For the final time this season, here’s the grades on the offensive players. It’s weird that they only put up 20 points considering how well they played, but a big reason for that was a turnover on downs deep in Falcons territory, a fumble inside the Falcons’ 5, and significant time of possession by the Falcons’ offense. It could have and should have been more points, but in the end this unit did enough to win the game. Despite missing both Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat, as well as Strief for parts of the game, give the offensive line credit for piecing it together and keeping Drew Brees clean. I hope you enjoyed reading these grades as much as I enjoyed writing them this season. Rest assured this Saints Nation staple will be back next year. Below are the grades:
Drew Brees: A- (3.09)
It’s amazing how well he’s played to finish the season, especially considering he played the last two and a half games with torn plantar fascia. In a weird way he seemed to play better with the injury. He finished 32 for 42 for 323 yards and 1 touchdown. The majority of his throws were checkdowns but he was methodical in moving the team down the field. The cut down on turnovers this season was really encouraging and I felt that despite the injuries to his shoulder and foot, which were probably the two most significant injuries during his time with the Saints, his 2015 was markedly better than 2014. What better way to end the season than with a solid performance to sweep the Falcons? No real surprise in the end as he finishes the season as the team’s highest graded player.
Tim Hightower: B+ (3.00)
What an impressive fill in job Hightower has done for Ingram. He’s taken the baton and played extremely well as the lead back. He finished with 5 receptions for 41 yards on 5 targets, including a big 29 yarder on a screen. His tough running in short yardage reminded me of Deuce McAllister, always absorbing tacklers and not allowing the first guy to bring him down and always falling forward. He also had 66 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown.
Travaris Cadet: B- (2.84)
When Cadet made the team as a rookie I had high hopes for him being an explosive receiving back. It’s really strange how he’s really played his best two games as a Saint in the last two weeks upon his return. He’s never looked that great on kickoff returns but he had a 38 and 36 yarder in this game, setting up good field position for the offense. He also had 3 carries for 6 yards and 6 catches for 77 yards on 6 targets. Most impressive was a 3rd down target where he was completely covered by a linebacker, boxed out the bigger player for a catch one yard short of the sticks, than carried his tackler past the 1st down. For such a little guy he showed impressive physicality, also blowing up Vic Beasley on a blitz. The only gripes were a near interception on a poor throw when the Saints attempted a halfback pass and a killer fumble inside the five of the Falcons to negate a really nice drive. I thought his forearm was down on that play.
Austin Johnson: C+ (2.29)
Despite a few backfield routes being run he didn’t produce any catches in this game. He was well covered but targeted on a 3rd down play that ended up benefiting from a defensive holding call that appeared to be away from him. He did play a handful of plays as the lead back out of the I and showed some nice blocks for Hightower.
Benjamin Watson: B+ (2.73)
I really hope this isn’t his final game as a Saint but if it was he went out with a bang. He finished with 6 catches for 59 yards and a beautiful diving touchdown reception in tight coverage. He did fail to come up with a couple passes in tight windows, though, including a red zone target slightly high and behind him that he should have come up with. His blocking seemed good throughout. What an admirable job he did replacing Jimmy Graham all season long. No one could make Saints fan forget about #80 but Watson came pretty darn close.
Josh Hill: C (2.06)
His lack of chemistry with Brees remains puzzling but a lot of it is attributable to poor routes. He finished with 1 catch for 4 yards on 3 targets. He did see a lot more playing time, though, and did a good job as a blocker. He seems to have regressed as a receiver without the help of Jimmy Graham drawing more attention, though.
Michael Hoomanawanui: C+ (2.11)
He played less than usual but did a decent job as a blocker and caught 1 pass for 4 yards.
Brandin Cooks: C (2.90)
One of his quieter games all season. Everything was underneath. No doubt Brees’s injury and the makeshift o-line prevented him from really getting downfield. His lone deeper target in the red zone was high. He finished with a very quiet 5 catches for 22 yards on 6 targets, but did get a couple valuable first downs.
Willie Snead: C+ (2.87)
He needed 51 to finish the season with 1,000 yards but unfortunately he only had 3 catches for 35 yards on 4 targets. As usual he was tough physical but I was surprised by his relatively modest contribution in this game. With Colston out and Cooks carefully watched – I figured he’d see a lot of action. That ended up being the guy below, though.
Brandon Coleman: B+ (2.21)
Honestly, he makes that catch over the middle wide open late and he might still be running – and he’s probably staring at an A. That was a criminal drop, and perhaps a suggestion as to why his inconsistent play resulted in him going undrafted. He’s grown up a lot, though, and improved in a lot of ways. I’m glad he got the opportunity with Colston out because he really did make the most of it and he’s developing really nice chemistry with Brees. They are starting to get comfortable with the back shoulder throw, a true sign of development. I can’t wait to see what he does next year.
Seantavius Jones: C- (2.17)
He came in as a decoy mostly. Ran a few routes and Brees never looked his way. Failed to get open on a crossing route.
Senio Kelemete: A- (2.14)
I didn’t even notice him give up a pressure or a hit until the touchdown pass to Watson. Granted at times he gave up pressure as the game wore on, but he benefited from Lelito’s help, Brees’s pocket feel and Brees’s quick release. But it blew my mind how well he filled in at a position that isn’t his. After watching this it’s clear to me how valuable Kelemete is to this team. He can back up all five positions on the line and there’s very few players that can do that well. The fact that he had to fill in at left tackle and played so well with Amstead and Peat both injured was truly impressive. Nothing impressed me more than his final run block on a toss sweep to Hightower where he demolished the defender to spring the run free for a first down. I’m not sure I’ve seen Armstead throw a block that good this year, and I’ve seen countless great blocks from him. That block denied the Falcons any chance at seeing the ball again.
Tim Lelito: B+ (2.43)
Another solid performance. He seems to have righted the ship since winning back his job. In addition to providing help to Kelemete, he did an excellent job as a pass blocker. It leaves one to wonder if he may have a future as a starter for the Saints at guard after all.
Max Unger: B (2.92)
He gave up a couple pressures in pass protection but was overall solid.
Jahri Evans: B- (2.64)
Other than a missed block that lead to Hightower getting blasted as he accepted a handoff from Brees, I thought Evans was solid. He was particularly good at the second level finishing plays physically. Did a good job in pass protection.
Zach Strief: B- (2.20)
Clearly banged up he made the most of it. He had to leave the game briefly to get an ankle re-taped and appeared hobbled. Give him credit for toughing it out. Did a pretty good job, minus a holding penalty that negated a Hightower touchdown run.
Tony Hills: C- (2.00)
Filled in at right tackle briefly for Strief and got Brees hit after getting roasted by Beasley. Fortunately, Beasley followed through with a hit to the helmet for a roughing the passer penalty.
My offensive player of the game: Senio Kelemete