New Orleans Saints Report Card: Handing Out Grades to Every Week 3 Starter
I had several teachers growing up who would tell my classes "It's not how you start, it's how you finish". For just about every player on the Saints roster, they must've had the same advice from their grade school teachers. Either that, or the Saints' coaches teach their players the same concept.
I say this because clearly the Saints played their best football as the game went on against Houston. It's a good thing because they likely would not have won if they had played as poorly throughout the game as they did in the inaugural moments of Sunday's clash of two great offenses.
My name isn't Sean Payton or Gregg Williams or Mickey Loomis but I do have some opinions about what I saw out of the Saints—though I must admit from the start that I was unable to watch the game in its entirety since it wasn't shown on the local CBS channel. However, I was able to see key moments of the game on NFL Red Zone—which my father and I just ordered and were ecstatic about just how amazing that channel is.
I also have taken some information from the part of the radio broadcast that I listened to on the way home from church Sunday morning. So most of this is shady information at best—as much of it is secondhand for all intents and purposes. Most of my opinions are based on just a handful of moments and plays that I saw live. I can only hope my observations are indicative of the truth from Sunday's game.
QB: No. 9 Drew Brees—B
Drew is perhaps the poster child for this finish better than you start mantra regarding the Saints' dramatic comeback victory over Houston. Brees had only 21 yards passing in the first quarter, threw two interceptions in the middle quarters of the game—both of which led to Texans' scores—and generally just looked out of sync for much of the first half of the game.
Then it was as if Drew flipped a switch and ended up throwing for 370 yards and three touchdowns. He did so on 31 completions in 44 attempts—better than 67 percent, which is very good.
But one play stood out in particular. Down near the goal line, the Saints spread the field in the shotgun with the idea being to give Brees plenty of options to throw to. With nobody open and Houston beginning to collapse the pocket, Brees was able to duck away and get outside, press the defense, all the while keeping his eyes open to find a receiver.
Brees then weaved a perfectly thrown dart to Robert Meachem in the back of the end zone to give the Saints their first lead of the back-and-forth match.
The play was typical Breesthe one Saints fans have become accustomed to in the past five-plus years. And the fact that it was typical Brees tells me that while Brees struggled at times against Houston's 3-4 defense, he also did all the things the Saints needed him to do to win the game.
And last time I checked, that's all a team can ask for from their quarterback and leader.
RBs: Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, & Mark Ingram—A
The rushing yardage may not be up to the standards of some fans. One hundred total rushing yards for an offense isn't a wonderful number. Then again, this game wasn't going to be won by running the football. It was going to be won by staying as balanced as possible in regards to attempts and time of possession.
But even more important in this game were the rushing touchdowns—one each by Sproles and Ingram—and the big play nature of the running game. That was the key to this ballgame.
Sproles' 30-yard TD run on a 3rd-and-3 toss sweep play was a brilliant play call (I would have said so even if it didn't lead to a touchdown, since I always like sneaking in a 3rd-and-medium run play) that Sproles with his speed and moves turned into the genius call of the game.
Pierre Thomas provided a few key runs at different junctures of the game and did a nice job in the pass game, both catching it and protecting Brees.
Finally, Ingram had two long runs—most notably the game-winning touchdown rush from 13 yards out. Ingram is starting to really come around, which is so important to maintaining the needed balance for this offense.
Wide Receivers: Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem—A
How about the day Lance Moore had Sunday! Lance was his typical self—catching nine passes for 88 yards, a touchdown and two two-point conversions. Lance did not leave fans wanting any moore Sunday.
If that was all the Saints got out of their receivers, that would have been okay, but Robert Meachem also caught a touchdown and had a few notable first-down receptions, plus was a key blocker on Darren Sproles' 30-yard scamper on that third-down play.
Finally, Devery Henderson continued his hot start to 2011 by adding 62 receiving yards on just three receptions.
This trio even combined for two tackles on Brees' two interceptions. I'm really not sure what else you could ask for from this unit.
Tight Ends: David Thomas & Jimmy Graham—B
I have been the first one in many instances to sing the praises of the Saints two tight ends—David Thomas and Jimmy Graham. Sunday wasn't the duos best game, yet overall, they both contributed to the win.
Graham made a passionate catch and run in the third quarter that led to Meachem's touchdown that was already discussed. Then Brees took advantage of a mismatch when Graham beat Glover Quin on a "go" route for another Saints touchdown in the fourth quarter.
As for Thomas, he was his usual self in terms of being an effective blocker both in the run game and in pass pro.
