In Week 15, the Saints played one of their best football games of the 2011 season.
They beat the Minnesota Vikings, 42-20, on the road in Minneapolis. The Saints were nearly perfect in every facet of the game. On a day like the Saints had against the Vikings, it is difficult to critique anything that they did.
The Saints offense gained 573 yards and the defense only gave up 207 yards to the Vikings. They were able to contain the NFL's best running back, Adrian Peterson, to just 60 yards, and the Saints tormented Minnesota's injury-stricken secondary for three brutal hours. The defensive line put pressure on Christian Ponder, and the offensive line kept Jared Allen away from Drew Brees.
The Saints just played great football.
However, Brees and Sean Payton will be dissecting this game tape and pinpointing all of their mistakes so that they can improve in the coming weeks.
With that being said, I will grade every Saints starter based on their performance in Sunday's game. I say every starter, but let's face it, the Saints really have about 30 different starters on their team. They just so happen to rotate them in and out.
Let's look at the Week 15 grades for every starter on the New Orleans Saints.
Do I even need to say anything about this guy's performance against the Vikings?
He threw for 412 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He completed 80 percent of his passes and finished the day with an astounding 149.2 quarterback rating.
Pierre Thomas' stats will not blow you away, but there were a lot of things I like about his play against the Vikings.
He averaged 5.5 yards per carry and showed again that he is one of the best screen backs in the National Football League. Thomas continues to be one of the most versatile backs in the league.
He finished the day with 44 rushing yards, 41 receiving yards and one touchdown. Thomas played very well against Minnesota, and it is really puzzling as to why this guy does not get more carries out of the backfield.
His performance against the Vikings suggests that the Saints should hand the ball off to Thomas a little bit more often.
Darren Sproles is a complete maniac.
He ran the football for 33 yards, caught the ball for 79 yards, returned three kickoffs for 75 yards and three punts for another 45 yards. He finished the day with 232 total yards and one touchdown.
Sproles has been a weapon for the Saints all day, and teams are starting to notice. However, they are still unable to stop Sproles. He had a great catch and run on a screen and played well throughout the course of the game.
Sproles has consistently performed well for the Saints in 2011, and he did just that against the Vikings.
Chris Ivory looked very similar to Mark Ingram on Sunday.
He ran the ball with a vicious tenacity and refused to go down. Ivory finished the day with 74 yards on 18 carries. He constantly ran over Viking defenders and churned out first down after first down.
The Saints leading rusher from a year ago is proving that he can carry the load in 2011 and be the Saints workhorse back. If the injury bug continues to bite Ingram, then Ivory will be relied upon heavily.
Ivory proved Sunday that he can carry the load for the Saints.
Jed Collins was the lead blocker for a rushing attack that finished with 161 rushing yards against the Vikings.
Collins also contributed in the passing game with a nice scamper for 12 yards. However, Collins also cost the Saints a deep touchdown to Robert Meachem with a holding call early in the game.
Other than the one mistake, Collins had a great game and is proving to be a valuable offseason pick-up for the Saints.
Marques Colston led the Saints in receiving yards and continued to make tough catches in the middle of the field.
Colston finished the day with eight catches for 91 yards and caught just about everything that was thrown at him.
People come to expect these type of games from Colston week in and week out, and he has not disappointed lately.
Lance Moore has been on fire in the past couple of weeks.
He caught for 91 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings and continues to show how great of a receiver he is for Brees and the Saints.
It also helps that Moore probably has the best touchdown celebration of all the Saints, with the exception of maybe Jimmy Graham.
Moore has solid hands, but made an uncharacteristic drop for the second week in a row. However, despite the drop, Moore had an outstanding day.
Robert Meachem had a couple of nice grabs against the Vikings.
He had one great touchdown catch called back because of a holding call. Meachem probably would have had another deep touchdown if Brees would have been able to put a little more air under one of his throws deep down field.
Meachem was targeted four times and caught two passes for 22 yards. He had a decent day, but was overshadowed by great days from other weapons on the Saints offense.
We all know what playing in the Saints offense does to guys, and Meachem may have disappeared some this week, but he could just as likely catch four balls for 100-plus yards next week.
