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

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First off, I want to give special teams their due because the coverage units were outstanding. They underwent a dramatic transformation from the Bengals game to this week, so that was really nice to see. Defensively, the Saints are just in the zone right now. The turnovers are really starting to come, which seemed to have been the only thing missing from last year earlier in the season. The Saints are also holding many opponents to very low scores. This week, the Rams could only manage 13, and they barely managed that. The last touchdown came on 4th and goal and was questionable at best. Here come some good grades!

Rams vs Saints coverage

Rams vs Saints recap

Rams vs Saints boxscore

Will Smith: C+ (2.42) He finished with 3 tackles and had an average performance. He looked slow in pursuit, but got decent pressure at time on passing downs. In particular he forced an incompletion on a goal line pass after his pursuit made Sam Bradford roll out of the pocket. He was ok versus the run, once stalemating Steven Jackson at the line of scrimmage.

Alex Brown: C (2.18) While his pass rushing skills are clearly not amazing, I've noticed he at least does a decent job of trying to use his long wingspan to get in throwing lanes and disrupt the passing angles. He didn't bat any balls in this game but he forced some last second changes in Bradford's decision with his length. He's still solid at the point of attack against the run and he stands his ground well, but he's anything but flashy. He finished with 2 tackles.

Jeff Charleston: B+ (2.48) He finished with 3 tackles and a sack, and did most of his damage on consecutive plays. First, he sacked Bradford, and on the very next play he got terrific pressure again and got his hand up to bat down a pass. He's been one of the few bright spots at defensive end this year as a decent situational guy. He needs some serious work on his sack celebration though.

Jimmy Wilkerson: B- (2.13) Wilkerson was actually decent this time around, a welcome change. He was active and quick to the football, finished with 3 tackles and a knockdown. Maybe he's turning a little bit of a corner. It would be nice to see him contribute.

Sedrick Ellis: C (2.74) Ellis was mostly shut down, victim to numerous double teams. The Rams understood that he's the premiere interior presence, and they were dead set on keeping him out of the play. They were successful in doing so as Ellis was extremely quiet all game and Jackson got big chunks of yardage up the middle. Ellis finished with 2 tackles.

Remi Ayodele: C- (2.54) He had two tackles and was almost completely ineffective. Despite getting some opportunities to make plays because Ellis was so keyed on, he never really showed up against the run. The Saints often subbed in Hargrove for him, because he was playing superior ball. Ayodele's level of play has dropped off significantly in recent weeks and he's struggled to find that groove that had him playing so well early in the season.

Anthony Hargrove: B+ (2.46) Hargrove was flying around all over the place, whether it was on defense or special teams. He got numerous reps in favor of Ayodele at defensive tackle, and he was surprisingly good handling the run. Hargrove has benefited from the attention Ellis pulls to really beat his man one on one and make plays. He finished with SIX tackles, which for a defensive tackle is a huge number. He's really been picking up his play as of late. I'd still like to see him get more pressure on the quarterback, but give him credit at one point for dropping Keith Toston for a loss.

Scott Shanle: C+ (2.67) It was a quiet day for Shanle as he finished with just 3 tackles, two coming downfield on tackles after big passing gains. He also whiffed on a tackle of tight end Daniel Fells. He made his best plays blitzing, of all things, which we're not accustomed to. He had a knockdown on Bradford which caused an incompletion, and he was in the process of sacking Sam Bradford another time when Bradford got called for grounding. I never understood why a pass rusher loses credit for a sack when the quarterback decides to chuck the ball as he's going down. If there's an intentional grouding call, the closer rusher should be rewarded with a sack. I've always been a firm believer in that.

Jonathan Vilma: A (3.10) Jonathan Vilma is just awesome. He's all over the place, and he hits people with the kind of ferocity that makes them wish they weren't playing. Vilma's skill, speed, power and smarts were on full display. Of most note was a hit he put on Steven Jackson on a screen pass where he just completely blew him up. Jackson got up gingerly after that hit, and you know that guy has been hit hard when he's been roughed up. Vilma came in on a blitz and sacked Sam Bradford, stripping the ball in the process, and while the Rams would recover the fumble it lead to a 22 yard loss. He led the team with 8 tackles and a sack.

Danny Clark: B (2.82) He had 5 tackles and a hit on Bradford on a blitz. He was one of the few guys that I thought did a good job of limiting Jackson's effectiveness. If you look at any play he was involved in, the runs were significantly shorter gains than when he wasn't involved. He's definitely a run stopper first, but his coverage skills overall have been a nice surprise all year.

Marvin Mitchell: C+ (2.42) Mitchell came in a few times on passing downs but didn't do a great job in coverage, allowing a completion to Danny Amendola. He played well on special teams and he did have a nice goal line stop, finishing with 4 tackles, but he looked a little lost in traffic on running downs.

