Saints vs. Panthers: Final Report Cards, Player Grades for New Orleans
New Orleans 27 Carolina 35
The New Orleans Saints had another disappointing eight-point loss, this time at the hands of Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Newton finished with 253 yards passing on 14-of-20 passing while adding a passing touchdown and one on the ground as well.
For the Saints, Drew Brees threw for 325 yards but two interceptions doomed the Saints. The good news for New Orleans is that the team ran the football extremely well. Pierre Thomas rumbled through the Panthers' defense for 110 yards, while Mark Ingram managed 53 yards of his own.
But the Saints defense was awful for much of the day. Overall the Saints gave up 219 yards rushing on the day. The concerns of fans in New Orleans and nationally now seems justified as the team is 0-2 and in need of some serious soul searching.
Quarterback Drew Brees
Overall Game Grade--C+
It was not Drew Brees' best effort for the overall game. But Brees maintained his stature as the leader of this team, when he came back from an injury scare to lead his team two fourth quarter touchdowns. Of course, his first quarter mistake of throwing the ball right to Charles Godfrey loomed large in the final score.
His final statistics are probably more impressive than his actual performance (325 yards and a touchdown). But Brees still played pretty well given the scenario (faced more pressure than expected and dropped passes from his receivers).
Not only did Pierre Thomas do his usual magic in the screen game. And there was a memorable pickup in pass protection. He also managed to carry the bulk weight of the run game and managed the Saints’ first 100-yard rushing game in two years. He did a wonderful job of keeping his feet moving through traffic and showed a burst we haven’t seen from him in a couple seasons.
Ingram was most effective early in the game. He had 41 of his 53 rushing yards in the first half. Those were key yards, though, as it helped the offense get out to a great start in the first quarter. He also ran in a touchdown in the fourth quarter. He continued to run with great vision, instinct and burst. Ingram likely earned more time and carries with his tough running.
For the second straight week, the Saints neglected Darren Sproles as a runner (officially he has zero carries on the season, though ran in a two-point conversion last week). But Sproles was electric in the pass game, catching 13 passes for 128 yards. He was both an outlet for Drew Brees and a weapon as he leaked out of the backfield down the field, but also caught short passes and made something out of it on check down passes.
Watching the game, it almost seemed as if Marques Colston wasn’t playing. In fact, at times it seemed he had been benched, as the Saints were rolling Courtney Roby and Joseph Morgan in the game on two-receiver sets instead of Colston and Lance Moore. Colston ended up catching three passes for 49 yards but it was a pretty quiet day for Drew Brees’ veteran safety blanket.
Lance Moore was almost as nonexistent Sunday as Marques Colston. He dropped a would-be touchdown pass on the second drive of the game. The Saints offense seemed to lose some confidence from that particular drop. That said, Moore did manage two crucial catches for 30 yards. But he could have done so much more.
Joseph Morgan has become the second coming of Devery Henderson. He made an incredible catch on a slant that was well behind him early in the game. Then on the final play of the third quarter he ran a beautiful deep in and was given a beautiful ball by Drew Brees, but with a normal amount of contact on such a play, Morgan dropped the ball. It wasn’t a pretty moment.
It’s not a good sign when Courtney Roby is playing receiver in the regular season. It’s not because Roby is not talented. But he is fifth or sixth on the depth chart for a reason. He did make a catch for nine yards where he actually looked like a wide receiver, even ducking his shoulder and quickly getting up field. Roby looks to have gained more playing time in the future with his play today.
Jimmy Graham showed more energy than anyone on the offense not named Pierre Thomas or Darren Sproles. His hands were mostly good except for a key touchdown drop in the first quarter. Of course he did hold on for the Saints’ initial touchdown of the day. His seven catches for 71 yards made him the Saints’ second leading receiver on the day.
The most notable play involving Thomas was the one in which Drew Brees targeted Thomas on the rollout which turned into a pick six for Carolina. That play was not Thomas’ fault. In fact he did everything he could to get open and Brees should have thrown the ball away.
LT Jermon Bushrod—Grade—C
Considering Pierre Thomas hit his 48-yard run off the left side, it would be impossible to totally denounce Bushrod’s effort in Sunday’s game. But pressure was regularly getting to Drew Brees off the left edge of the offensive line. Bushrod has been asked to help inside quite a bit, but he lacks the quickness to chip and get back out to cut off the edge in requisite time.
LG Ben Grubbs—Grade—C+
Similar to Bushrod, Grubbs should be credited for much of the Saints’ running success on Sunday. He should also be critiqued for some of the units’ struggles to protect Drew Brees. While teams are attacking the middle of the offensive line, Grubbs is doing a decent job of walling off the interior.
The only problem is teams are stunting inside and bringing a twist around the edge. That’s what the Panthers did effectively Sunday to create pressure on Drew Brees.
C Brian de la Puente—Grade—C
No offensive lineman really deserves better than a “C” for today’s efforts, even though the unit opened up holes for the running game that it did not a week ago. The difference is that it was working against a defensive line that is average at best. The second-year center spent some time on the Carolina turf, never a good sign for an offensive lineman (especially a center). For that reason, de la Puente earns a C.
RG Jahri Evans—Grade—C
The difference in the offensive line’s play this week is that it did not commit nearly as many penalties as it did last week. The primary culprit a week ago was Evans. In that area Evans was much improved in week two. Though much of the Saints’ success in the running game was on the left side, the right side (Evans) also was key on a number of successful running plays.
RT Zach Strief—Grade—C
There was some unnecessary pressure placed on Brees from the right side of the line. The primary reason is that No. 64 continues to struggle as the starting right tackle. I know Aaron Kromer and Co. believe in Strief and his abilities, but he really needs to improve if this offense is going to improve.
DE Cameron Jordan—Grade—B+
No defensive player was better Sunday than Cam Jordan. He recorded his first sack of the season and ran down a Panthers ball-carrier that frankly he had no business running down. Though the defense gave up a ton of yards rushing, and Jordan occasionally found himself caught in the backfield, the second-year defensive end from Cal played really well.
DT Brodrick Bunkley—Grade—D+
It should be enough to know that the Panthers went over 200 yards on the Saints’ defense. Considering Bunkley’s job is to clog up the middle of the line and eliminate rushing lanes, it is clear Bunkley did not do his job effectively Sunday. That’s even more clear when you consider that much of that yardage was had on the up-the-middle runs.
DT Sedrick Ellis—Grade—C-
Watching the game, we noticed Sed Ellis get thrown three yards into the backfield on a key three-yard run into the end zone when Mike Tolbert scored in the third quarter. The former top-10 pick Ellis has not been impressive thus far in Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, which should favor him and his skill set. He did not create a pass rush, or help him his team stop the run Sunday.
DE Will Smith—Grade—C+
Will Smith was not nearly as effective Sunday as he was one week ago against Washington. He still recorded four tackles, but he never found his way in the Panthers’ backfield, as he did last week. And a few runs were hit effectively off tackle on his side of the line. It was not a great day for the veteran end.
DT Akiem Hicks—Grade—C+
For a rookie making his NFL debut, Akiem Hicks performed well. He found himself on the backfield on one play and was held on another play which obviously helped the Saints’ defense. Hicks undoubtedly earned more future playing time with his play Sunday.
DE Junior Galette—Grade—C
Galette’s biggest impact in the game was an end-of-the-half kick return. Actually he did find himself in the backfield on occasion Sunday, but it would be hard to say he was incredibly productive with his defensive snaps.
DE Martez Wilson—Grade—C
Wilson has become a special teams superstar. He made a few key plays in that phase of the game. Wilson had more playing time on the defensive side of the ball but didn’t do a ton. In fact, with his effectiveness on special teams, it seems as if Wilson has earned more time in the defensive lineup.
