The 10-5 New Orleans Saints were bounced from the top of the NFC South by the now 11-4 Carolina Panthers after a 17-13 loss. In a game that involved some serious rain, the Saints still managed to put the ball in the air 44 times, opposed to running the ball 30 times.
This would've been the perfect game for the Saints to run the ball 50 times, control the clock and send the Panthers to a slow and miserable death.
Death by a thousand cuts, if you will.
With running back Mark Ingram dominating the Panthers' front (83 yards on 13 carries), the Saints instead decided to call an inordinate amount of screens that generated virtually nothing. When you factor in how close the score was the entire game, coupled with the Panthers only generating 262 total yards, you can see how suspect the play-calling was for New Orleans.
The defense had a terrific outing, but it wasn't enough to overcome the coaching and overall ineptness of the Saints' philosophy on offense.
The Saints have a few positives to hang their hats on. Conversely, there are many areas where they should hang their heads.
Let's see what stood out in defeat. Here are the complete roster grades from Week 16.
Note: 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: D
Drew Brees followed up one of his worst performances of the season, in a loss to the St. Louis Rams, with an equally horrific outing. Brees made the type of mistakes that would normally be reserved for a player of much lesser ilk.
In his defense, he had some of the poorest protection of the season. And having a man throw the ball 44 times in less-than-ideal conditions just seems wrong. He went 30-of-44 for 281 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Pierre Thomas: D-
Pierre Thomas had five catches for seven yards to go along with four carries for eight yards. Needless to say, he was virtually nonexistent in the grand scheme of things. It got to the point where it was sad to see him continuously stuffed on screen passes.
Darren Sproles: D-
Darren Sproles caught three passes for just 18 yards and had one carry for two yards. This is the second game in a row where Sproles was a non-factor. I feel sorry for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week!
Mark Ingram: A+
Ingram was the best offensive player in the entire game. He ran fast, hard and ferocious. His 83 yards on just 13 carries were spectacular. If the Saints would've fed this beast the entire game, they would've won.
Khiry Robinson: C
Khiry Robinson had a nice seven-yard jaunt but was bottled up for the rest of his six carries. He finished with 18 yards.
Overall Grade: C+
Marques Colston: B-
Marques Colston had a very nice first-half performance but was lost at sea in the second half. The Saints need Colston to dominate man coverage if they are to advance in the playoffs. The Saints could help him out by committing more runs to Ingram, or in general.
Kenny Stills: D
Kenny Stills had two catches for 23 yards. He's the most explosive receiver on the active roster; it's time for him to start getting all of Lance Moore's reps. Stills looks like the next superstar slot receiver in the NFL.
Robert Meachem: D
Robert Meachem continues to take reps away from young Nick Toon. His two-catch, 14-yard performance is typical of his season.
Lance Moore: B-
Moore had nice production (three catches for 47 yards). But every catch he gets is one that should go to Stills. Stills is just more explosive than Moore and deserves the opportunity to prove it.
Jimmy Graham: B+
It's about time to start classifying the great Jimmy Graham as what he truly is. Although he's classified as a tight end, it's merely for novices to have a picture of one in a Saints uniform. Graham was quiet for most of the game but broke out on the lone touchdown drive. He finished with five catches for 73 yards.
Overall Grade: C+
Pass Protection: F-
Brees looked like one of the women on The Bachelorette being fought over by 25 men. He was constantly running for his life being forced off his spot—which made him quite erratic. Left tackle Charles Brown was treated like a rental car, and we all know how tough we can be on those!
This is the type of performance that we all have had nightmares about. Only those were set in the playoffs. Here's hoping Brown is moved out of the left tackle spot permanently.
On another note, whatever happened to third-round pick Terron Armstead? It may be time to give him a try...
This was my quote from last week against St. Louis. I need to be careful what I wish for as Armstead finally got his chance for the benched Brown and proceded to make Brown look like the next Willie Roaf!
Armstead was horrible. He gave up three sacks to Panthers end Greg Hardy and committed two false start penalties. This was a tough spot to put a rookie in, and it could've been avoided if head coach Sean Payton would've read the tea leaves a lot earlier.