Jabari Greer: A (2.73) After a rough game last week, Greer bounced back very nicely. Bradford went after him early and often with almost no success whatsoever. He was beaten once by Laurent Robinson down the sideline for a 29 yard gain, but that aside he was fantastic in coverage, and helpful against the run. He had 4 tackles and was credited with 3 pass breakups. He also had a big fumble recovery on the Rams' opening drive. He also had a beautiful open field tackle at the line of scrimmage on a screen pass to Billy Bajema that probably goes for a decent gain if he doesn't make that tackle. I could give him an A- for giving up that one big play, but the guy was routinely picked on all game and answered the call almost every single time. He deserves recognition for playing at an extremely high level.

Tracy Porter: B- (2.59) He had just 3 tackles, one for a loss, and was targeted much less often than Greer. He put a nice hit on an bubble screen to Danny Amendola that went for a one yard loss. His coverage overall was solid but he did give up one nice gain to Brandon Gibson. The fact that Bradford seldom went after him is a testament to his coverage, but he didn't really make any notable plays out there besides the one tackle for a loss.

Malcolm Jenkins: A+ (2.78) What. A. Game. Wow. Malcolm Jenkins reminded me of Darren Sharper a year ago in this game. He was a ballhawk out there. He was credited with 3 defended passes, two of which were interceptions. With the Rams looking to score down 14-6, he intercepted Bradford making a terrific read, and he took the pick 96 yards for a touchdown. His second pick was in the end zone, as well, nullifying another Rams' scoring attempt. Going back to the first for a second, it came at a time in the game where momentum was squarely on the Rams' side. The Saints had built and early 14-0 lead but had played poorly after that. The Rams were looking to make it a one point game, and Jenkins' pick six was a huge 14 point swing. The Rams would never threaten again, so he basically put the game away. He finished with 4 tackles, and he did a good job of twice tackling Steven Jackson is open space to prevent a touchdown as the last line of defense. He took a couple of bad angles at times, but the big plays he made by far outweigh any negatives.

Roman Harper: A (3.28) No surprise, Harper was out there, yet again, making plays. That's all he seems to do this season. I'm telling all you guys right now, Roman Harper is my Saints' MVP of the season. He shows up each and every week and makes an incredibly positive impact on the outcome. No one on this team is more deserving of a Pro Bowl nod. Gregg Williams is the best thing that could have ever happened to Roman Harper. He finished with 7 tackles, again making numerous stops around the line of scrimmage. He blitzed Bradford and was also able to notch a big sack. His pass coverage was hit or miss, he did have a breakup, but he also gave up some plays. That's a small price to play for his tackling around the line of scrimmage and his hitting ability. Once again, he made a huge strip of Steven Jackson on the same fumble that Jabari Greer recovered. In case you were wondering, Harper now has 6 strips on the season. 6! With this performance he's also now passed Morstead with the highest GPA on the team.

Darren Sharper: C (2.47) While Malcolm Jenkins was looking like Darren Sharper of a year ago, Darren Sharper was not. He just doesn't seem to read plays as well and he's always slow to the ball. The microfracture knee surgery has definitely made a difference in his play, and remember he may still be nursing a hamstring to boot. He did have some nice hits, and he finished with 4 tackles, but he tried to put a knockout blow on Laurent Robinson without wrapping up, which allowed Robinson to gain more yardage on an already big play to get down to the Saints' 1 yard line. I'm still holding out hope that he'll make a huge play when we least expect it.

Garrett Hartley: A- (2.52) There's no question that Hartley has found his rhythm and he's back to consistently making kicks. His lone field goal was a 40 yarder that he made with no trouble. He was also perfect on 4 extra points. I decided to go with A- because his duties were relatively easy and low pressure with the big lead, and because he had his kickoff duties stripped from him because of poor performances which lightened his load. Still, it's really nice to see him getting back to his consistent ways. There's no question he's a budding young star kicker when he's on his game.

Thomas Morstead: B- (3.20) His return to kickoff duties was a welcome change. Morstead got great depth on all his kickoffs, and while none went for touchbacks, the Rams also never got past the 28. That's ridiculously coverage, and while Morstead benefited from great tackling, he definitely played his part. Punting wise, it was a poor day as he averaged 35 yards on two punts with nothing inside the 20.

Courtney Roby: D (2.56) He returned 3 kickoffs for a 23 yard average. He lost a fumble on the last one, that came at a pivotal time and could have really hurt the Saints. Fortunately his fatal mistake was saved by Malcolm Jenkins' crucial pick six. Most notable was that on that fumble he hurt himself and had to be carted off the field and taken to the hospital. Fortunately the reports on him are good as he's alert and has movement in all his extremities. Still, Roby is a major part of what the Saints do on special teams. Being without him for anything length of time would be a blow, especially in the playoffs. It remains to be seen if he'll play again this season, but we will find out soon enough. If the Saints have to go without him, it's not obvious who could fill his void as a gunner or a return man.

My Defensive Player of the Game: Malcolm Jenkins

My Special Teams Player of the Game: Garrett Hartley