The amount of big plays were so abundant in this game, it was hard to give most of these defensive players a bad grade, despite giving up over 450 yards and 28 points. Many of them alternated with good with the bad. Still they deserve to be credited for being mostly responsible for the win. Special teams, on the other hand, was a thing of beauty.
Will Smith: B- (2.80) Smith was a very tough player to grade because the offensive line focused their efforts on making sure he was blocked on passing downs. He was chipped and double teamed, adding to that the fact that Brett Favre was getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry. Still, Smith showed tremendous effort, tackling ability and pursuit on running plays. He didn’t get any hits on Favre and he wasn’t much of a factor rushing the passer, but he did end with an impressive 6 tackles and forced a fumble.
Bobby McCray: C+ (2.04) McCray was mostly on the sidelines during running plays, and the Saints brought him in in instances where he could pin his ears back and go after Favre. He finished with 2 tackles, used his frame and wingspan to deflect a pass, and he was able to hit Favre once. He also got flagged for a 15 yard penalty for blowing up Favre after he handed the ball off on an end around. Part of me wanted to penalize his grade severely for getting flagged, and part of me wanted to give him a pass for roughing up the opposing quarterback for the second straight week.
Jeff Charleston: C (2.33) Charleston was mediocre despite a good amount of playing time, especially on running downs. He finished with one tackle, and was able to put a nice little lick on Favre at one point. He’s a passable situational end and nothing more.
Remi Ayodele: B- (2.37) He was involved in the running game and showed more effort that he did earlier in the season. As the games have progressed, I have to applaud Ayodele for his effort. He finished with 5 tackles and was involved in the tackling piles. Still, too many times did he get pushed around allowing Adrian Peterson to get into open space. Give him credit for recovering a fumble that the Saints desperately needed inside the Vikings‘ 20.
Sedrick Ellis: B (2.72) With the heavy rotation happening on the defensive line, I think Ellis was on the sidelines way too often. When he was in, he didn’t make a big play, but he was aggressive. He finished with 6 tackles, most of them a result of finishing plays and helping his teammates. He never gave up on plays and he was quick to finish things off when Peterson was thrown off balance. He also got a decent amount of push up the middle.
Anthony Hargrove: B- (2.39) Hargrove was easily noticed on the plays he did make, but he was also responsible for some major running lanes that Peterson benefited from. He did get great pressure on passing plays, and once almost broke Favre in half. He finished with 2 tackles, including one for a loss.
Scott Shanle: B+ (2.67) Shanle was all over the field. He was decent in pass coverage, though he was victimized a handful of times, but his strength absorbing blocks, his pursuit on running plays and his tackling was top notch. He finished with 10 tackles.
Jonathan Vilma: B (2.92) Vilma wasn’t as involved in stopping the run as Shanle. Peterson made him look silly a few times, slipping through his tackles or blowing past him completely. Vilma was most effective with his pass coverage on this day. He defended two passes and intercepted another. He was mostly responsible for covering Visanthe Shiancoe and he did a good job for the most part. Despite his occasional woes against the run, he did finish with 5 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Scott Fujita: B- (2.75) Fujita was so effective blitzing against the Cardinals, I was disappointed he wasn’t sent more often against Favre. He still managed to get one pretty physical knock down, though. He finished with 5 tackles but he wasn’t overly impressive. Too many of his tackles were broken. Give Fujita for coming up with a fumble recovery on a bobbled handoff between Favre and Peterson inside the Saints’ 10 right before halftime. The Saints dodged the bullet despite a costly Reggie Bush fumble thanks to that.
Jabari Greer: B- (3.33) He had 8 tackles and 2 defended passes. Favre attacked him early and often. In fact, Favre was never afraid to go after him. The results were mixed. His high tackle total is a function of how much action Greer got. It certainly wasn’t his best game. He made some terrific open field tackles and completely whiffed on others. He was beaten on a touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, but he also neutralized him overall.
Tracy Porter: B+ (3.09) Porter was arguably the toughest player to grade for the Saints because he was responsible for the biggest plays and the biggest breakdowns. His interception at the end of the game was almost as big as Hartley’s make. The Saints were up against it and he came up with a huge pick at the most crucial of times. That play alone gets him the defensive MVP, in my eyes. He also had a very head’s up strip from behind catching up to Adrian Peterson inside the Saints’ 10 yard line, resulting in another absolutely crucial red zone turnover. So you could argue he saved the Saints from 7 points there, and the game winning field goal at the end. He finished with 8 tackles and a defended pass. Like Greer, he was attacked often and had mixed results. His biggest mistake was a justified pass interference call in the end zone on Bernard Berrian that gave the Vikings the ball at the Saints’ 1 yard line. He had his hands full with Berrian and he was giving up way to much underneath. Still, you just can’t ignore the big plays he came up with.
