Once again, the offense did what they needed to do when the chips were down and the game was on the line. Give them credit for getting into the end zone of that final drive to win the game. Putting up 34 points was impressive, even though the Bengals' D is know for getting gashed. The running game was working well, and the passing game made plays despite horrendous protection. I thought the line was physical at times, but overall they played sloppy. Way too many penalties. Below are the offensive player grades, with the letter grade representing the player's performance in the game, and the GPA in parentheses representing the player's cumulative effort on the season.
Saints vs Bengals coverage
Saints vs Bengals boxscoreDrew Brees: B+ (2.89) There is no question that overall, Brees has elevated his level of play the last 4 games. He's hitting more plays downfield, and he's leading the offense to higher point totals. The bad turnovers have yet to be wiped out, though. Granted he only threw one interception, but again it was a bad read on a deep ball into double coverage, and it came at a time with the score at 20-12 that really gave the Bengals new life. Brees now has 16 picks in 12 games. Is it so much to ask that he go a game without one? I can't even remember the last time he did. Brees seemed to hold on to the ball too long at times, and he took a number of hits. Negatives aside, he hit two crucial deep balls to Meachem, and he made so crucial plays down the stretch which affected the outcome positively. He was accurate downfield and made significant plays. He finished 24 of 29 for 313 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. He amassed a lot of his yardage in the 4th quarter, when it mattered most.
Chris Ivory: A (2.77) The last 3 games have been lights out for him. He's gotten two A's and an A-. He's become better than I think any of us envisioned him being. He's an incredible combination of size, speed, strength, agility, toughness, shiftiness - you name it. He's everything you'd want in a runner. He finished with 15 carries for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has great vision, and his 55 yard touchdown run showed great poise and recognition to the hole. He's playing so well, he's probably making Pierre Thomas' new contract even more less likely to happen. How this guy went undrafted is amazing to me. The Saints really found a keeper, that's for sure. The only negative is that ball security is still an issue. His fumble before halftime could have been a killer. The Saints were lucky not to lose that one, because it would have wiped out a superb stop on downs by the defense with a fresh set of downs in the red zone for the Bengals. Ivory has to do a better job of hanging on to the football. That fumble costs him the A+, but make no mistake, he had an outsanding game.
Reggie Bush: B- (2.09) I actually thought Reggie looked pretty good. He finished with 5 carries for 26 yards and did well with the handoffs he got. He had another run go for about 10 yards that was called back by a hold, but he looked quick to the hole and he was running forward. He also had three catches for zero yards, mostly because one of the plays was a screen pass that was blown up for a 9 yard loss. That wasn't his fault. He did catch a ball in the middle of the field and showed great speed to beat his man to the sideline to get out of bounds before halftime. Considering the fact that he broke his leg a couple months ago, the fact that he's still able to outrace pretty much anyone on the field is impressive.
Julius Jones: D (2.33) He had 2 carries for 3 yards and 3 catches for 6 yards. He was a complete non factor. 5 touches for 9 yards? Thanks for nothing buddy. I could not believe at one point he was on the field to open a series in the 2nd half instead of Chris Ivory. I realize Sean Payton has his rotations he likes to run through, but the way Ivory was playing sometimes I think you had to override that and go with the hot hand.
Heath Evans: B (2.75) While he looked pretty slow out there at times, he was his usual reliable self making solid lead blocks for Ivory. There were two significant things I saw from Evans I'd like to point out. First, as the upman on kickoff returns, he had to field a number of kicks due to the windy conditions. He had 3 returns for 36 yards, often setting up the Saints with solid field position. He showed sure hands and solid ball skills for a big lumbering fullback, something we've seen from him before. It's nice having a reliable upback that can block really well and still field the ball if necessary. The other play he made was subtle, and you have to go back and watch the game in slow motion to see it, but after Chris Ivory's fumble, there were 4 Bengals players hovering over the ball ready to pick it up and run for a touchdown. Evans was on the ground, but he was able to poke at the ball and keep it alive, for it to be ultimately recovered by a Saint. If he doesn't make that hustle play, we could be going into halftime 13-13, and maybe the outcome at the end isn't as rosy. The Saints were extremely fortunate to come away with that loose ball and Evans was a big reason for that.
Marques Colston: A- (3.14) He caught a 43 yard pass early in the game down the sideline which would ultimately set up the Saints' early 3-0. Then, he caught the game winning touchdown pass from 3 yards out, using his massive frame to shield himself and the ball away from the defender. He didn't do much of anything in between those two plays, but he made the play when it mattered most. He finished with 3 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown, and he blocked exceptionally well downfield as well.
Devery Henderson: D (2.08) Hard to fail him when he never really got an opportunity. He went back to invisible, though, and an afterthought in the gameplan. The fact that he's still listed as a started is an insult to anyone paying attention. He had one catch on a bubble screen that went nowhere. I'm holding out hope that Devery will make a huge play for this team when we least expect it and need it the most. Brees just doesn't look his way.
Lance Moore: B- (2.75) He gets a pass for avoiding contact so frequently by going out of bounds and never putting his shoulder down because he is so small he can't really take a big collision. Speaking of which, I forgot to give Colston kudos for lowering his shoulder on that 43 yard gain at the end of the play instead of gingerly going out of bounds and avoiding contact. Moore had a ho hum performance. He was make a lot of grabs underneath, many of which were harmless, though. He had a couple catches on 3rd down passes short of a first down. He finished with 6 catches for 36 yards.
Robert Meachem: A (2.67) Meachem is back to his form of a year ago. It's amazing how he always seems to turn his few catches into huge game changing plays. Did you see him try to strip Reggie Nelson on the interception return, too? I had flashbacks of the Redskins game a year ago. Meachem caught a crucial 52 yard bomb for a touchdown, making the cover man bite badly on a double move, to give the Saints a momentary 27-19 lead and stop Bengal momentum. His biggest play was a deep reception down the field which set up the game winning touchdown, though. The ball was thrown well, though not perfectly, and Meachem made a great catch and did a remarkable job of hanging on to the football as he absorbed contact. He finished with 3 catches for 106 yards and 1 touchdown. The Saints needed every ounce of that performance.
Jeremy Shockey: B (2.73) Right before Ivory's short yardage touchdown run, Shockey made arguably the sickest catch of the season. Perhaps on that one handed Lance Moore grab down the sideline in a previous game was better. Brees threw a low ball to the ground that Shockey dove for, with one hand, and somehow managed to bring into his body without it hitting the ground. That was a 3rd and long conversion play, too, and the Saints would score a couple of plays later. Shockey ended with 2 catches for 28 yards, but it was nice to see him back in action. He was targeted in the end zone, too, but Brees missed him just wide.
David Thomas: C (2.39) He was only targeted once in the passing game and never had a reception. With the emergence of Graham and the return of both Bush and Shockey (and Lance Moore/Colston already being the go-to underneath guys), Thomas' role in the possession passing game is all but gone. He still used a good amount as a blocker though, and I thought he blocked well. He was the man who recovered the aforementioned Ivory fumble, which was huge.
Jimmy Graham: B+ (2.90) Graham was targeted 3 times and finished with 3 catches for 72 yards. He had a 52 yard reception down the seam which was a huge play early for the Saints. That catch was not as easy as it looked, because a defender almost tipped the ball which a lot of times can throw off your eye/depth perception. Good concentration there. He also made a scary good shoetop grab. This guy has glue on his hands. He also had another nice reception for a big gain that was called back by a penalty. I'm a firm believer in this guy now. He has what it takes to be a superstar, and with a quarterback like Drew Brees, he's going to get plenty of opportunities. I think this guy will only get better and better as his career continues.
Jermon Bushrod: B (2.50) In the first half the Bengals were putting so much pressure up the middle, Bushrod's pass protection job was easy. While the Saints stayed mostly away from his side running the ball, he did open a nice lane for Reggie Bush on a big run to get out of deep in Saints' territory. Later in the game the Bengals started to get more pressure coming from Bushrod's side, but overall he turned in a solid performance. The fact that he wasn't penalized, unlike every other guy on the line, was a nice touch.
Carl Nicks: B- (2.86) I thought it was an up and down game for Nicks. He threw a terrific block on Ivory's short touchdown run. He did most of his damage downfield pulling or hustling at the second level. He was not his usual dominant self at the line of scrimmage. He negated a big play to Jimmy Graham with a holding penalty. All that aside, he did a good job of moving on the 4th and 2 play to react to the Bengals defender that jumped. If the Bengal defender gets back onsides and Nicks doesn't move, there is no penalty. That was a huge play in the game because it set up the game winning touchdown. Had that not happened, the Saints likely would've kicked a field goal and hoped for overtime.
Jonathan Goodwin: C- (2.70) Goodwin opened up a huge hole on Ivory's 55 yard breakaway touchdown run. That cutback lane all started with Goodwin. Besides that, he struggled in pass blocking. He was responsible for Brees getting partially sacked by Geno Atkins, as he pretty much got run over. The continuous pressure coming up the middle was not something he adjusted to very well. I'm surprised more teams don't adopt that as a gameplan. The Saints definitely weren't expecting it and it caught them off guard in the first half. He was also flagged for a simulated snap that I didn't really understand.
Jahri Evans: D (2.56) On that same run by Ivory, the long one, Evans pulled and sprung it free with an amazing lead. Beyond that, he was busy getting flagged all day. He was called for 3 penalties, 2 holds, and I heard the announcer say he leads the NFL in holds. It doesn't surprise me, because his holding call has been about as much of a given this season as a horrible Brees turnover. No matter how well the Saints play, these two things seem to happen at least once a game this season. The amount of penalties Jahri has collected this year has been infuriating. Specifically, he negated runs of 10 yards by Bush and 7 yards by Julius Jones in this game. Those are backbreakers, and it has to get cleaned up. I challenge Jahri Evans to go an entire game next week (vs. Rams) without a penalty. I bet he can't do it. He just can't help himself from grabbing a little jersey. If he does, I'll donate $100 to the charity of his choice. Game on. I still love the guy, don't get me wrong, but I think this has been his worst season since he was drafted. Not all that surprising considering the ridiculous amount of money he was given in the offseason. I don't think he's worthy of a Pro Bowl selection this year.
Jon Stinchcomb: B+ (2.39) He gave up a coverage sack to Carlos Dunlap, who by the way looks like a pretty impressive prospect player, but that was hardly his fault. Brees held on to the ball for way too long, got flushed out of the pocket, and still had a good few seconds to either throw the ball downfield or get rid of it. Instead, he takes a sack. Stinchcomb otherwise did a very good job both in run blocking and pass blocking. I thought he played a very clean workmanlike game, and he was the best lineman for the Saints on the day.
Zach Strief: B+ (2.37) Strief's edge blocking in this game was exceptional. On Ivory's long touchdown run, I saw him a good 8 yards downfield engaging a safety, which was the last guy that had a shot at Ivory. The Saints were having so much success running the ball, I wish they had played Strief off the edge more and just pounded the ball exclusively. Even though they're not built that way, they could have won that way this week. Strief was physical and showed more nastiness than I'm used to from him. Good job.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Chris Ivory