Saints vs. Cowboys: Final Report Card, Grade for New Orleans
New Orleans 34
The New Orleans Saints held onto defeat the Dallas Cowboys on the road on Sunday. To some extent they actually did not hold on, but merely found a way to win. After holding a two-touchdown lead with less than four minutes to play, the Saints found themselves in overtime after Tony Romo threw two touchdown passes in that time span.
The defense bowed up in overtime and Drew Brees played brilliant football throughout, throwing for well over 400 yards and making perfect decisions on nearly every drop back attempt. Aside from a week ago against Tampa Bay, this was the best game of "complementary football' the Saints played in all of 2012.
Overall Game Grade--A-
Drew Brees did everything right in this game. Though he has put up larger numbers, rarely has he played a better, more efficient football game than in this one.
He made wise decisions on all but one throw. And his accuracy was nearly perfect. This may have been Brees' finest four-quarter performance of 2012.
His 446 yards were only matched in brilliance by his wise decision-making, lack of mistakes and deft crafting up of the Cowboys defensive squad.
Pierre Thomas was used brilliantly as a check down receiver on numerous occasions. His effectiveness in that phase of the game made life easy for Brees who was getting moved within the pocket (though never significantly pressured). Thomas was also effective—as is generally the case—as a between the tackles runner.
Mark Ingram ran hard in between the tackles and outside. Early in the game he really set the tone for the rest of the offense with his tenacity as a runner. And he even showed some abilities as a receiver, unlike what we had seen at any times in his first two years in the league.
Once again, Darren Sproles was used to perfection as both a runner and receiver. His work as a receiver netted over 100 yards. And his running provided big plays for the rushing offense. Just as impressively, Sproles looked great in the few times he was called to aid in pass protection.
Chris Ivory missed the game due to a hamstring injury.
Travaris Cadet saw limited meaningful snaps. He was effective when used though as a returner
Marques Colston was borderline amazing in this game. He did a wonderful job of getting open in the middle intermediate zone. His catch-and-run in the fourth quarter was key to the team securing this victory.
Lance Moore was Lance Moore again. He continued to be a key receiver on third down and for other key receptions. Despite his diminutive size, Lance Moore was used effectively in the red zone. He missed an opportunity to secure a touchdown, but made good on another opportunity later in the game. He did fumble the football twice and had a drop.
Devery Henderson did nothing of note in this contest. Sadly, that’s become a common theme from him.
Joe Morgan was an invisible man—at least in terms of impact. He was used in a Robert Meachem role—where he was given snaps on run downs as a blocking receiver.
Roby played and was mostly effective on special teams. He routinely sped to the end zone and nearly caused two downed punts inside the five (one he managed to keep in).
Jimmy Graham was open all day long. Unfortunately drops and tentativeness often pervaded his performance Sunday. But he also made a number of key catches throughout the game. His effort was mostly solid.
Thomas found a ton of holes to exploit early in the contest. Thomas had another touchdown and was effective when used as a run blocker. His play as a fullback was almost vintage 2009.
After playing for the first time all season one week ago, Higgins did not see action Sunday as he was officially inactive.
LT Jermon Bushrod—Grade—B
Bushrod was mostly excellent today. He managed to hold off DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer—whomever was matched up against him based on the play. He wasn’t as good in the run game though.
LG Ben Grubbs—Grade—A-
The Saints’ offense gave up very little pressure and moved the ball effectively with the rushing game. Give props to Ben Grubbs, among others, for opening rushing lanes for the Saints’ trio of talented backs and gave Brees time to find his check downs on almost every snap.
C Brian de la Puente—Grade—C+
Brian de la Puente regressed a bit in this contest. Though his efforts in the run game were solid, most of the Cowboys’ limited pressure in this game came from the “A gap”—which is the gap de la Puente is responsible for blockading.
RG Jahri Evans—Grade—B
Jahri Evans wasn’t bad by any means. His work in the run game was as fine as it has been at any point in his career. And very little of the pressure Brees faced came from the right side of the “B gap”.
RT Zach Strief—Grade—A-
After missing last week’s contest, Strief returned to action and played probably his finest game of the year. His work in pass protection was quite possibly the best we’ve seen from him all year long.
Charles Brown did not play in this game.
Bryce Harris has been moved to the IR.
Robinson saw only a handful of snaps.
Olsen was used on a number of snaps as an extra blocker. His play wasn’t as solid as a week ago, but also wasn’t awful. He has found a home as an extra blocker, which the Saints love to use regularly.
DE Will Smith—Grade—A
Will Smith wouldn’t have heard his name called as often if he were somehow listening to the broadcast as the game progressed. But his coaches undoubtedly will be pleased with his effort when they grade the film on Monday morning. His work against the run was outstanding, and his pass rushing prowess opened holes for fellow teammates to pressure Tony Romo.
DT Brodrick Bunkley—Grade—C
Brodrick Bunkley didn’t see a ton of action in this game. And his production seemed to regress a bit. That was a comment from last week, which rings just as true today.
