If you listen to the podcast I participate in with Ralph Malbrough, you'll know we've given up on the Saints defense ever being characterized in any individual game as universally "good" or even "decent." Instead, we've started aiming lower in hopes of the defense being good at just one thing, and maybe stop being the worst defense in NFL history because of it.
Lo and behold, in this game against the previously undefeated Falcons, the Saints were close to perfect against the run, generated a semblance of a pass rush, and played exceptionally well in the red zone. So that's, like, three things. They still gave up 454 yards of offense, but that's lower than 500. Baby steps.
Will Smith: B (2.33) He did a nice job on one play mauling Sam Baker, pushing back into Matt Ryan with sheer strength and hitting the quarterback's arm. Of course on that play he was flagged for illegal hands to the face, which was borderline. That's Will Smith's season in a nutshell. One step forward and two steps back. In this game he was very active, though, with 5 tackles. He was instrumental in shutting down Michael Turner and got involved a little bit in pass rushing.
Cam Jordan: B (2.48) His stats were just 2 tackles, but it doesn't really do justice to how hard he was playing. He played the run extremely well and he was hot in pursuit of Matt Ryan often. At one point he lost his helmet but still strung out a run to the sideline perfectly and finished the play off around the line of scrimmage with no helmet. He also had heavy pressure on Ryan on the 4th and goal pass that forced the ball out quickly. He is getting better.
Turk McBride: B- (1.67) Like Jordan, a stat line that doesn't tell the whole story. He was the most consistent pass rusher on the team in this game. He did a good job of consistently getting in Matt Ryan's face and forcing quick releases. He finished with 1 tackle.
Martez Wilson: C+ (2.41) He was dropped in coverage several times and didn't do much. He did have a sack, which was nice, but it was a result of downing Matt Ryan after he tripped.
Broderick Bunkley: B+ (2.38) Michael Turner had 15 yards on 13 carries and Bunkley was a huge part of that, particularly in the red zone and short yardage carries. If you watch the game tape you'll understand why the Saints signed him this offseason. He simply couldn't be moved and controlled the interior. He finished with two tackles and helped set his teammates up to make plays.
Sedrick Ellis: B- (2.00) He showed the form of the first three years of his career. He was robbed of a sack when the Saints accepting a holding call before halftime which I still don't understand. He beat center Todd McClure (of LSU) badly on a quick move, got held, and tackled Ryan anyway for a sack. Too bad that one doesn't go in the books because it was a tremendous play. He got a good push on the interior a few times in this game. He also played the run well and tipped a pass.
Tom Johnson: B+ (2.08) The role player had a terrific game creating pressure up the middle and being very physical against the run. All three of his tackles were around the line of scrimmage.
Akiem Hicks: C (2.33) Played sparingly and had one quarterback knock down. The other tackles were playing well enough that his contribution wasn't needed as much.
David Hawthorne: B- (1.92) Making his return back to the Saints he got involved early and did a good job against the run. He hit Turner for a three yard loss on the first play of the game getting great penetration. He didn't have much duty in the way of coverage because whenever the Falcons passed out of the nickel set he was off the field, but was victimized once covering Tony Gonzalez. He had 4 tackles.
Curtis Lofton: C (2.81) Tough game to grade for Lofton as he was pretty up and down. I hear he was on the end of some serious trash talk all week and particularly by his former teammates on the field prior to kickoff, so the win means a lot to him and I'm happy to see that. He had 5 tackles and helped against the run. He also had a huge pass breakup on a 3rd down that got the Saints off the field. Still, his coverage was largely poor, getting burned numerous times by both Tony Gonzalez and Jacquizz Rodgers. The Falcons knew his weakness and tried to exploit it often.
Jonathan Casillas: B- (2.22) Casillas played extensively in nickel packages and was up and down in coverage. He finished with 3 tackles, including two near the line of scrimmage and he added a nice physicality.
Jonathan Vilma: C- (2.09) He didn't play much but when he was in he wasn't impactful. Had 1 tackle. I think his best is pretty clearly behind him.
Patrick Robinson: B (1.74) His life was made much easier by the injury to Julio Jones which pinned him against Harry Douglas instead for the majority of the game. Still, I'm surprised and borderline shocked that Matt Ryan didn't go after him more. It was a quiet day for Robinson who did a good job in run support sticking his head in there. He had 3 tackles and covered pretty well.
Jabari Greer: C- (2.25) He saves his grade a little bit with a huge pass break up on fourth down in the end zone against Roddy White to win the game. Still, his game was largely a disaster. He had 5 tackles but was beaten numerous times. Once burned deep on a stop and go by White which saw a perfectly thrown ball by Ryan, he was also beat on a jump ball deep to Julio Jones who was basically playing on one leg.
Corey White: A- (1.93) What a game by the Saints' young corner who is finally turning a corner. He left the game with an apparent leg injury which hopefully isn't serious. He was good in coverage, breaking up passes, physical against the run and came up with a fantastic interception downfield. He had 3 tackles, including one for a loss.
Johnny Patrick: D+ (1.92) He came in for White and was immediately targeted often, having trouble running with Hugh Douglas. He had 5 tackles, mostly as a function of getting beat.
Malcolm Jenkins: B- (2.22) He led the team with 10 tackles and 3 defended passes. Per usual, he had some of his best plays in the red zone. I feel like we see his best when the other team has the ball inside the five. He came up with a huge breakup preceding Greer's game winning breakup. He did also get beat numerous times by Tony Gonzalez, but most of the time the coverage was good. He also put a nice hit on Roddy White which never gets old.
Roman Harper: C (2.26) Like Jenkins he was victimized by Gonzalez a few times but it wasn't for lack of good coverage. He did have a beautiful breakup in the end zone on a face to Gonzalez. He had 9 tackles and 2 defended passes. Still, most of those tackles were far downfield.
Isa Abdul-Quddus: D+ (2.22) I am admittedly harsh with him on this grade, and he did have a beautiful pass breakup in front of Tony Gonzalez, but he made two big mistakes. First, he took a horrible angle on a Rodgers run, allowing him to cut inside for more yardage. That's a tackle he just has to make. Then, he allowed Roddy White to get behind him in the dying seconds of the game on an overthrown pass by Ryan. Fortunately that ball was overthrown but as the last line of defense with the game on the line you just can't do that. It was inexcusable. We're all fortunate he didn't cost the team a win there. He had 1 tackle.
Garrett Hartley: A (2.70) He made his lone 31 yard field goal attempt, hitting it perfectly down the middle, and all four extra points. The field goal was huge because it was late in the game, and if he misses, all the Falcons need on that final drive is a field goal to win. In other words, without that make, the Saints lose. Kudos to Hartley for bouncing back from some shaky performances.
Thomas Morstead: A+ (3.30) Every kickoff he blasted went for a touchback which we haven't seen in a while, so that was good, and his punts, my God, his punts! He blasted 5 punts for an average of 50 yards per, and allowed just 9 return yards! His net was 48.2. Give his coverage a lot of credit too for terrific open field tackles, but this has been a Pro Bowl performance all season from Legatron. If he doesn't get it this year, he never will. No punt was bigger that the one with 40 seconds left from his own 2 where he somehow managed to put the Falcons back at their own 31 to start the final drive.
Ramon Humber: B (3.50) Contributed a very physical tackle on special teams. He continues to be a solid performer. The coverage unit in general was positively outstanding.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Corey White
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead