Anytime you can beat a divisional opponent, on the road, on Thursday Night Football, credit is most certainly in order.
With every week, the pressure mounts for the Saints to not only win, but win in convincing fashion. Usually when you pile up close to 400 yards on offense (381 to be exact), while holding the opponent to 13 points—it would be considered dominant.
But when you allow 383 total yards of offense—to a team seemingly devoid of weapons—the skeptics will rear their collective ugly heads.
The name of the game is to win, win, win—no matter what (now I have that stupid song in my head). At 9-2, with zero conference losses, the Saints have won pretty much every conceivable way.
With the playoff race thickening, notching another tally in the win column is all that matters.
With that said, the Saints have a ton of positives to hang their hats on. Conversely, there are a few areas where they should hang their heads.
Let's see who stood out in victory. Here are the complete roster grades for Week 12.
Drew Brees: A
Though Brees didn't perform Yeoman's work as he usually does, his 23-of-33, 278-yard, two-touchdown performance was very solid. As a general taking troop into hostile territory, Brees' even demeanor provides a sense of serenity.
It's arguable if Brees is the best quarterback in the league. But there should be no debate as to who is the best leader.
Pierre Thomas: A+
Pierre Thomas deserved an A off the strength of the stiff-arm he delivered to Falcons' corner Desmond Trufant (captured above). It's as if every time you looked up Thomas was ripping off some type of explosive play.
His 10-carry, 73-yard performance on the ground was supported by a five-catch, 53-yard performance through the air. Thomas is simply the most underrated player on the team—and perhaps the league.
Darren Sproles: DNP
Sproles was a scratch due to a concussion. Here's hoping he returns for next week's showdown with the Seattle Seahawks.
Khiry Robinson: INC
Khiry Robinson was active with Sproles being down. His lone four-yard carry was electrifying as usual. But at this point, Mark Ingram is the much better option to split carries with Thomas. There's more to being a running back than just running the ball.
Mark Ingram: B
Ingram looks reinvigorated out there with each carry. His 32 yards on nine carries was marred by the fact that he had a 10-yard gain called back by a silly holding penalty. Ingram is a punishing back that gets stronger as the game wears on. Feed this man!
Overall Grade: B+
Marques Colston: B
Marques Colston is beginning to look more and more like himself with each passing week. After getting off to an unbelievably slow start, Colston is beginning to gain traction when it matters the most. Colston finished with four catches for 40 yards.
Kenny Stills: C
It's too early to call Stills a star, but he definitely has had the looks of one in certain games. This unfortunately was not one of them. Stills finished with two catches for 22 yards. As the most explosive receiver on the team, Stills needs more targets.
Robert Meachem: C
Meachem gained 18 yards on one catch. With the Falcons taking away a lot of the deep stuff, Meachem wasn't able to generate one of his patented explosive plays. It may be too late in his career to expect diversity. But it may be a necessity in certain situations.
Lance Moore: C
Lance Moore doesn't seem to be the same player he was previously in his career. With the emergence of the more explosive Stills, this may be Moore's last ride in the Big Easy. Moore finished with 22 yards on two catches.
Overall Grade: C
Jimmy Graham: A+
This was just another average day for Graham. Bend a goal post; carry a defender darn near twenty yards for a touchdown and stiff-arm virtually an entire defense on one play. Oh yeah, finishing with five catches for 100 yards is pretty impressive in itself. What a player!
Ben Watson: B
Watson made his return after missing the previous game with a concussion. One catch for a yard will never be anything to phone home about. But doing so in the back of the end zone on a touchdown is. Watson's effectiveness goes beyond stats as his selflessness lends itself in pass protection and even run blocking.
Overall Grade: A
Pass Protection: A
Brees was sacked once and wasn't moved off his spot much. If there's a silver lining in this "perceived" lackluster performance, it's the offensive line dominating a much-inferior unit for the Falcons. The real test comes next week against perhaps the best line in all of football in the Seattle Seahawks.
