The New Orleans Saints' 49-17 rout of the Dallas Cowboys was the most impressive outing of the season. The fact that it followed the worst outing of the season (a 26-20 loss to the New York Jets) makes it even more special.
The Saints rung up 625 total yards of offense—while limiting Dallas to 193 yards. The discrepancy in time of possession (39:32 for the Saints as opposed to 20:28 for the Cowboys) showed that the Saints could sustain drives as well as generate explosive plays.
In addition, the Saints season-high total of 242 yards rushing (on 38 attempts) showed they can be as balanced as anyone when they are committed to being such.
This type of performance came just in time as the San Francisco 49ers bring their version of smashmouth football to New Orleans on Sunday. The Saints will undoubtedly need a repeat performance of the Cowboys game to leave with a victory.
But for now, let's enjoy this masterful performance. Let's see who stood out in victory. Here are the complete roster grades for Week 10.
Players are graded on the standard scale. Higher grades are given for splash plays (TDs, INTs, sacks, etc.) and proper technique. Conversely, lower grades are given for turnovers and improper technique.
Drew Brees: A+
Drew Brees was on fire. His 34-of-41, 392-yard performance (four TDs) was one of his best of the season. Every read was right on the money, and most of throws were put right where they needed to be.
Watching Brees rearrange the Cowboys secondary was better than anything seen on Nip/Tuck. The only thing missing was the drama...no wait; they were playing the Cowboys, so the drama was just on the other sideline.
Sunday night television has a new star, and his name is Dr. Brees.
Pierre Thomas: A+
Pierre Thomas gains yards in chunks and usually falls forward after contact. He's rare in the fact that he's equally adept in both the pass and run game. His 17-carry, 87-yard performance in the run game was special—even more so when you factor in his longest run was 10 yards.
Darren Sproles caught seven passes for 76 yards (one TD) and also chipped in with 12 yards on five carries. He should always get two or three carries to keep the defense guessing, but his effectiveness will mostly be in the pass game.
Mark Ingram: A+
Mark Ingram was the absolute truth! He thoroughly reminded us of why he was one of the greatest college football players of this generation. Get this man in "21 personnel" and let him work off the fullback exclusively.
It's nice to see the coaching staff self-scouting and making the necessary adjustments to help this former first-round pick succeed. He rewarded them with 145 yards on just 14 carries (one TD). The haters must now sit back and fume...for at least a week.
Overall Grade: A+ (A few days after clamoring for the Saints to operate with balance, this performance satiates that desire.)
Marques Colston: A+
Marques Colston once was lost, now he's found. His seven-catch, 107-yard (one TD) performance reminded many people of the old days. You know...like last season. When Colston is on his game, the Saints are virtually unstoppable through the air.
Kenny Stills: A+
Break out the anointing oil. Kenny Stills is becoming one of the best deep threats in the entire league. When you take into account that he has the tools to be the best intermediate threat as well, it makes for a Fright Night for opposing teams.
Stills had three catches for 75 yards, with one touchdown.
Robert Meachem: C
Robert Meachem was only targeted once. But in typical Meachem fashion that target went for 17 yards. With Colson back, Meachem's opportunities may be few and far between.
Lance Moore: C
Lance Moore was targeted twice and came away with one catch for 14 yards. Depending on the personnel grouping, Moore may have many more games like this one. With fullback Jed Collins getting more snaps as a lead blocker, the two-receiver set would mostly consist of Stills and Colston.
Overall Grade: B+
Jimmy Graham: A
Though Jimmy Graham only had five catches for 59 yards, he gets an A for effort. He literally drug Cowboys defenders up and down the field. His foot injury is obviously limiting his mobility, but it doesn't limit him in being a complete beast!
Ben Watson: C
Ben Watson had a tough game. His one-catch, five-yard performance was nothing to phone home about, but the nasty concussion he suffered was. Here's to a rapid return for the most selfless player on the roster.
Overall Grade: B
Pass Protection: A
Brees was sacked once, but he generally enjoyed a pretty clean pocket. We know what he can do with spotty protection, could you imagine if played with a clean pocket most of the time? Scary.
Run Blocking: A+
The line deserves a round of applause with the job it did run blocking. Some of the holes seemed as wide as the Grand Canyon. In addition, they blew defenders off the ball in the power game, while blocking in unison in the zone-blocking scheme.
I'm calling for an encore this weekend against the San Francisco 49ers. As we all know, they will undoubtedly need a repeat performance of the Cowboys game.
Overall Grade: A+
Cameron Jordan: C
Cam Jordan didn't make the impact we've grown accustomed to (one tackle, one QB hit). In his defense, the Saints were barely on defense.
Glenn Foster: B
Glenn Foster is in the rotating cast of interior linemen who make an impact every other game. This was Foster's time to shine (one tackle, one sack, one pass deflection and one QB hit), and shine he did.