Offensive Line: Kreutz, Evans, Nicks, Strief and Bushrod—B
Considering the Saints have faced three pressure defenses in three weeks, I would say the improvement from Week 1 to Week 3 has been vast. The Saints gave up only two sacks to a defense built to create pressure with many superior pass-rushers.
And they were able to spring the running backs to some large gains by opening some rather large holes. Short-yardage running is still a concern, and Sean Payton would definitely prefer to keep Brees' jersey a little cleaner, but all in all, the Saints have to be happy with the dramatic improvement shown by the Saints' offensive line in just a few short weeks.
Right tackle Zach Strief left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury and is likely to miss some time, meaning Charles Brown (pictured here) is likely to get his first extended action as a member of the New Orleans Saints.
Defensive Tackles: Shaun Rogers, Sedrick Ellis and Aubrayo Franklin—B
Sedrick Ellis was his usual active self. But Sunday, Ellis was not alone. Shaun Rogers actually showed up to the party and started to play a little better football.
Aubrayo Franklin was still quiet, but backup Mitch King provided some energy for the unit and helped enable the defense to make some rather large plays that helped the Saints pull out a hard-fought victory.
That the team held Houston to 109 rushing yards is nothing to shew away. That is a minor victory in and of itself.
Defensive Ends: Cameron Jordan and Will Smith—A
Note: Grade should read A-, but due to technical difficulties had to keep it at A.
Most analysts—myself included—expected the return of Will Smith to help the New Orleans defense. And he wasn't perfect, but certainly, his presence was welcomed.
Smith had the third-most tackles on the team—including one tackle for loss, and he registered an official hit on QB Matt Schaub.
On the other side, rookie Cameron Jordan played an outstanding game. Jordan looked every bit the part of a first-round defensive end. He stayed strong in the running game and seemed to be on Schaub's face on a number of pass attempts.
The kid had his naysayers during the preseason, but through three games has—in my opinion—been the Saints best front-seven player.
Turk McBride has also done a very nice job, recording his second sack of the season today and a tackle for loss. If these three continue to play this well, while getting further contributions from Junior Galette and Jeff Charleston, then I believe the Saints could have the best defensive line in all of football.
Linebackers: Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Jonathan Casillas, & Scott Shanle—B-
I have long been a Jo-Lonn Dunbar supporter, and Sunday, I was proven, at least somewhat, correct, as he led the team in tackles with 10 of them. Yes, he left a few plays on the field Sunday, but he certainly can't be blamed for the struggles of the defensive unit.
On the other hand, Jonathan Casillas got burned a couple times by Houston H-Back James Casey, but when it mattered most, Casillas recognized a route concept and was able to make a play on a wheel route to Casey to keep the Texans out of the end zone.
Finally, I saw Shanle on the field the most out of the other linebackers, but his impact was rather pedestrian.
The Saints did get some production out of rookie linebacker Martez Wilson, which is certainly a welcomed sight for the Who Dats.
Cornerbacks: Jabari Greer, Pat Robinson and Leigh Torrence—C+
This group really started out struggling mightily. Andre Johnson and co. were killing these guys. Then they got a few breaks, the pass rush started getting some legitimate pressure and they made a few plays.
Jabari Greer had a huge interception to set up a go-ahead touchdown, Leigh Torrence had a huge sack and Patrick Robinson looked lost like he always does.
Overall, I have to give the group a C+ because I know they are better than that. Though it was a tough matchup, they truly can do better. Of course, having a healthy Tracy Porter certainly wouldn't hurt.
Safeties: Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins—B+
Roman Harper did get beat in coverage a few times Sunday but has clearly elevated his play in the past couple games after being embarrassed the past two times he and the Saints have been on national television.
As for Malcolm Jenkins, it would be difficult to ever complain about the Ohio State alum. He continues to prove his draft projection true—as the most versatile defensive back in the draft. Sunday, he did nothing to cause that notion to be removed. In fact, Jenkins just continued to be perhaps the most solid safety in all footballand don't forget this is just his second year playing the position.
Kickers: Thomas Morstead and John Kasay—A+
Thomas Morstead has done a wonderful job all season on kickoffs and directional punting. He was a key weapon in the field position game again against Houston.
As for Kasay, his addition to this team with the absence of Garrett Hartley has been so crucial to the Saints offense maintaining its stature as the game's best (or maybe second best).
He was accurate on each opportunity again Sundayand the Saints needed every point they could get against the Texans.