When grading my team, there's always the challenge of trying to be unbiased and fair in my criticism. There's no doubt that I'm a fan first and a blogger second. As a fan I always try to remain positive. As a blogger, I feel an obligation to call things as I see them. The harsh reality is that while the Saints won a huge game and played incredible football defensively, the offense is still struggling. Call me names if you want, but Brees still is not taking care of the football. He had 2 turnovers, and that's not going to cut it. That interception was a really bad decision on his part. I hate to rain on the parade, and trust me there's plenty of praise to come after a win like this, but they have to do a better job of taking care of the football. The offensive line also needs to play better. They got completely whooped in this game. Still, a win is a win and few a better than this one! I digress, on to the grades!
Steelers vs Saints coverage
Steelers vs Saints boxscoreDrew Brees: B- (2.58) Make no mistake, his two touchdown passes were beautiful. That back shoulder throw to Colston was put in the most perfect location possible, and the Lance touchdown was equally amazing. Brees got on a roll in the second half and really started dissecting the Steelers. This despite having pressure in his face for the entirety of the night. He was sacked twice and hit/knocked down seven times. Seven! That's got to be the most times Brees has been hit in a game. He got hit really hard a couple of times, too. For such a little guy you have to credit his physical preparation for taking a beating like that. Not many guys come out of a game like that still "healthy" by football standards. He finished 34 of 44 for 305 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception and a lost fumble. The pick was ugly, and the fumble happened because he didn't get rid of the ball quickly enough. To Brees' credit, he played best with the game on the line when it mattered.
Chris Ivory: D+ (2.22) 7 carries for 7 yards. Horrible. I'm not sure if he's injured or what, but he was useless in this game. I did boost his grade a little bit because of a nice 4th down and inches conversion.
Julius Jones: C- (2.17) As the game progressed he became the feature back. He had a couple of nice plays in the passing game, finishing with 3 catches for 20 yards (that despite getting hit for a big loss on one screen play) and breaking a Troy Polamalu tackle attempt pretty impressively. Rushing he finished with 16 yards on 7 carries. He did have a nice 11 yard scamper showing some speed and toughness. Those numbers could have been a little better if he didn't get hit for one big loss in particular which was more bad blocking than anything else. He hurt his grade, though, with an idiotic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for grabbing Troy Polamalu after the play was over. That penalty took the Saints out of field goal range.
Ladell Betts: D (2.07) He had 1 catch for no yards and 3 carries for 8 yards. Again, horrible. My main gripes with him were a blown blitz assignment pickup and a dropped pass. The dropped pass was just before halftime and actually helped the team because if he catches that, he probably gets tackled in bounds and the clock runs out before the Saints get a chance to kick a field goal before halftime. Thanks to that drop the half ended 3-3 instead of 3-0 Steelers. Still, you don't get props for dropping a pass. On the blitz play, he covered weakside where no one was coming, and left three blitzers on the right side to waltz in on Brees. That was the same play that Brees fumbled.
Heath Evans: C- (2.63) Is it just me or is he not even the primary blocker anymore? The number of snaps he's been getting on offense seem to be dwindling. Maybe the Saints knew they'd pass a lot in this one, hence less playing time for Heath. Still, the fact that the Saints trusted Dave Thomas as the lead blocker a few times says something. When the Saints were at the goal line, he seemed slow to the hole and unable to spring a running lane. Evans also dropped a pass, but did covert a big third down play with a 2 yard reception inside the 5.
Jeremy Shockey: B- (2.67) Shockey finished with 3 catches for 30 yards, but did have a shot at another pass down the seam inside the five that he couldn't come up with. He was involved in the offense, though, and showed good hands and toughness. He converted a big third down with Troy Polamalu who was matched up against him in bump coverage. Shockey showed his strength, manhandling Polamalu at the line of scrimmage to get massive separation. That was big time.
David Thomas: C (2.54) Does this guy ever break a tackle? The first guy that hits him seems to always take him down. When you're a tight end often times getting tackled by a safety or corner, that's kind of sad. I mentioned that he was picked over Evans a lot of times to lead block, though he didn't fare better. He finished with 4 catches for 15 yards.
Marques Colston: B (2.92) The two drops early were very bad. The first killed the Saints' opening drive on a crucial 3rd down play. The other wiped out what would have been a solid 9 yard gain on first down. After that, though, he was on point all night. He made tough catches over the middle and helped the Saints effectively use their possession passing offense to move down the field on the tough Steelers' D. He finished with 6 catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. He showed terrific poise and awareness finding the goal line on his score. The stats will also show that Colston had a 1 yard run. That was a pass play where he was supposed to take a reverse and throw the ball downfield to Meachem. The Steelers were not fooled at all, so give Colston credit for not making a bad decision and just accepting that the play was going nowhere. I've seen non quarterbacks throw a duck like that into double coverage before just trusting the play because of their inexperience throwing the ball. Colston was heady there to avoid that.