Randall Gay: C+ (2.64) Gay had terrific coverage a number of times that still got victimized. It was weird because at least 2 or 3 times, I thought to myself “wow, that’s pretty solid coverage by Gay”, only for a Minnesota receiver to come up with a sick catch in traffic. Hard to blame Gay for those, but the bottom line is it apparently wasn’t good enough. He finished with 3 tackles.
Darren Sharper: B+ (2.90) Sharper was the most steady and consistent Saint on the night. He never allowed a big play over the top, he was physical, he was sure in his tackles, and he played smart. Sharper never made the big play like Vilma or Porter did, but he was the most solid defender on the night. Twice he was sent in on safety blitzes that he timed perfectly, and he pulverized Favre. Talk about laying the wood. I’m surprised Favre actually got up from one of them. He led the Saints with 11 tackles and was all over the field. Quite frankly, Peterson would’ve potentially had a 200 yard rushing day if he didn’t make solid back end tackles.
Roman Harper: B- (2.70) It was a mixed effort for Harper, too. Per usual, his pass coverage was a little suspect. Specifically, he allowed a big third down conversion at an important stage when he was completely burned by Shiancoe. It’s a bad sign, if you ask me, when your strong safety can’t run with a tight end. Still, he was physical in the box. He missed a couple tackles, but Peterson was extremely slippery. Harper still managed 7 tackles and a forced fumble.
Garrett Hartley: A (3.09) Hartley was perfect on his 4 extra points, and he hit the game winning 40 yard kick in overtime that sent the Saints to the SuperBowl. The kick would’ve been good from 60, as it was right down the middle and cleared the crossbar by a mile. Kickers don’t get put in a higher pressure situation, and that was a big kick to make. As many kicks as we’ve seen missed this year at the pro and college level, I have to admit I was bracing myself. That’s a big time kick under the more dire of situations. Hartley forever placed himself in Saints history with that make. Make no mistake about it, that was a SuperBowl kick.
Thomas Morstead: A (3.00) As much credit as Hartley is getting and deserves, perhaps the most overlooked player on the Saints in this game was Thomas Morstead. Forget special teams player of the game, I think Thomas Morstead has a case for the Saints’ PLAYER OF THE GAME. He was that good. Did anyone see that 63 yard punt he completely obliterated? Not only is his leg strength unique, he also gets tremendous hang time. He set up his coverage units nicely, and the Vikings’ return units never threatened remotely. He averaged 51.3 yards per punt off of 7 punts, with 4 ending up inside the Vikings’ 20 and no touchbacks. Those stats are unbelievable. That’s crazy good. His net average was 49.16. 49.16 for crying out loud!!! Off 7 punts!!! It takes players an entire career to punt a game like that together, and Morstead did it in his rookie season, in the NFC Championship. I can’t speak highly enough about this guy or the difference he’s made. He’s without question the Saints’ rookie of the year. No one else is even close. The scary part is that he’s gotten better and better as the season progressed. Hopefully he’ll be the Saints’ punter and kickoff man for a very long time. Speaking of kickoffs, they were mostly good and deep, but he did have a couple of short squib/line drives. Luckily none of those turned into a disaster, but I wonder if they were on purpose? That costs him the A+, but make no mistake when I say that he’s my Saints’ player of the game.
Courtney Roby: A- (2.84) Special teams on the whole were fantastic. Take away Bush’s fumble and the whole unit deserves an A+ for the production they came up with. Not much is being made out of their performance in the media, but I really thought it was the difference in the game (arguably more so than the turnovers). Roby was rock solid on coverage, forcing both fair catches and Percy Harvin / Darius Reynaud into redirecting their returns to lanes that led to nowhere. On his returns, Roby never went down to the first hit. He showed good speed and tackle breaking ability. He was able to rip one 61 yard return, and he averaged 28.6 yards per return off 5 tries. He got banged up, but hopefully he’ll be ok for the SuperBowl because he’s an integral part of what the Saints do. I’m glad we have him. What were we thinking cutting him prior to week 1? We’re extremely fortunate no one snatched him up.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Tracy Porter
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead