Saints vs. Cardinals 2013 Player Grades: Defense and Special Teams

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Seriously, how is it possible that this defense is so much better now? What a difference a year makes. The Saints told us that Steve Spagnuolo was the lone problem, and I was skeptical. But how can I not drink the Kool-Aid now after three straight games of giving up less than 20 points? I'm not ready to say this defense is "good". But at this point I'd settle for vastly improved and that is without question the case. The pass rush is immeasurably better, and the run defense is better than the numbers suggest. Yet another outstanding performance, arguably their best yet for Rob Ryan. And to think they gave up 80 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive before shutting out the Cardinals the rest of the way. On to the games...

Cam Jordan: A (3.22) I saw this somewhere on twitter, and I can't remember where so apologies in advance, someone suggested that Cam Jordan might be the best player on the team now. That might not be that far from the truth. Jordan continues to play at a very high level. I underestimated how far he could come by improving and being moved to a 3-4. In a 4-3 he was asked to be an edge rusher exclusively on passing down, but in a 3-4 he's able to use technique and strength more to take a shorter route to the quarterback. That, and he continues to be awesome playing the run. Jordan is a complete player and he had yet another great game. He had 4 tackles and 2 sacks.

Akiem Hicks: C+ (2.55) A quiet day for Hicks, who finished with 1 tackle. He had some pressure and held his blocks well but he didn't have the kind of impact that some other players did. Still, he's a valuable part of the lineup with his rare combination of size, speed and strength.

John Jenkins: B+ (3.00) Another game where he moved laterally with incredible agility and he continued to control the line of scrimmage with his size. What a fantastic draft pick this guy has been. He had two tackles and it all started up front with him.

Tyrunn Walker: B+ (3.00) He had no official stat, and I'm a bit surprised by that because he combined with Foster on the sack finishing it high. Regardless of his stat line, he was a pestering menace to the Cardinals' pass protection all game long. He and Foster came in mostly on passing downs to provide a pass rush and spell the three starters. In my opinion, their return from injury was a huge x factor in the game. It made the starters more effective by giving them rest, and the team still got equal value with the replacements in the game. Walker continually beat his man at will and while he didn't finish plays he was constantly causing disruption and helping guys around him make plays.

Glenn Foster: B (3.00) He wasn't as consistently impressive like Walker but his pass rushing was a sorely needed wrinkle to this defense that makes it even more talented. He got his first career sack. What potential this guy has. Welcome to the big leagues buddy.

Parys Haralson: C- (2.56) Playing mostly on running downs, he was at times left blitzing after a play action would happen. On those rushes he was neutralized often. He didn't make much of an impact against the run, either.

Junior Galette: B+ (3.00) A dominant pass rushing performance, where he beat Levi Brown like a drum often. He was incredibly disruptive in the backfield and in Carson Palmer's face. He was shoved aside at times against the run, most significantly on the 21 yarder by Alfonso Smith. He did make a nice tackle in open space at one point, though. He had 3 tackles and a sack, and was in Palmer's face often (3 knockdowns).

Martez Wilson: C+ (2.33) He was mauled on a running play, was a mixed bag on special teams, but had a nice pass rush where he recovered from a play action fake to smoke Levi Brown and get in Carson Palmer's face to force an incompletion. He doesn't seem as comfortable in this scheme as Galette.

Curtis Lofton: B+ (3.11) He was a mixed bag in coverage, at times getting victimized, but he did a nice job breaking up a couple other throws. Against the run he was all over the field, per usual. He led the team with 8 tackles. He was flagged once for pass interference on a short throw near the end zone. His ability to find the ball and bring down the ball carrier in traffic is a massive asset to this defense.

David Hawthorne: C+ (2.89) A quiet game for him. Just two tackles and not much to report. He absorbed contact fairly well.

Keenan Lewis: A- (2.78) By far his best game as a Saint. Even when he was beat the coverage was tight and he was in the right place every time. He made Palmer earn his throws. He had 3 tackles, 2 breakups and his first career interception with the Saints on a deep ball. Palmer went after him deep a few times to no avail. He had a nice return on the pick of 20 yards.

Jabari Greer: B- (2.56) He was roasted on a fade to Andre Roberts in the end zone that was fortunately overthrown and Roberts wasn't able to bring it in. Not that it mattered, the Cardinals would score anyway. Greer was up and down in this game but was physical and tackled well. He tackled Larry Fitzgerald for a 1 yard play and he made a fantastic tackle on Patrick Peterson behind the line of scrimmage on screen. He had 5 tackles.

Chris Carr: C (2.00) He was beaten on a couple throws and otherwise played a good bit and was decent in coverage. He had one tackle.

Kenny Vaccaro: A- (3.00) This might have been his coming out party. Yes he had times where he struggled to stay with Fitzgerald or he over-pursued on a running play, but he was all over the field being physical. He takes good angles to the football and he tackles well. He also made a fantastic tackle short of the 1st down on Stepfan Taylor. He also helped against the run. He had 7 tackles and his first career interception which he returned for 29 yards. He's proving to be a terrific draft pick.

Malcolm Jenkins: C (2.78) He had a bad offsides penalty and a block above the waist on special teams. He had 3 tackles and a nice defended pass. He did a decent job in coverage. As the last line of defense he was quiet.

Rafael Bush: C (2.22) He was around the football only on big gains, it seemed like. He was decent in coverage and in help but didn't have great jumps on the ball or anything. Didn't really help much against the run. He had 2 tackles.

***

Garrett Hartley: B+ (3.55) He holds the team's second best GPA currently behind Morstead, and it's deserved based on how solid he's been. By the way, Jimmy Graham (3), Jordan (4) and Roman Harper (5) round out the top 5. He was perfect on all four extra points and his lone 31 yard field goal attempt.

Thomas Morstead: B (3.67) Statistically he did well. 4 punts for an average of 49.5 which netted at 45.75. That's outstanding numbers. But he had a punt off the side of his foot that went out of bounds short and he didn't get the same length on his kickoffs which led to one big return. Kudos for the 58 yard boomer from deep in Saints' territory, though.

Travaris Cadet: C- (1.67) He negated a sweet 18 yard punt return by Darren Sproles with a blatant block in the back, and on the big kick return by Javier Arenas, Sean Payton went nuts on him directly after the play on the sidelines. I couldn't tell what he did wrong watching it over but obviously he didn't carry out his assignment. He did make up for that slightly with a beautiful open field diving tackle inside the 20 next time down.

Kevin Reddick: B+ (3.00) He had two tackles continuing his good coverage and a forced fumble of Peterson that was recovered by Arizona.

Corey White: B- (2.78) Also did well in coverage and had a tackle.

***

My Defensive Player of the Game: Cam Jordan

My Special Teams Player of the Game: Kevin Reddick

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