While the night belonged to Drew Brees for breaking Dan Marino's record in the Saints 45-16 win over the Falcons, the group I want to commend after this masterful performance is the offensive line and the running backs.
The Falcons entered this game fourth overall in the NFL defending the run and the Saints positively manhandled them. The Falcons are fortunate the Saints had a passing record to achieve, because otherwise the Saints could have easily reached 200 yards on the ground, if not more.
There was simply nothing this statistically solid unit could do against the Saints' power running. Whether it was Sproles, Ivory and/or Thomas, it didn't really matter. Whoever was fed the ball was gashing the Falcons. Part of that was the runners for sure, but a huge part of that was the incredible blocking all night long.
The Falcons never stood a chance against the Saints' physicality, and that's what's most scary to me about this offense. We already knew Brees could throw, but if they can run the ball like this, too? Goodnight! 23 carries for 164 yards, or 7.1 yards per carry. Wow!
On to the grades...
Falcons vs Saints coverage
Falcons vs Saints boxscoreDrew Brees: B+ (3.51) Overall he played very well, but he wasn't as sharp in this game as he's been the last 5-6 weeks. Part of that, I have no doubt, was the distraction of the record. Brees made some dangerous throws he normally doesn't make and he was very fortunate about three more passes weren't picked off. He also tried to call a timeout coming out of a timeout, which got him a delay of game penalty. Not his finest hour. He finished 23 for 39 for 309 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The first interception was just bad luck on a bounce, though the second was a poor decision into double coverage that was also tipped before being intercepted. Of course among the poor plays I mention were the usual ridiculous plays that I take for granted by now. Not that I'm not continually amazed by Brees or that I assume it'll always happen, but for the sake of this write up it's just easier to affirm he's awesome without getting too descriptive, otherwise this would just get insanely long. After this game Brees' completion percentage is down to 70.7%. His previous record in 2009 was 70.62% so he's got very little margin for error if he wants to break his own record as well this season.
Darren Sproles: A (3.20) He ran for 67 yards on just 5 carries, he had two receptions for 22 yards and the touchdown which broke Marino's record, and he also broke a kickoff return for 92 yards and set up a field goal on a drive that stalled. He did a little bit of everything and contributed in many ways.
Pierre Thomas: A- (3.11) He made the most of his touches, yet again. Have you heard me say that before? 53 yards on 9 carries, 1 touchdown, and 2 catches for 4 yards. The only negative is he didn't contribute in the passing game like he sometimes does. He also had a very stupid penalty for using a bow as a prop, sticking it on the football, and giving it to a fan as a present. Funny celebration, but stupid.
Chris Ivory: B (2.73) He ran with good authority and finished with 35 yards on 8 carries. He likely would have had a chance to pound the ball more and run the clock at the end if it wasn't for Brees trying to break Marino's record. He was stuffed in a short yardage situation but I thought he ran the best he has so far this season overall finishing his runs nicely and playing to the whistle. He seemed to fall forward and was tougher to bring down than previous games. Good to see him hitting his stride right before the playoffs. At this point I wonder what role Mark Ingram will have come playoff time?
Jed Collins: B (2.71) Good blocking when he was in, though he didn't get a ton of snaps most likely due to the ridiculous amount of penalties he's been getting lately. Still, when he was in, he did a good job.
Marques Colston: B+ (3.23) He led the Saints in receiving with 7 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Per usual he moved the sticks, gave Brees a target underneath, but he also stretched the field and gave the Saints a vertical option. The only negative is he dropped two very catchable balls.
Lance Moore: B (3.00) He had 2 catches for 53 yards and seemed to be on his way to another explosive performance before he had to leave with a tweak of his hamstring. Hopefully it's not serious, but I think it's a given he's probably sitting out next week in an attempt to get ready for the playoffs.
Robert Meachem: B+ (2.49) He had 3 catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. He stretched the field, converted a huge 3rd down play, had a nice touchdown grab, and found himself wide open downfield a few times. He also surrendered and interception into double coverage but it's hard to blame him for that one.
Devery Henderson: C+ (2.31) He had 3 catches for 30 yards but he also had 2 drops. Neither drop was an easy catch but he could have helped his cause, and the offense, by bringing those in.
Jimmy Graham: B (3.22) The Falcons were clearly terrified of him and did everything they could to stop him. Despite 9 targets he only had 4 catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was a jump ball where he once again showed off his red zone prowess. The first interception was a tip drill that went off his fingertips. In the end too many balls that went his way resulted in incompletions.
John Gilmore: B- (2.36) A solid day blocking giving the Saints nice size off the edge. He was not used at all in the passing game.
Jermon Bushrod: A- (2.76) The Falcons moved John Abraham around a good bit but the times Bushrod saw him he handled him appropriately. The Saints didn't run much to his side but the times they did he would spring the play open with a nice lead block. On the team's longest run by Sproles of 36 yards in particular, you'll see Bushrod doing his thing. A nice job blocking overall, though he did force Brees to step up in the pocket a few times.
Carl Nicks: A (2.82) He was back to his physical self mauling defenders any chance he got. His pass blocking in particular was very strong, but in this one he pulled often and was able to throw some nice lead blocks. He also helped his runners a number of times finish their runs with a nice surge at the end of the play.
Brian De La Puente: B+ (2.49) He bounced back from nothing short of a nightmarish outing against the Vikings last week. De La Puente blocked soundly and he contributed both pulling and in the trenches to the Saints' dominating interior performance. Give this guy credit, he's come in and made Olin Kreutz a distant memory. Not bad for a guy no one had ever heard about.
Jahri Evans: A (3.24) The Saints must have seen something on tape because almost all of their runs with very few exceptions ran behind Evans on the right guard runs. Obviously that proved successful as Evans had a tremendous night getting excellent push all night long.
Zach Strief: B+ (2.97) He was lined up against Abraham as much if not more than Bushrod and did an admirable job. Most impressive from Strief was the number of successful right side runs the Saints had where he did a good job sealing the edge to afford the runners an inside lane. He was flagged once for a blatant hold, but otherwise he did a good job of blocking. He's had an excellent season overall and I see no reason why he won't/can't be the Saints' starting right tackle for 2012 as well.
Pat McQuistan: B- (2.17) Like Gilmore, he did him job giving the Saints some size on the edge. Nice job.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Darren Sproles