MLB Curtis Lofton—Grade—B
Curtis Lofton is one of those guys who finds himself around the football quite often. He was second on the team with five tackles and nearly caused two Panther fumbles. It was not to be either time but Lofton proved Sunday he is one of the Saints’ best defensive players. He needs to become the leader of the defense who is the equivalent of Drew Brees. That is necessary for this Saints team.
OLB David Hawthorne—Grade—C
David Hawthorne was around the football on Sunday, just as his teammate Curtis Lofton was. He did not make any big time hits that pointed to potential turnovers but he showed he is a solid player and improved from week one. If that continues, the Saints defense can improve quickly.
OLB Scott Shanle/Jonathan Casillas—Grade—C
No player deserves a high grade. And since I normally hate on Shanle, there isn’t much reason to change that tone this week. He was not an obvious liability Sunday, but he also had his defensive snaps limited Sunday. The Saints played a lot of nickel, and often brought in Jonathan Casillas in his stead. Neither player was great. Casillas actually failed to break down on multiple occasions to make a tackle. It cost the team ball possession, time of possession and field position.
CB Jabari Greer—Grade—A
The Panthers never even tried to throw in the direction of Jabari Greer Sunday. Perhaps they respected Greer that much. Or they simply thought so little of the Saints other corners that they targeted him. Either way, Greer was a stud in pass coverage for the Saints in his first game of the season.
CB Patrick Robinson—Grade—C
P-Rob clanked a gimme interception for the second consecutive week. This time the ball was in his hands and he simply dropped the football. Other notable plays include the deep corner route Steve Smith caught over his shoulder. That wasn’t so much bad coverage as it was a great throw and catch.
CB Corey White—Grade—D
Corey White has made one good play in each of his first two games. Other than those two plays, he’s getting burnt brighter than an Italian on South Beach in the middle of summer. White is showing he cannot play man-to-man in this league, at least at this point in his career. The Saints must either start playing more zone coverage or get Corey White out of the game.
S Roman Harper—Grade—C-
Normally Roman Harper has a lot to say about the outcome of a Saints-Panthers game. Sunday, Harper was largely ineffective in this game. Roman Harper needs to be a leader on this defense, and so far he really has not been. That showed Sunday as he made just two tackles and the defense played without much energy.
S Malcolm Jenkins—Grade—B-
Jenkins was one of the few guys Sunday who played with any energy or passion. He led the team in tackles with eight as he played around the line of scrimmage once again. He was not even used in coverage very often, which may have been a game planning mistake. Nonetheless, Jenkins’ effort was a good one Sunday.
K Garrett Hartley—Grade—A-
Not only did Garrett Hartley convert all his extra point attempts, which is not so automatic in today’s NFL, but he also hit a career high 53-yard field goal in the second quarter to give the team a 13-7 lead. However, his onside kick in the fourth quarter was a poor effort that he essentially line-drived right into the arms of the Panthers’ hands team.
P Thomas Morstead—Grade—A
Thomas Morstead is always one of the best players on the field. His impact on field position is a huge factor for the Saints’ success. Sunday he did everything the team needed him to do in that area. It is not his fault the team did not thrive with advantage gained.
Overall Game Grade--B-
Between Aaron Kromer, Pete Carmichael and Steve Spagnuolo (plus the rest of the Saints' coaching staff), the Saints were well-coached and mostly put in position to succeed. Unfortunately the team did not execute as it needed to in order to come away victorious.
In the few game management decisions Aaron Kromer was forced to make (most notably the onside kick inside of two minutes), he made the right decisions, just as he did a week ago. His decision-making is in fact what allowed the team to gain possession of the football with a one percent chance to come back and tie the game with under a minute left in the game.
It certainly would not be fair to discredit the coaching staff for the team's loss Sunday at Carolina.