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New Orleans Saints' Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades @ Buccaneers

The Saints' defense is crazy good right now, but I'm a little worried about the defensive backfield. Jabari went down, Tracy Porter is already out, Harper is banged up, and Randall Gay is still feeling symptoms from his concussion. We're starting to get pretty thin at corner. My hope is Darren Sharper is ready to go this week and can come off the PUP list. Move Mr. Jenkins back to corner, and start Sharper at free, and all of a sudden the defensive backfield depth gets a little better. The run defense is as good as it's ever been in New Orleans, honestly. I'm not sure the Dome Patrol was even this stout against the run. I mean, Tampa had 42 yards on 18 carries. 2.3 yards per carry. Get out of town with those numbers. The week before, Arizona ran for 41 yards on 24 carries (1.7 per carry). I realize that Cadillac Williams and Beanie Wells don't qualify as the second coming of Marcus Allen, but still, those numbers are borderline obscene. I don't even care as much about the turnovers if they can continue to blank other teams like this. There's only so many times you can convert 3rd downs if your distance is continually 5+ yards. The Saints are giving up 17.5 points per game through 6 games, and it would be less than 15 a game if the offense hadn't donated 3 touchdowns to the Cardinals. Below are the grades against Tampa.

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Will Smith: D (2.20) Smith was "back from injury", and I put that in quotes because he's clearly not right. He was in and out of the game, still clearly dealing with a groin issue. We all remember that hernia issue that plagued him for all of 2008, which rendered him relatively useless and pretty much ruined his effectiveness that season. If I have to watch him play like that, dealing with the pain, for another full season, I'd rather he just go on IR. I'm serious. He's clearly injured and limited out there, and he is just so slow. Twice I saw a play where he could have made an attempt at tackling the runner, and he just stood there. Effort in never an issue with Smith unless something is clearly wrong. He's injured and my personal opinion is that he wasn't ready to play in this game. I hope he recovers quickly. He finished with no tackles and one QB knockdown. His trademark run stopping efficiency was not evident. On any passing down, he was completely neutralized.

Alex Brown: C+ (2.06) I don't know how much we're going to get out of Brown this season, but at least he stands his ground on running plays. It's funny, because he's longer and leaner than Charles Grant, but so much better at containment and shedding his blocks. Pass rush wise, I'm not sure he's better than Grant. The one complaint I'd have about the Saints' defense through 6 games is that their front four is incapable of generating any sort of pressure. Either they need to bring back Bobby McCray, or they need to start giving Junior Galette some snaps on third and long. He finished with 2 tackles.

Jimmy Wilkerson: B (2.34) I liked what I saw from Wilkerson in this game. Maybe he was amped up to go against his old mates. He shot the gap on the edge well in relief of Alex Brown and generated good pressure. On one play, he redirected a run that was coming right out him by getting outstanding penetration, which forced Cadillac Williams into the waiting arms of Ayodele. He was rewarded for his hustle late in the game, too, as he got a sack on a scrambling Josh Johnson.

Jeff Charleston: C+ (2.44) Not much notable for Charleston, who is just not physically gifted enough to be a consistent threat rushing the passer. Everything he gets is based on grit and will. He finished with 2 tackles.

Anthony Hargrove: D+ (2.00) One of the few d-linemen that made zero impact whatsoever in this game. He had no tackles, no hits, no pressures. He was in the middle of all the pushing and shoving, though.

Sedrick Ellis: B (2.78) Ellis was the most consistent pass rusher in the front four bringing pressure. Pretty sad considering his speed limitations and his size. Against the run, he was fantastic. He moved the pile continuously and abused Tampa's backup center. He finished with a hit on the quarterback and 3 tackles.

Remi Ayodele: B+ (3.00) We also count on him to do well against the run, and this game was no exception, but seeing him bring pressure up the middle on Josh Freeman before slamming him to the turf as he released the ball was a pleasant surprise. As he's done all season long, he dominated the interior. Ayodele is my unsung hero of the defense so far this season. The guy is performing well game in, game out. The Saints really struck gold with this guy. He finished with 2 tackles, one for a loss. More than his tackles, the effect he had on Tampa inability to run the ball was on full display.

