Saints vs. Cardinals 2013 Player Grades: Offense

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Quite a strange performance by the offense in this one, which turned in negative yards rushing in the first half before finishing with 104 yards on 24 carries thanks to finding some running lanes late. Luckily the passing attack was mostly effective despite Brees being under constant duress. It was clear the only way to move the ball was going to be to spread things out. I will say, the way things played out in the first half is completely unsustainable long term. Yes the defense is playing out of their minds but it won't be like this every single week, and if the offense is going to be able to carry the team one of these weeks more balance is a must. That, and Brees can't repeatedly take this many blows each week and stay healthy. On to the grades...

Drew Brees: A- in game (2.78 for season) You may think this grade is too high but I really thought Brees was exceptional in this game considering he had almost no help. His pass protection was atrocious, he was constantly getting hit/hurried and he had the help of NEGATIVE YARDAGE for an entire half in the run game. When he knelt at half for -1 yards he became the team's leading rusher on the day. By the way that only made pass protection more difficult because the Cardinals knew the Saints were throwing every play. Brees was 29 of 46 for 342 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception. He also almost got intercepted the exact same way he did twice last week by hitting a Karlos Dansby that dropped into coverage in the hands. Fortunately the linebacker couldn't come up with that one. But the interception by the Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu) and the almost pick there were his only two poor decisions all day. He also astutely ran the ball, 6 times for 21 yards and a touchdown. He did a fantastic job getting the ball out with the fastest release maybe ever from him, he moved well to avoid more sacks and he looked fast scrambling. A masterful performance to carry an offense that was falling apart around him. Honestly, with the way this offensive line performed in this game (especially early), I'm not sure there's another quarterback in league history that puts up better numbers in this game. He was that good.

Pierre Thomas: C (2.56) He made it respectable with 11 carries for 28 yards but the first half was an epic disaster where he had absolutely nowhere to go. Not really his fault and he gave his trademark effort; it just wasn't happening on the ground. He was a secure safety valve with good hands, though, giving Brees 6 catches for 39 yards.

Darren Sproles: B+ (3.00) First off I want to point out how needed and valuable his punt returns were. Finally the Saints got something going in the return game and it gave the offense terrific field position. We also probably take for granted how secure he is with fair catches, but it's just not even a question he's going to field each punt safely. He had 3 returns for 53 yards (17.7 average). He also ran 3 times for 17 yards, which included a team's season long 15 yard run at the time (before Robinson would top it later) and a key 3rd and short conversion. He also had 4 catches for 39 yards.

Khiry Robinson: B+ (3.33) He had the advantage of coming in with fresh legs when the Cardinals were down, out and physically spent. That was a nice way to pad his first NFL stats, but hey, he still looked great and it's worth something. After this performance I was definitely curious to see more. Hopefully Mark Ingram stays inactive, or gets traded, next week. He had 4 carries for 38 yards, leading the team in rushing, including a team season long 21 yard run.

Jed Collins: B- (2.00) It definitely wasn't his fault the run game didn't get going, mostly guilty by association, and he threw some great lead blocks for the team in the second half when the running game started to work. He also had a 5 yard reception.

Marques Colston: B (2.89) This was a vintage Colston chain moving performance. He didn't come up with the big touchdown or a huge play downfield, but he consistently came up with tough and very necessary yards. He had 5 catches for 71 yards and could have had a touchdown on the honey badger INT if Brees had looked his way.

Lance Moore: C- (1.67) I hate to be harsh with Moore but he's really become an afterthought. I said this last week and I'll say it again, he's disappeared in Devery Henderson like fashion in this offense. He is out there and he runs routes, but Brees is just not throwing it to him. In his defense he should have had a second reception on that flip where Brees was called "sacked" because he was "in grasp". What a terrible call that was. He had 1 catch for 6 yards but also had a bad drop on a deep throw. He left the game with an apparent injury late. What a miserable season it's been for him so far. The interception was also a deep ball to him that he was just a bit short for. He did draw a pass interference on Mathieu on 3rd down to convert a first down deep in Cardinals' territory.

Robert Meachem: B (2.17) Welcome back Meach! I wasn't sure he still had it in him, but a nice fake that drew (pun) in defenders left Meachem one on one with a defender and he blew past him for the 27 yard touchdown reception. He had two catches for 34 yards, but a nice tribute to the past to see him score. Still kind of surreal he's on the team making plays again.

Kenny Stills: C- (2.44) He was targeted twice but had no receptions. He stretched the field a good bit but it didn't amount to much. He did have a catchable low throw over the middle of the field he wasn't able to bring in. Mostly a decoy in this game, as Brees had nowhere near enough time to take shots downfield.

Jimmy Graham: A- (3.45) Statistically he was once again out of this world. 9 catches for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns. He often embarrassed Yeremiah Bell and Mathieu who were left in single coverage on him. What's scary is how much better he could have been. He had a couple drops and seemed to play a little scared to get hit. I'm not sure if he was hurting or what but he showed alligator arms and prematurely bracing himself for hits on occasion. But yeah, whatever, he's obviously insanely good when he can put together a stat line like that and still have a performance viewed as perfectible.

Benjamin Watson: C (2.11) Through three weeks he's been used a lot less in the offense than I would have expected. He had a nifty 14 yard reception early showing nice wheels after the catch, but he was a little short going for another ball by Brees down the middle. He was also smoked in pass protection by Sam Acho and gave up a sack.

Charles Brown: C+ (1.78) He had a holding penalty declined. He threw one nice pull edge block for Thomas, but otherwise he didn't offer much in run support. That said, the Saints ran much more often to the right side. In pass protection he held his own. Neither good nor horrible, and he benefited from Brees' footwork.

Ben Grubbs: C- (1.67) For the third straight week it was a very underwhelming performance by Grubbs. He's doing a mediocre job in pass protection and he's not getting any push in the trenches. It can only get better, right?

Brian de la Puente: B (2.11) A clean game from the Saints' center that did a good job in pass protection giving Brees a clean pocket to step into, especially in the second half. Like the rest of the line he didn't get anything going on the ground, but he was by far the most solid interior player.

Tim Lelito: D (1.00) The undrafted rookie got schooled in his first start. I'm not sure why the Saints ran behind him when they wanted to get the ground game going, but that backfired badly. If there was any question on how valuable Jahri Evans is to this team, Lelito's performance should put that to rest. Interestingly, Evans was active and dressed for this game but did not play. I assume he was available if someone got hurt but the Saints really preferred not to use him. Because they are so thin at backup guard, Evans was around just in case. Lelito gave up three sacks to Darnell Dockett, and while one was a coverage sack, two others he was beaten badly. Evans can't come back fast enough.

Zach Strief: B+ (2.66) He continues to be, by far, the best offensive lineman on the team from a performance standpoint. He was beaten once around the edge but otherwise he was extremely steady and strong in pass protection. He had by far the best run block of the day on the Sproles edge 15 yard scamper. Sean Payton talked about what a difference him showing up in better shape has made. As bad as the o-line has been, he's been pretty solid.

Bryce Harris: C+ (2.00) He came in late to give the running game a little juice and he provided nice edge blocking. I wish we saw him more in the jumbo run formation.

***

My Offensive Player of the Game: Drew Brees

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