In a pivotal season-opener matchup that saw the New Orleans Saints leave with a 23-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints announced to the rest of the NFC South that 2013 is going to be different than last year.
The statement made by the Saints defense—stymieing the Falcons high-powered attack—may be the most significant takeaway from the weekend. Overall, the Saints have a ton of things to celebrate.
Let's see who stood out in victory. Here's the complete roster grades from Week 1.
Being the general of a high-powered offensive attack is not easy. Drew Brees just makes it look that way.
His performance (26-of-35, 357 yards, two TDs) in victory was vintage Brees. His ability to extend plays while keeping his eyes downfield is uncanny. Young quarterbacks take note.
Brees was not perfect. A couple of underthrown deep balls paired with an interception—a pass he threw behind Marques Colston—will certainly be factored into his performance.
Overall Grade: A-
Mark Ingram: F-
Ingram looks lost out there (nine carries for 11 yards). His ineffectiveness in the scheme becomes more apparent with each passing game.
Pierre Thomas: A
Thomas looks great in both the passing (four catches for 16 yards) and running game (nine carries for 43 yards). He's the true rock of the backfield. He's perfect in a microwave-like role. He doesn't need a ton of carries to be effective.
Sproles might be the most effective third-down back in the league. He constantly bailed the Saints out of long-yardage jams. He wasn't as efficient in the run game, though (eight carries for 22 yards).
Overall Grade: B-
New Orleans' receivers
Marques Colston: A
Colston barely played in the preseason. He showed that he doesn't need much preparatory work in the form of games to anchor a passing attack. His five catches for 68 yards and one TD, were all crucial in this victory.
Lance Moore: C
You can almost see a changing of the guard happening with Lance Moore and Kenny Stills. I barely even noticed Moore played in the game. His two catches for 22 yards were pretty insipid.
Kenny Stills: B+
The rookie continues to impress at every junction. He's being used as the deep threat but is most effective in the short-to-intermediate game. Once Robert Meachem returns to his role of taking the top off the defense, Stills will be even more effective. Catching two passes for 86 yards is a great debut.
He's earning the trust of Brees, and he is looking like the future of the receiving corps.
Overall Grade: B+
Jimmy Graham: B
In my opinion Jimmy Graham is the best tight end in the NFL. He wins that distinction on sheer talent alone. But something seemed missing in his performance Sunday. At times it seems as though his effort wasn't fully there, as if he was on cruise control.
His four catches for 45 yards (one TD) were very timely, though.
Ben Waston: A
Watson's three catches for 31 yards won't jump off the stats sheet, but if you watched this guy block and move around the formation, you would be very impressed. Watson is a high-intensity tight end who makes everyone else's job easier.
Overall Grade: B+
Pass protection: B-
With two sacks of Drew Brees, statically speaking, the Saints' offensive line did pretty well. But if you watched the game, you could say that Brees got himself out of many more sacks.
It's rare that an O-line is perfect with the advent of today's multiple-scheme defenses. But overall it was a pretty good day for the Saints in pass-protection.
Run blocking: C
Outside of Pierre Thomas, the Saints didn't have much to show for their in between-the-tackles game. Both Sproles and Ingram were bottled up in that respect. Luckily, Sean Payton stayed committed to the run.
Cameron Jordan: B
Jordan didn't chart a solo tackle or sack on the stat sheet, but his presence was definitely felt in the form of pressure on the quarterback.
Akiem Hicks: A+
You have to wonder if Hicks followed Matt Ryan home. During the game, Hicks seemed to be everywhere the Falcons' signal-caller was!
What a game, and what a motor!
Tom Johnson: D
I didn't notice the dude. I'm still wondering how he made the team over Jay Richardson.
Brodrick Bunkley: B
Very stout at the point of attack, while anchoring a stifling run defense.
John Jenkins: B
Overall Grade: A
Junior Galette: A
Galette was worth the wait in my opinion. He talked a big game all week and backed it up. His pressure off the edge was phenomenal in this one.
Parys Haralson: A
Haralson had a great debut, it almost seemed as though there was two of him on the field at all times. He was around plays that much. He was definitely worth the trade.
Overall Grade: A
Curtis Lofton: B-
Lofton was pretty good against the run. He also had a couple of blunders in pass coverage. Overall, it was pretty solid play from the former Falcon.
David Hawthorne: C
He's playing an impact position but is not coming up with impact plays. You have to wonder what Ramon Humber would do with the opportunity.
Will Herring: F
Why is he on the team again?
Overall Grade: C
Keenan Lewis: Incomplete (was looking like an early F before injury)
If his preseason is indication, we may have a free-agent bust on our hands.
Jabari Greer: C
Greer is ordinary. Not overly athletic, not overly dominate. He's pretty much a J.A.G. (Just another guy). He just runs behind receivers who catch the ball on him.
Patrick Robinson: Incomplete (was looking like an F before injury)
I'm running out of patience with this player. He's one of the most athletic players in the league; he just can't seem to put it all together.
Corey White: B
I've been banging the drum for White to get more opportunities. His play on Julio Jones, at times, made me look like a genius. Fans will blame the Jones TD on White, but it was a blown coverage.
Malcolm Jenkins: A
Forcing fumbles and making tackles. If Jenkins can perform like that on a weekly basis, the Saints will have one of the better safety combinations in the league.
Roman Harper: A
Tony Gonzalez didn't exactly light anything up at the tight end position. Harper also came up with the game-ending turnover.
Kenny Vaccaro: B
Vaccaro continues to be a tone-setter for the secondary. His overall physicality was on full display throughout this one. His slot coverage will continue to improve with more snaps.
Rafael Bush: C
Bush plays the deep-safety position. The Falcons didn't really stretch the field, so Bush didn't get much action. In the opportunities he did have, he didn’t make much of an impact.
Overall Grade: A
Special teams: A
The Falcons didn't have many opportunities to return any kicks or punts. The Falcons had two punt returns, with a 13-yarder being the longest. The Saints didn't have many opportunities to affect the game with returns either.
The kickers did their jobs respectively.
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