Danny Clark: B+ (3.17) Once again, Clark's presence against the run was a huge asset. Clark is fast to the football, very sure in his tackles, and never afraid to stick his nose right in the middle of bodies running at full speed. That kind of fearless play from the veteran is what has kept him in the NFL all these years. I keep thinking that at some point his lack of ability in coverage is going to get exposed, but shockingly it hasn't happened. He's actually been decent there too. He finished with 5 tackles.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B (2.56) I was surprised to see him only finish with 2 tackles, but he was left out on an island in coverage several times. Most were all out blitzes where he was either singled out with Kellen Winslow or worse yet, a receiver. Still, he was able to hold his own. He benefited from Josh Freeman's lack of accuracy, I will say. If Tom Brady had been the Bucs' qb, I think Dunbar's grade is much worse. Still, he held down the fort in coverage. What was best to see was the brute force he played with. Whether it was hitting a receiver after a ball fell incomplete, or helping out on a tackle, Dunbar was hitting people VERY hard.

Jonathan Vilma: C- (3.00) Seriously, he had one tackle? That's it? He might be injured too, actually. He just looked a step slow to me in this game to all of the plays. He did get flagged for offsides on a blitz that he almost timed perfectly.

Marvin Mitchell: A- (2.73) The backup middle linebacker played a ton of snaps in this game and he was all over the field. He was everywhere to be found on running plays, passing plays, special teams... you name it. He was beat once by Kellen Winslow on a third down pass play, and alertly knocked the ball out for a forced fumble. He also got a big turnover by recovering a fumble for the Saints. He was terrific in pass defense and his tackling was excellent. I'm really starting to like our backup linebackers. It's amazing that Jonathan Casillas, Scott Shanle, and Clint Ingram have all missed time and our backup linebackers have been getting plugged in yet continue to keep the defense playing at a high level. I was very impressive with Mitchell. He finished with 5 tackles and a defended pass.

Jabari Greer: B (2.84) Too bad he got hurt, because before he left he was playing extremely well. He banged up his shoulder laying the wood on Winslow in the flat. True to form, he was physical despite his slight frame and he was excellent in coverage. Freeman tried to lob a pass at one point to Mike Williams that Greer outjumped the receiver for to knock down. That play is all you'll ever need to see if you're curious if Greer's height limitations will ever be a problem. The guy is a baller. I hope his shoulder issue isn't serious.

Patrick Robinson: B (2.67) For the third straight week, I thought Patrick Robinson was good, but I thought he benefited from playing a quarterback lacking accuracy. Between Jimmy Clausen, Max Hall and Josh Freeman, he's hardly faced Otto Graham in his prime. I worry that this is a nice and easy grace period that could come to a screeching halt once Robinson faces a quarterback that can actually put the ball on the money. That said, Robinson left less wide open space in this game than the two games prior. He was playing with more confidence and spunk, too. He finished with 4 tackles, including one for a loss on a screen pass he blew up. He finished with 4 tackles and never gave much up. This kid is only going to get better.

Leigh Torrence: C- (2.17) Whenever Josh Freeman dropped back to pass, he was either going after Robinson or Torrence. Whenever he was successful, he went after Torrence. Before the touchdown pass Torrence gave up on a 4th down play, I was thinking of how average his coverage was. To his credit, he did have a big breakup on another 3rd down play that forced the Bucs to punt. He finished with 3 tackles. Overall, I think the Saints are in trouble if they're counting on Torrence to have a prominent role in coverage week in, week out. Let's just hope Greer, Porter and Gay all get healthy and soon.