Run Blocking: A+
The line opened up the gate for much of the night in the run game. There's no secret that the line seems to function better when the play calling is balanced. Head coach Sean Payton has called a wonderful game the past three contests. But will he go full-turtle mode, in regard to run, if the Seahawks are able to contain it?
Overall Grade: A
Cameron Jordan: A+
"Killer" Cam Jordan is amazing. How does a man that big move with such agility? After his performance against Atlanta, it may be time for the Falcons to put out a restraining order on Jordan to keep him from harassing quarterback Matt Ryan.
With six tackles (two for a loss), four QB hits and one pass deflection, Jordan showed how complete of a football player he is.
Now he may need top-notch representation to fight that football restraining order. Wise up Atlanta!
Akiem Hicks: A+
Akiem Hicks is the absolute truth! His eight-tackle, 1.5-sack performance is almost beginning to be standard practice for this behemoth. Thankfully the Saints are predominantly running an even-front alignment which allows Hicks to focus on being a backfield disruptor. And that he most certainly is.
Junior Galette: D
Did Galette play in this game? His lone QB hit suggests he did. But come on, Galette should have dominated the Falcons line much like Hicks and Jordan.
He's that good.
Overall Grade: B+
Curtis Lofton: B+
Lofton was undoubtedly fired up to play his old team. He let out his pent-up aggression to the tune of nine tackles. Lofton is just a solid rock that most defenses would love to have. Especially Atlanta...
David Hawthorne: B
Hawthorne is an excellent wingman to Lofton—in a football sense. Not sure how he would be as a wingman at a nightclub. His aggressiveness may work just as well at the club as it does on the field. Hawthorne finished with six tackles.
Kenyunta Dawson: B
Dawson's versatility has been exactly what the doctor ordered for this multi-scheme defense. Dawson can be used to rush both organically and in the manufactured way. He contributed two tackles, one QB hit and a half sack.
Parys Haralson: B
Haralson and Dawson had the same exact stat line. They both are used in similar fashion. And they both are excellent additions to a stout Saints defense.
Overall Grade: B
Keenan Lewis: A
Shutting down some "Johnny Nobody" on the Buffalo Bills doesn't warrant shutdown corner status. But shadowing Falcons' receiver Roddy White and virtually erasing him off the stats sheet—so much that my buddy asked if White was even playing—certainly does.
Around these parts, White is a football god. But it's safe to say Lewis doesn't adhere to that particular religion.
Corey White: D-
In White's first game as the starting No. 2 corner, he looked like Tarzan but played like Jane. Actually Jane may have had better outing than White due to her uncanny agility.
Zing! I'll be here all day ladies and gentlemen, or at least for these next two slides.
But seriously, White's performance was horrible in itself, but when you factor in how he struggled to defend Falcons' undrafted rookie Darius Johnson, the water becomes even muddier. White will eventually be a fantastic player as he has innate ball-tracking skills to go along with some serious athleticism.
But relying on inexperienced players at the corner position is not what Super Bowl teams do. The Saints need to get on the phone with veteran corner Nnamdi Asomugha now.
Kenny Vaccaro: D
Yeah that's right. Saints' safety Kenny Vaccaro is being classified as a corner in this article. For some odd reason the Saints continue to employ Vaccaro as a nickel corner despite the fact that he's not very good at it.
Seeing Falcons' receiver Harry Douglas spin Vaccaro around like ceiling fans is frustrating. Furthermore, with White being the best nickel defender on the team, not putting in a call to Asomugha really brings out the frustration.
Here's hoping this situation works itself out quickly.
Overall Grade: C
Malcolm Jenkins: B
The best player in the secondary was back wreaking havoc all over the field. His near interception of a pass intended for Falcons' tight end Tony Gonzalez almost capped off a solid performance (five tackles and one pass deflection).
Roman Harper: C
Harper was back doing that stuff we don't like. You know, like covering actual players. Harper is an excellent tackler and blitzer. But seeing him defend receivers and tight ends is unnerving. Harper finished with nine tackles.
Overall Grade: B-
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