This was an amazing performance by the defense. To go into Atlanta and hold the Falcons to 7 points (remember that 7 of the team’s 14 points came off a pick 6) was in my opinion the biggest feat of the season. While the usual suspects made plays, it was the Marvin Mitchells, Jeff Charlestons, and Jo-Lonn Dunbars that were contributing with big plays as well. As a defense, the Saints played about as well as they can. Hard to believe that just 8 days before the Saints were getting gashed at will by Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, because Michael Turner had no running room whatsoever. Below are the grades.
Will Smith: B (2.43) Smith has only had 4 games of B+ or better this season, and this was one of them. Smith put solid pressure on Matt Ryan all day, and his pursuit was constant. He played a big part in shutting down Michael Turner with his physical play around the line of scrimmage was solid at standing his ground and redirecting traffic. It was the kind of performance he put up a lot more consistently last year. He finished with 3 tackles and a sack. The only negative parts of his play were a declined offsides penalty and a bogus roughing the passer call. Those two plays cost his a slightly better grade.
Alex Brown: B- (2.29) He struggled to get consistent pressure, but he did a good job of getting his hands up to disrupt passing lanes. He was responsible for one pass defended. He finished with 3 tackles and did a fantastic job holding his ground against the run. One thing I hated about Charles Grant was he was not only lazy, but overpursued the play constantly, giving play-action huge room and creating huge cut back lanes for runners. Alex Brown may not be a flashy pass rusher, but he doesn’t make glaring mistakes breaking containment. Bobby McCray was another player, like Grant, who was often guilty of that crime. I’d much rather a heady player that respects his assignment, because the scheme will ultimately be better off for it. McCray and Grant were stat chasers, and Brown is a system guy who in the long run helps the whole better.
Jeff Charleston: B+ (2.51) He only made one play, but deserves every bit of this grade for the play he made. Mike Tirico of ESPN came up with some ridiculous stat about how every team that has had a 1st and goal from inside the 2 against the Saints came away with a touchdown or field goal since 1992. How do they even track that? I would sure hope that anyone with 1st and goal against any team inside the 2 would come away with a field goal at minimum any time. Anyway, right on queue, Tirico jinxed the Falcons as Charleston stripped Michael Turner at the goal line and the Saints recovered the fumble to prevent the Falcons from scoring. When the end result is a 3 point game, everything is magnified, but it’s hard to think of a more defining moment in the game.
Jimmy Wilkerson: B- (2.24) He finished with 2 tackles, both on Turner, but one was a beautiful open field tackle that would have been a huge gain had he not made it. He was stout against the run and did a decent job of pressure on Matt Ryan at times.
Anthony Hargrove: D (2.36) Because Atlanta had bunch formations, Ayodele ending seeing a lot more reps than Hargrove. Still, Hargrove did nothing when he was on the field, and was completely swallowed up on any third down pass rushing situation. His lone action on the field was one illegal use of the hands penalty.
Sedrick Ellis: C+ (2.76) He finished with one tackle and he did a poor job of rushing the passer. While he didn’t fill up the stat sheet, he did fill up the middle. He got consistent push and was a huge reason for the plays all his teammates made. Former Pro Bowl center Todd McClure of LSU was manhandled in the trenches.
Remi Ayodele: B- (2.58) Speaking of in the trenches, we all know that Ayodele isn’t going to make a major impact on passing downs. This was an Ayodele in vintage form, though, as he was redirecting the play over and over. The Falcons really struggled to move him, which forced Turner off tackle. When Turner went off tackle, the players off the edge for the Saints took care of business.