Jimmy Graham is a fantastic player, but he is also definitely still growing as a football player.
That in itself is a scary thought. This kid who has caught for over 1,000 yards in only his second year is going to get better? Yes.
He had another good week at the office, finishing with seven grabs for 70 yards and a touchdown. However, he fumbled early in the game, and that gave the Vikings three points. Graham knows that he cannot have those kind of mistakes and has more than likely already been tearing himself up about it.
Despite the fumble early in the game, Graham finished well and showed again that he and Drew Brees have fantastic chemistry that will be difficult for any defense in the NFL to stop.
Jermon Bushrod did it again! He shut down Jared Allen for the third straight time that they have faced each other.
Bushrod held Allen to no sacks and only two tackles. There were times that Allen put some pressure and Drew Brees and got around Bushrod, but Bushrod was able to fight Allen long enough to allow Brees to step up in the pocket.
Even though Allen got around Bushrod a couple times, he did great. Allen came into the game leading the league with 17.5 sacks, and he left the game with 17.5 sacks.
Bushrod is often looked upon as a weakness on the Saints line, but it is about time that someone tells him how great he has been playing, especially against the Vikings on Sunday.
Carl Nicks is one of the best guards in all of football, but he has struggled some this year.
He had a holding penalty in the game against the Vikings, which is never good. However, he did block well in the run game and created a good pocket for Brees to throw out of.
Nicks had an average game on Sunday. He did not do anything spectacular, but he also was not a liability.
Brian De La Puente continues to impress.
He had another great game on Sunday, but did have one miscue. He snapped the ball too soon, and it cost the Saints a turnover and gave the Vikings three points.
De La Puente knows as well as anyone that those kind of mistakes are not acceptable, even in a noisy environment like the Metrodome. Drew Brees surely got onto his case right after because De La Puente was lights out for the rest of the game.
He helped to create a perfect pocket for Brees to pass out of and led the way for the Saints running backs.
Jahri Evans was doing great before an injury in the second half.
I do not believe that Evans returned for the game, but before he left, he was a contributor in the Saints steamrolling the Vikings defense. Evans is the best guard in the NFL and a valuable part to the Saints offense.
He proved in the first half of Sunday's game that he is not only a great pass blocker, but can throw defensive linemen and linebackers out of the way for running backs as well.
Hopefully, Evans will be back and can continue his dominance on the offensive line.
Typically, the key for an offensive lineman is to never hear your name called. If your name is called, then something has probably gone wrong.
I did not hear Zach Strief's name against the Vikings. I noticed the rushers getting by him on a couple of plays, but he bought Brees enough to time to step into the pocket. Streif also did a great job of turning the ends inside for the running game and getting to the next level and blocking linebackers when he had to.
Strief is slowly becoming a very reliable tackle for the Saints.
The stats may say that Will Smith only had one tackle, but he was consistently pressuring Christian Ponder into erroneous throws.
Smith led a defensive line that caused havoc for the Vikings offense all day. I have not seen a game like this from Smith or the Saints defensive line since the Week 2 thrashing of Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.
Smith's one tackle came on a great play in which he stopped Adrian Peterson five yards in the backfield on a short yardage attempt.
The Smith we saw on Sunday was the one that the Saints drafted years ago, and hopefully, he can continue to play like he did against he Vikings.
Shaun Rogers played well on Sunday.
I noticed him in a couple of big stops on Adrian Peterson, and he also got in on rushing Christian Ponder. Rogers has not been quite the force the Saints hoped he would be in 2011, but against the Vikings, he was able to take up blocks and allow Saint linebackers to get to the running backs.
Hopefully Rogers can improve upon his play today and get back to his Pro Bowl-form for the playoffs.
Sedrick Ellis had one of his better game of 2011 against the Vikings.
He made three tackles and blew up interior offensive linemen all day. Ellis was a big reason that the Saints were able to get a lot of pressure from the middle of the defensive line.
Ellis has yet to truly blossom as an NFL player, but maybe today's game will evoke a passion in Ellis and the entire Saints defensive line that will allow them to play like everyone expected them to from the beginning of 2011.
I just cannot get enough of Tom Johnson.