Tom Johnson: B
The line as a whole needs to start contributing to the run defense. When you're a part of a pressure-based attack, it can be easy to fall into the trap of concentrating on the rush. But playing the pass on the way to the run is not an excuse for poor run fits. Once the line plays a complete game, you may very well have the league's only complete team...
Overall Grade: C+
Curtis Lofton: C+
Not a typical Curtis Lofton game, as he only came up with four tackles—all of the solo variety. The run defense was poor, as usual, and it may be time for Lofton to step up and fix the leaks. This was a weird game for the defense, as there just weren't many opportunities to make plays.
David Hawthorne: INC
David Hawthorne suited up but didn't play much because of a toe injury (he reportedly banged his toe against the bedpost). Hawthorne is having a good season and needs to get healthy as soon as possible. With the 49ers coming into town, Hawthorne's defensive run prowess will be counted on.
Ramon Humber: B
Ramon Humber played in Hawthorne's spot and did a pretty good job. His athleticism and penchant for splash plays are always welcomed. His five-tackle performance was highlighted by two tackles for loss.
Will Herring: B-
Will Herring did a decent job with his extended playing time. He had five tackles (three solo) and didn't look out of place—for the most part. The Saints ran their normal 4-3-based alignment for the duration of the contest, which allowed Herring to play a lot more.
Overall Grade: C+
Junior Galette: C
Junior Galette played end mostly in the 4-3-based alignment. The Cowboys usually ran to the strong side opposite to where Galette was positioned. He didn't have much success with his rush against Cowboys right tackle Doug Free. Galette finished with one tackle.
Parys Haralson: B-
Parys Haralson notched a sack with his increased playing time in the even-front alignment. Haralson got some pressure on the QB and generally looked stout at the point of attack...except against Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith.
Overall Grade: B
Bryant bustin' loose on lewis
Keenan Lewis: A+ (given the circumstances)
Keenan Lewis was charged with shadowing the league's best talent at receiver in Dallas' Dez Bryant. Bryant was held to one catch for 44 yards (a spectacular one at that) and was virtually erased from the stats sheet. Now normally when a corner shadows a receiver, he does so with man-to-man principles.
Lewis may be the first corner—in history—who shadowed a receiver while receiving help the entire time. This was a masterful game plan by Saints coordinator Rob Ryan to take away the Cowboys linchpin.
The Saints went as far as double-vice coverage (two defenders jamming a receiver at the line), in addition to the bracket coverage and safety help over the top. Lewis did an excellent job at pressing Bryant on the line ensuring the timing would be off on the route.
But the one time the Cowboys wised up and moved Bryant to the slot—where pressing is dangerous because the sideline is not available as an extra defender—he toasted Lewis like a Subway sandwich.
Bryant was taken out of the game, and Lewis had a part in it, but anyone saying Lewis shut Bryant down by himself needs to be drug tested immediately. Lewis finished with one tackle.
Jabari Greer: B-
Jabari Greer had three pass deflections, but was beat on a beautiful double move by Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams. His shaky play is only greasing the skids for the emergence of Corey White.
Corey White: B
White just makes plays. He jumped off the screen with two pass deflections but almost gave up a bomb to Bryant. Every week, he shows up and shows out. He's quickly becoming one of the better players in the secondary.
Overall Grade: A-
Malcolm Jenkins: DNP
The best player in the secondary missed this tilt with a knee injury. Malcolm Jenkins plays the run extremely well and would've made an impact in this game.
Kenny Vaccaro: B-
Kenny Vaccaro was having a pretty good game before he exited with a concussion. Vaccaro will reportedly miss next week's game against the 49ers, thus robbing us the opportunity to see the league's two best rookie safeties in action—with 49ers' Eric Reid coming to town.
Coincidentally, Reid also suffered a concussion on Sunday. Reid and Vaccaro are both future stars, it's hard to pick between the two. Vaccaro is more physical; Reid is a better playmaker.
Rafael Bush: C
Rafael Bush had a highlight tackle on Cowboys back DeMarco Murray—but that's about all he did. He may be counted on to be star on the secondary next week. After the way he's performed thus far on the season, there's no doubt he will do a good job if called upon.
Overall Grade: C
Kicker Garrett Hartley missed an early field goal—as usual. When he misses a key kick that ends the season, will it be time for a kicking competition then? Hopefully the Saints get proactive in bringing in a kicker to at least see if there's anything better out there.
Sproles had an uncharacteristic fumble of a punt return. Sproles making such a mistake is so rare there's no need to even harp on it.
The fun is just beginning, people. The game against the 49ers could be a classic. As we all know, styles make fights. If the Saints execute in the fashion that they did against the Cowboys, it will be another notch in the win column.
But if the Saints revert back to finesse ball, while not being able to stop the run, it could be a long night.
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