Jonathan Vilma: A- (3.07) In discussing all the superior play of the defensive line, Vilma was one of the players that benefited from it with a number of opportunities to make plays. He played well and had 5 tackles, getting Turner dead in his tracks around the scrimmage a few times. His biggest play was a head’s up fumble recovery that would set up the first touchdown. Todd McClure was set up for a shotgun snap, and someone just rolled the ball about 6 inches from the snap spot. It was one of their weirdest fumbles I’ve ever seen. Almost like he started to snap it, and then tried to stop himself but let go of the ball. A big head’s up by Vilma to jump on that. His body was flying all game, and he captained the game perfectly.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: A (2.89) Dunbar was a surprise starter over Danny Clark for this game. Asked about it, Sean Payton said that Clark was healthy and this change was made for the sake of the gameplan they had in place. Whatever the reason, the Saints’ staff obviously felt that Dunbar gave them a better chance to win. Based on how much the Saints keyed the run, one would think Clark would have been a better call with run defense being his forte? This was a decision that paid off big time for the Saints in the end. Dunbar was fantastic all game long. He was disruptive in the Falcons’ backfield and he was a menace with his big time hits and timely tackles. He was involved in three plays that stopped Turner dead in his tracks around the line of scrimmage. One play in particular saw Dunbar shoot the gap, embarrassing the right tackle with his speed, and blowing up Turner in the backfield. He did get flagged for a roughing penalty, but I thought he played at such a high level I excused him for it. He finished with a team high 6 tackles.
Marvin Mitchell: B- (2.45) I know Scott Shanle was active, but he made no impact on the game and had no tackles. While he played some, Marvin Mitchell seemed to get more action, so I graded Mitchell but not Shanle. Mitchell finished with 3 tackles and was victimized on a couple of passing plays underneath, but he recovered the fumble forced by Jeff Charleston, so he deserves a decent grade.
Jabari Greer: B (2.75) He finished with 4 tackles and a defended pass. He gave up a yard touchdown pass to Roddy White, but after that touchdown White was never heard from again. He was helpful in run defense and held his own in coverage despite being left on an island often.
Tracy Porter: C- (2.54) A very up and down game for Porter. He had two tackles for a loss, one on Turner and one on a great tackle that stopped Michael Jenkins on a bubble screen. He actually had a lot of trouble with Jenkins, though. He was victimized on back to back pass interference calls, the second of which was more than fair, on plays that went for 15 and 35 yards. The second put the ball on the 1 yard line, but he was bailed out by his teammates. At times he was solid in coverage, but he was targeted and beat as well. He finished with 5 tackles.
Roman Harper: C (3.07) He had four tackles and played fine, but never really made the plays we’re used to seeing from him this season around the line of scrimmage. He blew a very makeable open field tackle on Michael Turner that allowed the runner to scamper for a 27 yard carry. Take that run away, and Turner had 16 carries for 21 yards.
Malcolm Jenkins: B- (2.67) He didn’t do much, but he kept everything in front of him. When Sharper was in the game, he was moved to cornerback, and showed great coverage. He had one tackle on the play and had a beautiful pass breakup down the seam in the middle of the field.
Darren Sharper: C- (2.14) He finished with one tackle. For as much as he plays he’s pretty useless right now. Always a step slow to the play.
Garrett Hartley: A (2.74) Can’t complain about Hartley, he blasted a crucial 52 yarder, a career long, that ended up being the difference. He also made both PAT’s.
Thomas Morstead: A- (3.18) He averaged 45.3 yards per punt and 41.6 net per punt. He also hit two kickoffs for touchbacks and he did a great job of containing dangerous Atlanta return man Eric Weems. He had one punt inside the 20, but had a punt go for a touchback as well. He now has the highest GPA on the Saints after this game.
Patrick Robinson: B (2.67) He had a beautiful open field tackle on Eric Weems to stop the return man dead in his tracks. He also downed a punt and showed some ability replacing Courtney Roby as a gunner.
Leigh Torrence: C- (2.54) He did a decent job in coverage, like Robinson, but he got flagged for a horrendous personal foul for blowing up a defenseless Atlanta return man out of bounds. There was no reason for that hit, completely unnecessary.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Jo-Lonn Dunbar
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Garrett Hartley