Roman Harper: A- (3.47) Harper led the team in tackles, with 7, and he forced two fumbles, one of which was recovered by Marvin Mitchell. Once again he was playing physically in the box and making plays. He's a ballhawk in that he's always finding ways to strip the ball from an unsuspecting ball carrier. He's not your Darren Sharper type that plays well with the ball in the air, but he will find the ball on any running play. This was all despite nursing a hamstring for a good part of the second half on the sidelines. Roman Harper is becoming better and better. As banged up as the Saints are in the secondary, the bye week can't come soon enough. The only negative is he got flagged for an idiotic 5 yard holding penalty on a 3rd and 6. There's nothing more annoying than an automatic first down penalty on a 3rd down play where the distance is more than 5. Nothing.

Malcolm Jenkins: B- (2.39) He's obviously been part of the stripping sessions too, because he had a nice strip that ended up getting ruled as an incomplete pass after a challenge. Too bad, because he not only made that play but he recovered the fumble. You have to love how our defense is constantly sniffing the football. Sooner or later, those turnovers will come. The Saints have been unlucky with bad bounces on a lot of those fumbles. Sometimes you'll get that. Jenkins was very active with 6 tackles, one for a loss, and 3 defended passes. He also blitzed and caused a couple of incompletions that way. He did a good job as the last line of defense in the backfield, stopping the Saints from getting burned deep by keeping everything in front of him. He did hit Freeman out of bounds, barely, which cost him team 15 yards, then Freeman got in his face, and he punched him for another 15 yards. Basically, he was responsible for giving up 30 yards on the touchdown drive. How he wasn't ejected I still have trouble understanding. A player has to show better self control than that. Just shove the guy, don't hit him in the face. Give him credit for dropping Cadillac Williams from the 1 back to the 2 on that same drive with a beautiful goalline tackle, but the damage was done. There is just no excuse for that. Too bad, because otherwise he would have had a good grade. Anytime you give a team 30 yards in penalties on one drive, you deserve no better than a C. That should give you some insight as to how well he played otherwise.

Usama Young: B- (3.34) I wish he played more defensively. He came in late as a backup corner, and he covered well and laid some hard hits. Based on how he played filling in when Roman Harper and Prioleau got hurt, i think he's a solid guy to bring in. I know he was moved to safety, but can't we keep him ahead of Torrence in the pecking order at corner? He had 2 tackles.

Pierson Prioleau: C+ (2.33) He was solid on special teams and came in as a late game replacement for Roman Harper. he tackled well, but allowed passes to get complete in front of him. In his defense I'm sure the defense was playing a bend but don't break style at that point. He had 3 tackles.

Garrett Hartley: D- (1.75) Plain and simple, he sucks right now. He barely made a 27 yard kick that just went inside the upright. You could see him breathe a huge sigh of relief as the umpire called the kick good. Not a good sign from your kicker when he's letting out a huge exhale after a 27 yarder. Clearly the kid is just in his own head right now. He then butchered a 32 yard attempt that wasn't even close. Awful. I don't know if you guys noticed but he was also responsible for kickoffs. He got decent depth there. On extra points, he was 4 for 4, and perfect right down the middle every time.

Thomas Morstead: B+ (3.39) He had no kickoffs, interestingly, and only one solid punt for 46 yards all day. That punt went inside the Tampa 20 and was not returned. All you can ask for.

Courtney Roby: C- (3.06) His lone kickoff return was an 8 yard return. The ball could have gone out of bounds, but Roby waited too long to see if it would and it never did. So he fielded it and basically had tacklers in his lap. The Saints ended up with horrendous field position on that play because of his error in judgment. He never really had a chance to make up for that mistake, but he did get a tackle on special teams.

Jason Kyle: C- (2.84) I would never have graded him, other than the fact that I went out of my way to give him an A a couple weeks ago and this was my opportunity to bring his average down. If I'm going to give him props for the little things, I'm going to criticize him for the little things, too. His snap on the missed field goal looked bad to me. Don't get me wrong, Hartley deserves no pass, but I don't think he was fully responsible for that miss. I also noticed the next time the Saints had an extra point, Kyle had a very high snap that Daniel was able to pull down. The kick was through the middle on that one, but I just felt like his snaps in this game on two occasions was poor.

My Defensive Player of the Game: Marvin Mitchell

My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead