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

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NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 31: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints sacks Ben Roethlisberger #7of the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Louisiana Superdome on October 31 2010 in New Orleans Louisiana. (Photo by Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 31: Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints sacks Ben Roethlisberger #7of the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Louisiana Superdome on October 31 2010 in New Orleans Louisiana. (Photo by Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images)
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What a performance by the defensive. As has been talked about, the defense is carrying this team right now. Period, enough said. On to the grades. The letter grade is the player's performance in that game and the GPA in parentheses behind it is the player's cumulative effort for the season.

Steelers vs Saints coverage

Steelers vs Saints recap

Steelers vs Saints boxscore

Will Smith: B+ (2.33) Will Smith finally got a pass rush going and he was involved in several key defensive plays. It was nice to finally see him contribute this season. He did disappear for long stretches of time in the second half, and one bad play in particular was where he was completely neutralized at the edge by a much smaller Hines Ward to allow some running room for Rashard Mendenhall. He benefited from a blitz to notch a half sack on a cleanup tackle, but he also beat his man badly once and dragged down a stubborn Ben Roethlisberger which took some effort. He finished with 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and he also got a big tipped pass that almost resulted in an interception. Great to see him playing like we know he can. Hopefully he can string more good performances together now.

Alex Brown: C- (1.96) He had one tackle and one hit on Roethlisberger. He was ok in pass rush, but too many times he got blown off the ball in running plays. I've definitely seen him hold his ground better. No major mistakes, though.

Anthony Hargrove: B- (2.13) He finished with 2 tackles and forced a fumble with a nice strip on special teams. He also rushed the passer well and had a knockdown. Hargrove's body is always flying around with effort. It would be scary playing against him I think.

Jimmy Wilkerson: D (2.07) Oh man, he was not good. He generated no semblance of a pass rush, and he was completely blown out of running plays. At what point do we just bring back Bobby McCray? On Mendenhall's big run, the play started right at Wilkerson and he was stood up and pushed aside like a ragdoll.

Jeff Charleston: C (2.33) He finished with 1 tackle and showed a little effort out there. The Saints have heavy rotations going on the defensive line, but none of the role playing backups have made enough noise this year. I'd love to see Junior Galette at some point.

Sedrick Ellis: B (2.71) He finished with only 2 tackles but I thought he was very active and got fantastic push all night. He was a big part of that crucial goal line stand early in the game that held the Steelers to just 3 points. He had a tackle for a loss on that drive and got amazing penetration on another play to redirect Mendenhall into traffic. He also showed some nice quickness getting after Roethlisberger, throwing him brutally to the turf once just after a pass.

Remi Ayodele: C- (2.79) He finished with 2 tackles, but was not the usual force against the run that he's been known to be. A couple of times I saw him turned around with his back to the play clueless to what was going on around him. Rookie 1st round pick of the Steelers Maurkice Pouncey really impressed me in this game and he manhandled Ayodele. I thought it would be a good matchup but Pouncey thoroughly dominated him. Good thing Ellis was playing so well at the other tackle spot to limit the Steelers' running game. Ayodele proved in this game he's still a ways off from being able to compete with elite interior lineman.

Scott Shanle: A- (2.72) I thought Shanle was fantastic in this game. He was terrific in coverage, he was terrific tackling, he was all over the field, and he read plays very well. It was a really impressive performance when you consider this was his first game back from a sore hamstring. There didn't seem to be any lingering effects from that. Shanle made no mistakes and while he wasn't flashy he carried out his assignments flawlessly. He finished with 8 tackles. Nice to see him come back and play what I thought was his best game of the season.

Jonathan Vilma: B+ (2.96) Like Shanle, he was very active sideline to sideline. He was very good in pursuit and finishing off his tackles aggressively. He also finished with 8 tackles, and had a couple of pressures, one which resulted in a sack. He was also good in coverage, notably defending a pass. The one negative with Vilma was he did miss a couple of tackles including a bad read on the Mendenhall touchdown run, which docked his grade slightly.

Danny Clark: B- (3.00) He finished with 4 tackles and played solid against the run for the most part. Not much to write about but he was solid.

Marvin Mitchell: B (2.79) He finished with 2 tackles and was victimized once on a passing play with spotty coverage. Once again, though, he made a huge play for the Saints. What is it with this guy making the most of limited reps by always making some random play that really helps the team? He caused the Heath Miller fumble which arguably changed the outcome of the game. No play was bigger in the game than that one. Mitchell may be a role player, but he's a very valuable one.