Lance Moore: A- (2.54) He was targeted 8 times and gave Brees 7 receptions for 57 yards. Even more so than Colston he was the safe underneath route. On the game clinching touchdown drive he made two fantastic plays. First he converted a 3rd and 8 with a 10 yard reception where he ran after the catch and squirted through tacklers showing terrific effort to move the chains. Then, he made a circus catch with a defender draped all over him for a touchdown. He even helped out on special teams with a 17 yard punt return. Lance Moore is having himself one heck of a season.
Devery Henderson: B- (2.29) He finished with 3 catches for 33 yards and made the most of the opportunities he was given. Brees just isn't looking his way that much.
Robert Meachem: B (2.43) Nice showing from Meachem, who's biggest play was a wide open 50 yard bomb he caught from Brees. He finished with 6 catches on 6 targets for 76 yards. The Saints tried to run a quick pass at the line of scrimmage to him three times, so obviously that was part of the gameplan as a way to attack the Steelers. That play had no success whatsoever. All three times the Saints ran that at Meachem he was unable to break Ike Taylor's tackle. Still, it's definitely nice to see him more involved in the Saints' offense.
Jermon Bushrod: D (2.46) Oh man, did he have a hard time with James Harrison. Bushrod struggled mightily to contain him. Harrison finished with just one sack, but he was pressuring Brees all night long. The official stats show that Harrison had 3 knock downs, but man, it felt like 10. The pressure he got on the edge was non stop and quick. Luckily one of those plays was called as a roughing the passer penalty that gave the Saints 15 yards. Bushrod just didn't have the lateral quickness to stay with Harrison, and even when he did he showed mediocre strength. When Bushrod would get his hands on Harrison it didn't do much. Obviously when your team rushes for 30 yards and 1.4 yard per carry average, no one run blocked well.
Carl Nicks: C- (2.63) The Saints ran behind him, mostly, and it didn't go so well at all. His pass blocking was fine, but he just wasn't getting the interior push he's so known for. Casey Hampton is a premiere run stopper and a huge frame, and he was dominating the line of scrimmage consistently.
Jonathan Goodwin: D+ (2.67) This was one of the worst games I've seen Goodwin play. The amount of edge pressure that Brees saw was rough, but the times he stepped up on the pocket Goodwin struggled with his assignments at times too. His run blocking, I thought, was the worst of any of the lineman. Twice defenders shot the gap to hit a Saints' running back for a big loss because Goodwin missed a block. He also missed a couple of blitz pickups, which led to Brees getting rocked. Still, he wasn't getting consistently abused like Bushrod. His blocking on the goal line runs was terrible, and he couldn't keep his man engaged at all.
Jahri Evans: C+ (2.63) He was the best lineman on the day for the Saints, but that's really not saying much. On the fumble by Brees, I believe that sack was more on Brees, for not releasing the ball quickly enough, and Betts for helping the other side, rather than Evans. Evans blocked his man, so he couldn't rotate over to pick up a blitzing Bryant McFadden (even though that blitz came to his gap). His run blocking and pass blocking was by no means superb, but he didn't make glaring mistakes. I also want to congratulate him for going an entire game without a penalty. That is quite impressive, I know that must have taken a lot for him to pull that off. The few decent runs the Saints had (11 yarder by Jones, 6 yarder by Ivory) were behind him.
Jon Stinchcomb: D+ (2.29) Runs that went to his edge went absolutely nowhere. He had a holding penalty that was unnecessary. Like Bushrod, he was giving up pressure all day long from the edge. He struggled to keep Brees clean of hits and pressure for the majority of the evening. He had no push whatsoever in this game. The Steelers just have some big, fast and physical players on their defense. It was a handful, to say the least, for the big guys up front to handle.
Zach Strief: C- (2.22) The pass by Brees to him was a farce. The ball was high, no doubt, but instead of jumping for the ball, Strief kind of backpedaled and tripped over himself. Too bad because was wide open. I guess that's why the Saints don't throw to him. That definitely looked awkward and should never happen again. Blocking wise, Strief was ok, giving the Saints a little muscle and size off the edge. Frankly, I thought he should have played much more and the Saints should have made a truer effort to get some yards on the ground.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Lance Moore
ps Don't worry, the defense/special teams grades will be MUCH better.