I thought this was an atrocious performance by the Saints defense. I'm sorry, but I just wasn't impressed. If their pursuit, tackling and ability to get off blocks continues to stay at this level, I just wonder how far the Saints can go in the playoffs.
The offense right now is better than 2009's version, I firmly believe that, but the defense is much worse. They are not playing well (and please spare me the good performance against Blaine Gabbert). The performance against the Bears was solid, but beyond that I am worried about this defense.
I will say, the officials really helped keep a number of those Cam Newton drives alive with questionable flags. The front four's ability to get pressure was non-existent. The linebacker play, once again, was a real weakness. It wasn't all bad, though, as the interior of the defensive line showed up at times.
Below are the grades.
Saints vs Panthers coverage
Saints vs Panthers boxscoreWill Smith: C+ (3.00) For some reason both ESPN.com and NFL.com list Aubrayo as responsible for the lone Saints' sack. That is not accurate, though. The replay clearly shows it was Will Smith high and Sedrick Ellis low that combined for that sack and forced fumble. I believe that will get fixed and they'll split the sack with Smith & Ellis, but we'll see. Smith was credited with 2 tackles and didn't really get a chance to make an impact on this game.
Turk McBride: D (2.07) He was blocked out of every play entirely. He didn't get good pressure at all off the edge and he got mauled around the edge on running plays. He had no tackles and was invisible.
Cameron Jordan: C (2.20) He had just one tackle but did a decent job holding his ground on running plays. He's a strong and stout player that has good diversity in his game. He needs more snaps but his pass rushing skills aren't that impressive so far.
Sedrick Ellis: B- (2.20) Somehow there are no stats according to ESPN.com for Ellis. That's very strange because looking back over the game Ellis play well. He got excellent push up the middle, should have been credited for that sack with Will Smith, and he was involved in several gang tackles around the line of scrimmage. Who is the guy running the stats for that website anyway? I'm not hurting his grade regardless because I liked what I saw from him.
Aubrayo Franklin: B+ (2.00) He is credited with a sack, but again I don't believe that belongs to him. What I did see what Franklin finally making some plays against the run. He had control of the trenches and consistently forced runs to re-direct. The Panthers had most of their success running off the edge and not up the middle. Franklin was credited with 5 tackles and it was great to see him live up to the reason he was brought in.
Shaun Rogers: C- (1.74) He had one tackle and two plays of note. The first was fantastic in a goal line situations where he completely beat his blocker, got in the backfield, and stuffed Jonathan Stewart for no gain. That was incredibly impressive. Later in that same goal line series, he spears Cam Newton leading with his helmet for an incredibly stupid roughing the passer penalty. That flag was a no brainer and totally deserved. You just can't lead with your head.
Tom Johnson: C- (1.67) He had one tackle and his most notable play was jumping offsides.
Scott Shanle: C+ (1.87) Not much to note from Shanle. His coverage was ok and he was mostly quiet. He didn't really help his teammates stop the run or do anything of note. Most of the time he was running after the play, looking slow. He did finished with 3 tackles and a defended pass. Sadly, this was one of his better games this season.
Jonathan Vilma: B- (2.17) He played much better in the second half and was physical against the run. He also had a very nice pass breakup on a pass to Greg Olsen in coverage and he drilled Newton once on a blitz to affect the pass. He finished with 5 tackles and I left the game feeling much better about Vilma than I did earlier in the game (or at any point earlier this season). This issue remains his lateral speed. Several times I saw him running in pursuit and lunging himself in an all out effort to make a diving tackle, but he was just too slow and couldn't get to the player. Either he's injured or he's lost a step, but either way the Saints' defense is suffering from his drop off in performance. He's just not making sideline to sideline plays like he used to, and instead he's getting beat off the edge consistently, allowing runners to turn the corner on him.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B- (2.84) His play and 6 tackles were useful, but Dunbar wasn't as physical as he normally is, and he over pursued to the interior a few times which opened massive cut back lanes. He's got to stay more disciplined because a number of those big DeAngelo Williams runs were on him. His pass coverage wasn't very good either.
Jonathan Casillas: C+ (2.27) He finished with 2 tackles and didn't do anything special, but he did rock Newton once on a blitz.
Jabari Greer: C- (2.60) Not a great performance from Greer. He didn't follow up his great form lately. He was beat on a jump ball to Steve Smith, then thrown to the ground like a rag doll. Smith scored from 54 yards out. Later, he was beat on a 20 yard pass to Brandon LaFell of LSU that went down to the 1. He did a poor job of tackling on that play after the catch. He finished with 3 tackles.
Patrick Robinson: A (2.60) Robinson came up with the defensive play of the game, an interception on the very first play. He also had a nice return, setting up the Saints' first touchdown in the red zone with a 25 yard run down the sidelines. Cam Newton never really threw his way again. He also blocked an extra point of Olindo Mare which loomed large late in the game with the Saints clinging to a 3 point lead. I'd say this was a major improvement over the Packers game.
Tracy Porter: B (2.78) Porter came up with two huge pass breakups on the final drive, and he seems to get re-discovering his dangerous ability to jump routes. He finished with two tackles and came very close to an interception on a ball that one hoped to him on that final drive. He finished with 2 tackles and covered well.
Malcolm Jenkins: C (2.27) He had 6 tackles, did ok in coverage, tackled ok, and didn't really make any plays again. Overall I thought he played ok bend but don't break football but he's just been a bit of a disappointment so far this year. I will say he had a beautiful open field tackle late in the game. The only real negative is he played DeAngelo Williams' 69 yard touchdown run very poorly. He backpaddled and waited for help as oppose to aggressively trying to end the play.
Roman Harper: D+ (1.93) He had 2 tackles, a terrific pass breakup on an attempt to Greg Olsen, and a horrible pass interference on a pass to Greg Oden on the final drive. At that point it's 4th and 10 and the game is over if you stop them. To intefere at that point is not smart at all. Poor day for Harper who didn't really get involved and made an almost fatal mistake that couldn't forced the game to overtime.
John Kasay: A (3.33) Kasay was rock solid against his old team and I'm sure they didn't appreciate that. He was 3 for 3 including a 46 yarder as time expired just before halftime. The guy just went out there and did his job flawlessly even though I noticed 2 snaps weren't perfect.
Thomas Morstead: C- (3.33) His kickoffs were largely great, but he did miss hit his first one. His punting was not good. He had a net average of 30.5, which is un Morstead like, and he got a punt to go for a touchbacks. No big deal, he's just set the bar high with that ridiculously impressive form he's had that's spoiled us all.
Courtney Roby: B (3.00) He had another special teams tackle and was once again terrific in coverage.
My defensive player of the game: Patrick Robinson
My special teams player of the game: John Kasay