DT Sedrick Ellis—Grade—C-
Sedrick Ellis was nowhere to be found on the majority of the defensive snaps he took—which were not many. When he did see the field, his contribution was mainly just to give the team its’ mandatory 11th body.
DE Cameron Jordan—Grade—A
Cam Jordan wasn’t quite as dominant as he’s been at times this season. But he was still one of the best players on the field all day long. His play was against the run was brilliant as he routinely got penetration and forced Murray to cut back into the middle of the defense. And his pass rushing efforts should not be ignored either.
DT Tom Johnson—Grade—B
Tom Johnson was constantly around the football on the day, when he was in the game. He played well against the run and was a big reason for the Saints’ defensive dominance. His pass rushing efforts were also on display in a rare manner in this game.
DT Akiem Hicks—Grade—B
Akiem Hicks did not make a ton of plays in this game. He left the game due to an injury in this contest. When he was in the game, he made an impact.
DE Junior Galette—Grade—B
Galette was used as a pure pass rusher when the Cowboys were in catch-up mode. He recorded a sack and was regularly getting around the edge to get pressure on Tony Romo.
DE Martez Wilson—Grade—B
Martez Wilson saw a fair number of snaps in this contest. He was used both as a pass rusher and a defender in coverage. He wasn’t great in either, but his presence continues to give Steve Spagnuolo great options.
MLB Curtis Lofton—Grade—B
Curtis Lofton was all over the field in this one. He regularly wrapped up in the open field. His play was consistent. And he was the primary reason the Saints caused the fumble which they recovered at the Dallas five-yard line.
OLB Scott Shanle—Grade—N/A
Scott Shanle did not play in this game, as he was officially inactive.
OLB Will Herring—Grade—Incomplete
Herring made a key tackle on special teams. He is no longer even a reserve on special teams though.
Casillas was used mostly as the nickel linebacker. He was effective in coverage when used. If he can continue his level of play from this game, he could be Jon Vilma’s replacement at strongside linebacker in 2013.
Jon Vilma didn’t seem to make any plays in this game. He didn’t even seem to make a tackle. The truth is that he was more active than he seemed. But clearly Vilma is on dangerous footing for maintaining a roster spot in 2013.
David Hawthorne has come on in the past couple weeks. He is beginning to look like the player the Saints thought they were signing when they acquired him this past offseason.
CB Jabari Greer—Grade—B
The veteran Greer played more than fine early in the game. He was lost midway through the game with an apparent concussion.
CB Corey White—Grade—N/A
White was placed on injured reserve earlier this week, thus ending his season.
CB Johnny Patrick—Grade—C
Patrick saw a ton of snaps after Jabari Greer left the game with an apparent concussion. His play was more than solid in man-to-man efforts. He did give up a late touchdown but had tight coverage on that play.
CB Patrick Robinson—Grade—D+
Patrick Robinson played OK after halftime. Before then, he was clearly awful. He played off coverage against Dez Bryant—hoping to eliminate the big play. The problem was that Bryant ran his routes right at the gut of Robinson. Robinson allowed Bryant to do it, which caused him to become flat-footed and slow to turn and run or break on the throw in front of him.
Once he caught on to Bryant’s route-running style, he adjusted by getting into his backpedal quicker and kept his feet moving. The result was a clear improvement.
CB Elbert Mack—Grade—B
Mack continued his solid play as the nickel corner. He was beat on a few occasions but never so badly that the team suffered for it.
S Roman Harper—Grade—B-
Roman Harper was almost non-existent in this contest. It’s interesting to see the evolution of his game from an in-the-box safety to more of a deep coverage type. That is the role he played most often Sunday.
S Malcolm Jenkins—Grade—N/A
Malcolm Jenkins was placed on Injured Reserve last week.
S Isa Abdul-Quddus—Grade—B
Quddus did a really nice job executing his role as the traditional free safety. He flew to the football and made key tackles.
S Rafael Bush—Grade—B+
Bush was used in many of the sub-package nickel and dime defenses the Saints used late in the game. He was effective, though not nearly as flashy as he was in previous games.
Overall Game Grade--B-
Though far from a poor showing, the Saints have clearly had better days as an entire special teams unit. Unlike two weeks ago against the Giants, Thomas Morstead was in no way responsible for the units' struggles.
P Thomas Morstead—Grade—A
Thomas Morstead punted the football with great hangtime and directional kicking. And his kickoff efforts were more than fine. The return success that Dallas experienced on occasion in this one was not the fault of Morstead.
K Garrett Hartley—Grade—B+
Hartley kicked two field goal successfully, but missed one that he seemingly should not have. If someone were only to view the boxscore of this contest, they may not conclude that Hartley had a poor game. But watching the game, it was pretty evident.
Overall Game Grade--B+
The coaching staff did a great job throughout the course of this game of staying aggressive and making the Cowboys beat them. On a few snaps the Cowboys did just that. But the Saints' game plan and execution throughout the whole of the game was far superior to the Cowboys.
Credit Joe Vitt and his coaching staff for keeping his team motivated and for instituting such a brilliant game plan while demanding tremendous execution.