Malcolm Jenkins: A- (2.46) His pass breakup on a 4th down attempt was huge. Jenkins was that way in coverage all night. Early on they were going after him and Jenkins responded to ever single test they threw at him. He defended 3 passes, had 5 tackles, and his coverage was nothing short of outstanding. I know he's been playing safety all season, but he looked like a legitimate stud cornerback to me in this game. He laid some vicious hits, too. He did hurt his grade, though, by blowing a chance at a clean open field tackle that resulted in Mendenhall's touchdown run. Too bad because that play aside Jenkins was excellent all evening.

Leigh Torrence: A (2.67) I have to admit, I was terrified when Patrick Robinson went down because I knew it meant Leigh Torrence, normally the team's 5th/6th cornerback, was plugged into the starting lineup. So what does he do? He has the game of his life. Roethlisberger continually went after Torrence, and Torrence delivered in every way possible. He showed tons of guts and courage coming back into the game twice after getting banged up, only to play at a high level. He finished with 5 tackles, many of which were big hits. He also sealed the game with his first career interception late and returned it 21 yards by reading a pass beautifully and making a terrific jump on the ball. Who would have thought Torrence and Jenkins would be a pair of A grade cornerbacks? Not me. Torrence has always been suspect in coverage every time I've watched him and today he was like a different player out there. Honestly, I didn't think he had that kind of ability in him.

Roman Harper: C (3.14) It was a fairly quiet day for Harper, who notched 3 tackles. I've talked in the past about how horrible his hands are and they were on full display on one play. He had a sure pick go right through his hands. The guy just doesn't have ball skills. Too bad because that was on a screen pass and if he came up with that ball it was a sure touchdown. He was exposed on a couple tight end pass plays, but per usual he was active in the box.

Usama Young: C+ (2.83) He was quiet with 2 tackles playing mostly on running downs, but give him credit for laying one particularly mammoth hit.

Darren Sharper: B (2.67) Does this guy have glue on his hands? The play we talked about a moment ago with Harper dropping the INT, well Sharper's play was similar. The ball bounced quickly to him, and he showed quick hands to grab it, doing what he does best. That's the difference between a guy like Sharper and Harper. Harper can hit, he can run and he can be physical, but you just can't teach ball skills. The ball just finds Sharper and he takes advantage of it. That's why he's still in the league at his age, because playmakers on the defensive end like him are few and far between. Sharper only had one tackle and was flagged once for being offsides, so maybe his quiet performance deserved a lower grade, but the guy just makes big plays at big times. You need guys like that on your football team to win games.

Pierson Prioleau: B (2.67) Prioleau had to play a lot of nickel and dime coverage with all the corners out, and he did a very good job for the most part. On the half sack by Will Smith, he was the main tackler, so he notched the other half of it. He finished with 3 tackles and he was another role player that came in and helped the team.

Garrett Hartley: A- (2.23) I'm not going to give him an A because he had an easy job for the most part, but he did what he was supposed to do. He nailed two shorter field goals right down the middle, and he hit both extra points. Nice to see him avoid a miss this time. I will say he got very good depth on his kickoffs, once getting a touchback and routinely hitting them 5 yards deep into the end zone. I'm not sure if you guys saw it, but he got rocked at the bottom of the pile on that fumble forced by Hargrove. Glad he was ok after that one! For a second I was thinking to myself we were speed dialing John Carney again (yikes).

Thomas Morstead: B+ (3.29) He finished with a weak net of 34.25 yards per punt, mostly because he outkicked his coverage once and Emmanuel Sanders ripped off a 38 yard return. Sanders was effective on kickoff returns too, as the Saints had trouble containing him. Besides that, Morstead pinned his other three punts inside the 20 with no touchbacks. A solid job once again. He had a 43.8 yard average on 4 punts.

Courtney Roby: A- (2.96) The Saints' primary gunner had 2 tackles, one of which was on that aforementioned 38 yard punt return by Sanders. That was a nice tackle from behind that saved a touchdown. Roby also did an excellent job returning kickoffs, finishing with a solid 27.7 average with featured an exciting 39 yard return to start the second half. The score was 3-3 at that point, so that was a huge boost of momentum to the Saints at a time they needed it.

My Defensive Player of the Game: Leigh Torrence

My Special Teams Player of the Game: Courtney Roby