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New Orleans Saints' Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades vs. Cardinals

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Below are the player grades for defense and special teams. It was a tougher game to grade than most because the Cardinals only ran the ball 15 times.

Cardinals vs Saints coverage

Cardinals vs Saints recap

Cardinals vs Saints boxscore

Will Smith: B (2.80) Smith showed heart and effort as always. Even last year when his performance was stunted by a hernia, one thing you could never deny with Smith was that the effort is there. Smith was somewhat neutralized on passing downs, and while he got in Kurt Warner's face on occasion, he wasn't the constant menace he's been at times this season. Against the run, as will be the theme throughout this grading, there wasn't enough of a sample size to really identify how he performed. He was most effective getting his hands up on passing players and disrupting Warner's timing. If you watch Warner's arm angle, he actually throws the ball almost sidearm and when defensive linemen get their hands up there's a number of opportunities to bat passes. Smith was able to do that twice, and one of them resulted in an interception that killed the game. Smith showed great hands to bring that one in, and he ended with one tackle.

Bobby McCray: B- (2.08) McCray's play will be most remembered for the devastating hit that he put on Kurt Warner following Will Smith's interception. That hit was as vicious as any I've seen put on a quarterback this season, and Warner left the game woozy and when he returned he wasn't the same. I never root for a player to get injured, and I hated to see Warner get hurt because I think he's a class act and a heck of a football player, but I'll say right now that I'm all for McCray to put a hit like that on Brett Favre next week. Otherwise, McCray was mostly quiet in pass rushing situations, his supposed specialty. The opening run of the game by Tim Hightower was a counter run right at McCray, and he was pushed completely out of the play. He stands his ground on that play and there's no touchdown. Not that he's the only one responsible for the breakdown, but he certainly contributed to it. As hard as I am on Charles Grant, I wonder if that play would've been as successful with him in the game. Regardless, McCray actually cleaned up his run defense from there. Unlike Grant, he did a good job of keeping containment when necessary, and and keeping pursuit when possible. He finished with 2 tackles, including one that was a nice pursuit play from behind. Oh, and as for Jeff Duncan calling that hit on Warner a "bordeline cheap shot", get over it dude. Do you want the quarterbacks to start wearing skirts? It was a clean block, and Warner was trying to make a tackle after a pick. There was nothing cheap about it.

Anthony Hargrove: B- (2.38) Just one tackle for Hargrove today, for a loss on a running play, but he did a decent job of keeping pressure up the middle. I was disappointed to see that he never really got reps at end in place of Charles Grant. His role stayed mostly the same, and McCray was the one who benefited from the most increase in playing time. Hargrove did play a lot at defensive tackle with the Saints putting the Cardinals in so many passing situations. Hargrove didn't get the stats to back it up, but he was active and had to be accounted for.

Sedrick Ellis: C+ (2.70) Ellis' pursuit on the opening play of the game was terrible. He completely over-pursued into the backfield, and he was then blocked out of the play. It was surprising to see Ellis handled pretty well at times. Ellis did get a sack, but that was his lone tackle and he was otherwise quiet.

Remi Ayodele: C (2.36) Ayodele's playing time was severely cut back by the amount of passing plays the Cardinals ran. He didn't finish with any tackles, so it's hard to give him better than a C, but he didn't make major errors either. I think you can expect to see much more of Ayodele next week with Adrian Peterson coming to town.

Scott Fujita: B+ (2.76) Fujita was most effective as a blitzing linebacker. Gregg Williams used Fujita as the 4th or 5th rusher many times in passing situations, and Fujita did a fantastic job beating Levi Brown around the edge a few times. While Fujita didn't get any sacks, he caused several errant Kurt Warner passes. He also put a nice hit on Warner once. He finished with 2 tackles, including one for a loss.

Scott Shanle: B (2.62) Shanle was the most active and sure tackler on the Saints. He finished with 7 tackles. Because of the tremendous amount of blitzing the Saints used, and the good coverage downfield, Warner settled for throws underneath most of the game. That was actually smart, thanks to the real estate in the middle of the field. Thankfully, Shanle was a tackling machine laying some serious wood. At one point he hit Early Doucet so hard his helmet came off. Shanle was seen hitting people off crossing patterns short of the first down all day long. His coverage was very good too. His two mistakes, however, led to 14 points. First, he was blown completely out of the play on Hightower's run. Then, he hit Kurt Warner in the head on a pass rushing play to negate a Darren Sharper interception. Later on that drive, the Cardinals would waltz into the end zone on a running play. The roughing the passer call, as weak as some people said it was, is an NFL rule. I'm sorry, but they're going to call that on you every time and Scott Shanle should know better. Period. It's too bad, because he hurts his grade with that major mistake. Otherwise, he was A material.

Jonathan Vilma: C (2.92) Vilma had one tackle, that's it. I had to double check the stats because I couldn't believe it. Re-watching the tape, he was surprisingly nowhere to be found on several plays. Very odd. I will say he had solid coverage on many passing plays. Still, the Saints are going to need much more out of him next week. Side note, speaking of hitting Warner in the head, the Saints were very fortunate that Vilma didn't get flagged for 15 yards on Sedrick Ellis' sack. The replay shows very clearly that Vilma's hand made contact with Warner's head which disrupted the play. Still, give him credit there for good pressure, but I'm glad he got away with that one because that drive turned out to be a three and out right before a Saints' touchdown drive.

Jabari Greer: A- (3.40) Greer almost shut out Larry Fitzgerald for an entire half. What more needs to be said? Every time the Cardinals tried to get Fitzgerald involved, Greer was a complete nuisance and pest to that gameplan. All this talk about how the Saints were going to need to slow down Fitzgerald if they had any chance... and Greer stepped up and looked like Darrelle Revis out there. Fitzgerald did end with 6 catches for 77 yards, but he had an awful amount of stat padding against prevent defenses with the score out of hand. Greer showed no ill effects from his hernia surgery. He finished with 2 tackles and a beautiful pass breakup in the end zone.

Tracy Porter: B+ (3.08) Porter wasn't quite as razor sharp as Greer, but he was pretty close. The cornerback play overall was outstanding. After seeing what Warner to Breaston/Doucet/Fitzgerald did to the Packers' accomplished defensive backfield last week, I was very impressed with how our guys did. They yielded just 205 yards to Warner, and 61 garbage yards to Leinart. Porter had 5 tackles, but some was a result of allowing a few completions. That said, Porter did a good job of tackling and kept the game in front of him.

Randall Gay: B+ (2.67) Gay was beaten a few times on crossing routes and passes underneath. His coverage was hit or miss, but running all game with Early Doucet over the middle was no easy task. Still, Gay finished with a game high 7 tackles and was physical bringing down his opponents. His sure tackles did include a back ride for about 5 yards with Larry Fitzgerald, which was interesting. Give Gay credit for giving his all and staying aggressive. Gay was victimized badly on a pass to Jerheme Urban with the score tied at 7, but he came up with an amazing strip from behind to force a fumble. A turnover like that early in the game with the score tied and Arizona playing with confidence couldn't have been more huge. That was a complete momentum changer and it really got the crowd going. It told the defense: we may give up plays, but we're going to make plays too. It gave the defense the momentum it needed after a dismal start to the game. I can't speak enough about that play Gay made. It was almost Meachem's strip in Washington big.

Roman Harper: C (2.71) Harper just seemed a step slow to every play throughout. On both touchdown runs, he was slow to the play and ineffective. He was playing in the box but not really making anything happen. He finished with 2 tackles and it wasn't his most memorable performance by any means.

Darren Sharper: B+ (2.87) The one reproach I have of Sharper was a terrible angle as the last line of defense on Hightower's run. We've seen him do this a few times this season, and that's the liability you live with when he offers so much in playmaking ability. He didn't even get a hand on Hightower to slow him down. Other than that, Sharper was active and in a word, good. Twice he laid massive hits to the Arizona receivers, forcing dropped passes. Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston both won't be too quick to forget the last time they played Darren Sharper. Sharper also came up with the forced fumble by Gay, and it looked for a second as if he might take it to the house. He was head's up to scoop the fumble and put a nice return together. He also had a beautiful interception that was called back due to Shanle's roughing the passer call, but his catch deserves mention because it was nasty. He played great pass defense over the top all day.

DeMario Pressley: B- (2.67) Just one tackle for Pressley and he didn't play much, but I wanted to give him props for once again maximizing his effectiveness when he's on the field. He made a nice tackle on a running play.

Pierson Prioleau: B (2.48) His coverage was good, and he was very solid on special teams. He finished with 2 tackles, and he should have had an interception but he dropped a Matt Leinart pass that went right through his hands. That was a pretty good Roman Harper impression if you ask me.

Usama Young: B+ (3.08) Young's two tackles were both very impressive. He laid a massive hit late in the game, and he also had a shoestring tackle on a screen pass to Tim Hightower that would've gone a long way if he didn't trip him up. Young looked fast and aggressive out there.

Jeff Charleston: B- (2.50) Charleston play a good amount of the fourth quarter and played fine. He held his ground and was a little disruptive in passing situations. He finished with 2 tackles.

Thomas Morstead: A- (3.04) Morstead's kickoff depth got progressively better and better as the game wore on. Good thing, because LaRod Stephens-Howling was giving the Saints trouble early with dangerous kick returns. Morstead averaged 42.8 yards per punt on 4 punts, and not one was returned. He was also able to pin one inside the 15 despite working with a short field. He's been doing a terrific job of neutralizing opponent's return games, especially lately. His best punt ended up going for a touchback, which was bad luck, but that punt was blasted for 66 yards. He absolutely crushed that one and showed off his superior leg power.

Courtney Roby: B- (2.79) Roby, per usual, was very good covering kicks and punts. He kick returns were spotty, though. He had a decent one that went 25 yards, but he also had a terrible one where he was hit inside the 20 after a 12 yard return.

Garrett Hartley: A- (2.83) Hartley's lone field goal was a 43 yard attempt. It was nice to see him not only make it, but drill it with plenty of yards to spare right down the middle. He was 6 for 6 on extra points, too, and with the season the Saints have had on PATs that is no given. Hard to give him any different of a grade based on how well he handled his responsibilities.

My Defensive Player of the Game: Jabari Greer

My Special Teams Player of the Game: Reggie Bush