like Pierre Thomas, but he got tough yards in short yardage situations, including a goal line touchdown run. He was stopped near the line of scrimmage a couple of times, but he ran with good toughness and broke a handful of tackles.
Jed Collins: B (2.34) He was used more in the first half than the second, when the Saints used David Thomas and single back running formations more often. His run blocking overall was good, though, and my favorite play was a nice 8 yard run by Pierre Thomas inside the Panthers' 20 where Collins grabbed PT and shoved him forward for a few extra yards.
Jimmy Graham: C+ (2.83) If you look at his stats, 7 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown, you'd think he performed really well. But I thought Graham was a disappointment in this one. He wasn't much of a threat vertically and most of his action came under 10 yards. He dropped a possible touchdown pass and was careless bringing in at least a couple other balls. The guy has mad skills, no doubt, but does not always do the best job of focusing. For too long in this game he disappeared when the Saints seemed to need him most.
David Thomas: C (1.84) Did fine blocking and was of almost no use in the passing game.
Marques Colston: C (1.50) He was not a big help at all to a passing game that needed him badly. He didn't get any separation all day and whatever is wrong with him it's clearly affecting his performance. He finished with an all too quiet 3 catches for 49 yards. He was a non factor in the red zone and just looks shy playing out there. Known for his physicality, I felt he was pushed around along the line of scrimmage.
Lance Moore: D+ (2.50) He finished with with just 2 catches for 30 yards and was a complete non factor. He dropped what will go down as one of the easiest touchdown catches he'll ever see and it would force the Saints to eventually settle for a field goal. After an impressive performance last week, this was a major drop off.
Joe Morgan: D+ (0.67) Brees is not even interested in looking his way, for the most part, and with good reason. For being "hands down the best deep threat on the team" (Jeff Duncan, everyone) he never got free from coverage. Despite extended run he only had three targets. One was a horrendous throw by Brees, where Morgan, to his credit, outstretched his arms in a weird body position behind him to make a circus 5 yard reception. As nice as that was, he also dropped a pass down the seam which was a much easier catch and would have been a big gainer. His blocking was largely horrible and he's yet to show he belongs in the NFL. So that's cool, the Panthers caught more passes from Brees than the #3 receiver on the day.
Courtney Roby: B (3.67) Roby blocked well and showed good effort in little reps. He had one catch for 9 yards and showed good effort after the catch. He was also his usual self on special teams, always down the field first as a gunner and downing one punt inside the 5.
Jermon Bushrod: C (1.50) He was excellent in run blocking situations but struggled blocking off the edge. Granted he was better than when he faced Ryan Kerrigan a week ago, but he was responsible for Brees getting hit, hurried and rushed his fair share of times. A mixed bag from the Towson product that hasn't look anything like his Pro Bowl label.
Ben Grubbs: C+ (2.33) I don't know what it is about Grubbs, but his blocking assignment always seems to be the guy batting passes. With Brees' height (or lack thereof) it may be a need for him to get his hands up at a higher pad level on the guy he is blocking. Grubbs faced a lot of heat with interior pressure and had mixed results like Bushrod. He's been a pleasant surprise so far in the run game but so far it seems to be a significant drop from Carl Nicks. He does pulled nicely on screens.
Brian de la Puente: D+ (1.17) To me, through two games, he's been by far the biggest liability on the line. His pass protection in particular is responsible for allowing pressure to come up the middle. As much as he was a pleasant surprise a year ago, he's been a problem so far this season. Is it too late to bring Matt Tennant back, or is it time to start thinking about trying Eric Olsen? Back to back poor performances.
Jahri Evans: B- (2.34) He was the guy they ran behind, with success, when they needed that tough yard. He got decent push and he seemed to be the more reliable when Brees went back to pass. It wasn't a clinic by any means and he was responsible for pressure coming as well, but of the linemen he seemed the most solid.
Zach Strief: C- (2.00) A rough day for Strief in pass protection off the edge. On the big 4th down play the Saints went for, he was beat and was responsible for the ball being stripped from Brees. He was moving backwards for most of the game and wasn't able to really impose his physical stature.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Pierre Thomas