Armstead looked like one of those turnstiles outside of New Orleans Arena.
Run Blocking: C (A+ with Ingram)
The line performed admirably when Mark "Emmitt Smith Jr." Ingram was toting the ball, outside of that...not so much. This is why the Saints should've rode Ingram until the wheels fell off.
Overall Grade: D
Cameron Jordan: A
"Killer" Cam Jordan was back to his usual ways. He generated five tackles, two QB hits and one sack. His ability to collapse the pocket is uncanny and works well with the stout group of linemen he plays with.
Akiem Hicks: A
Akiem Hicks is the truth. Every other game he looks like a Pro Bowler, and this was one of those outings. Hicks accumulated five tackles, from the interior of the line, while chipping in with a QB hit. Glad this guy is on the team.
Junior Galette: B
Junior Galette bounced back from a horrible performance against St. Louis to contribute a sack—upping his season total to a career-high 10. Galette is a star in the making and will warrant Pro Bowl status shortly.
Overall Grade: A
Curtis Lofton: B
Curtis Lofton had a very efficient game, contributing four tackles and a sack. Watching him try to cover tight ends is very painful, though. Here's hoping he doesn't find himself in coverage for the rest of his natural life.
David Hawthorne: C
David Hawthorne had the quietest four-tackle performance in a while. We're so used to this guy making at least one splash play per game, that not hearing his name called out for one is eerie. It's time to put back on those lucky socks, Saints fans.
Parys Haralson: D
He played? Not much use for Parys Haralson as the Saints opted to go with an even-front alignment for the most part.
Overall Grade: C+
Keenan Lewis: B
Keenan Lewis may have been in for a tough day if Panthers receiver Steve Smith hadn't injured his knee. Smith beat Lewis on a 44-yard bomb but was injured shortly thereafter. With the Saints not really having another receiver of note, Lewis was free to pitch a shutout the rest of the day.
Corey White: C-
Corey White was back to being the shaky White. He was beaten badly on a simple out for a TD. He even failed to make his patented splash play. Playing in the rain is tough on corners, as it's a reactionary position. Expect a big game out of White against Tampa.
Kenny Vaccaro: N/A
Kenny Vaccaro suffered a gruesome leg injury early in the contest and looks to be out for the rest of the season, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Vaccaro will eventually anchor a stout secondary and showed himself to be just what the doctor ordered for a unit that was the very worst ever just last season. Here's to a speedy recovery for the future superstar.
Overall Grade: C
Malcolm Jenkins: B+
Malcolm Jenkins just seems to make plays. Most are enamored with the rookie Vaccaro, but it's Jenkins who has made the most impact this season. Jenkins came up with an interception, his second of the season, and contributed three tackles as well. Jenkins needs more press for his resurgent season.
Although, he could've sold out in an attempt to disrupt the game-winning TD by Carolina as he was sent on a blitz.
Roman Harper: C
Roman Harper was able to generate a QB hit to go with his three tackles. With Vaccaro being out, it will be up to Harper to set the tone for the defense with physical play, which was Harper's role for most of his career anyway. Thinking about Harper defending slot receivers and tight ends gives me the chills.
Hopefully, the Saints come up with ways to limit Harper's use in coverage.
Overall Grade: C
Kicker Shayne Graham performed admirably in his first game as a Saint. He made both of his field goals and looked comfortable doing so. Graham should've been given the chance to kick earlier in the season when former kicker Garrett Hartley was malfunctioning.
The Saints were still unable to generate yards on returns and even chose to deactivate running back Travaris Cadet for the game. The Saints need to let Cadet handle all return duties as Sproles just doesn't seem to have it in that area this season. Father Time is undefeated, so it's time for the younger Cadet to get more of a chance to prove his worth.
The Saints have put themselves in awkward position of having to have the ball bounce their way to procure the elusive No. 2 seed in the NFC. If the Saints end up having to open the playoffs on the road, it may turn a promising season into an extremely disappointing one very quickly.
The Saints have all the talent to grab that Lombardi Trophy; they just need to start tweaking their scheme on offense to truly give themselves a chance to take their dominant home act on the road.
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