This is a typical, high-motor guy. He does not quit and will give 110 percent on every play.
He finished the day with two tackles and a sack. Johnson was a key contributor in the rush that Christian Ponder and the Vikings felt all day. If Johnson continues to play the way he did today, then we may see more of him in coming weeks.
Cameron Jordan is getting better and better as each week passes.
Jordan was not brought in to be an elite pass rusher, but he definitely made his presence felt agains the Vikings today. He was expectational against the run and maintained his responsibilities well for the majority of the game.
Jordan will keep improving, and days like Sunday should begin to look average for the rookie defensive end.
Junior Galette did what he does best on Sunday, and that is rush the passer.
He played primarily on passing downs and wreaked havoc against the Vikings the whole time. He only came away with one sack, but was constantly in the face of Ponder and the entire Vikings offense.
Galette is the only player on the Saints that can be considered a pass rush specialist, and he proved on Sunday that he can live up to that role.
Johnathan Vilma was playing on a hurt knee Sunday, and you could tell for most of the game.
He played well throughout the game, accumulating three tackles, but seemed to move less fluid than normal. We are used to seeing Vilma run sideline to sideline and attack the ball carrier, but he made some uncharacteristic mistakes on Sunday.
As Vilma gets healthier, his mistakes will go away and he will be allowed to play at full strength. Vilma's game on Sunday was less than average for him, but don't expect too many more like it.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar may be the most versatile linebacker that the Saints have.
He has played both outside spots and the middle spot for the Saints this year. He played primarily on the outside agains the Vikings and had a pretty good day.
He mad two tackles, one for a loss, and also caused some pressure during the game. Dunbar is another young player that is getting better each and every week. His game against the Vikings was not his best, but definitely a performance to be proud of.
Scott Shanle has one of his better games of 2011.
The stats will not show it because Shanle only had one tackle, but he was all over the field. Shanle got caused some pressure, shut down the run game and covered well against the Vikings.
Shanle has been criticized in the past, but games like the one against the Vikings shows that he can still play at a high level.
Jabari Greer showed again that he is an elite corner in the NFL.
Greer is the unquestioned No. 1 corner for the Saints and deserves to be in the Pro Bowl this year. He made great plays against the pass and tied with Roman Harper for the most tackles on Sunday.
Greer has spoiled Saints fans because he typically plays like this every week, but he hasn't that past few games. Now that Greer is back in top form, games like the one against the Vikings should become the norm again.
People have already started giving up on Patrick Robinson, but watching him each week, I still question why.
Robinson has come up big in the last month of football. He made a great, open-field tackle on Percy Harvin early in the game and had some more good plays throughout.
Robinson did not give up his typical 50-yard busted play and played great coverage for most of the game.
It is games like Sunday that tell me that Robinson has a bright future as a Saint.
Roman Harper had another great game on Sunday.
He led the team in tackles, along with Jabari Greer, and added another sack to make 7.5 on the year. Harper was himself in coverage against the Vikings. He made some good plays, but also let the Vikings make a couple plays.
He was called for a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty early in the game, but other than that, there was nothing wrong with Harper's play.
With games like Sunday, Harper will definitely be headed to his third straight Pro Bowl.
Malcolm Jenkins continues to make his case as one of the best young safeties in the NFL.
He was all over the field on Sunday and prevented the Vikings from making a couple different plays. He had two tackles and came very close to making a great interception. Jenkins also caused pressure and contributed well in run support.
Jenkins has been playing great football since he took over the free safety spot for Darren Sharper last year, and the Saints would expect nothing less.
Thomas Morstead did not see the field much against the Vikings.
He had one punt for 51 yards that had no return. Morstead also did fantastic on kickoffs as usual. The Vikings were only able to return one kick on Sunday; the rest were booted out of the endzone for touchbacks.
Morstead deserves a Pro Bowl vote for days like Sunday.
John Kasay got a lot of action on Sunday against the Vikings.
He made all six of his extra-point attempts, but missed his only field goal attempt wide left. It was a longer field goal that may have been out of Kasay's range, but it'd be nice to see him connect on a long shot, especially in a dome.
Kasay has been solid all year, and played well again on Sunday against the Vikings.