Monday, November 30, 2009

Saints Nation: 10-0 Saints Host 7-3 Patriots

Kickoff is set for 7:30pm Central (8:30pm Eastern) in the Superdome in this massive matchup between the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints. The Saints' full injury report can be found HERE. Lance Moore and Tracy Porter can both be assumed out, but beyond that I see everyone playing except maybe Randall Gay. Reggie Bush is listed as questionable, as is Jabari Greer, so while they are both game time decisions I would assume they'll make every effort to play in this game.

I'll be going to this game and screaming my head off, so player grades likely won't be in till Wednesday. Enjoy the game and geaux Saints!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saints Nation: Malcolm Jenkins to face his biggest test

I posted an article on Canal Street Chronicles about Malcolm Jenkins, which you can read by clicking HERE. He'll likely start Monday night against the Patriots and have his hands full covering either Randy Moss or Wes Welker. Nothing will make him ready for the test he's about to face, so he'll be thrown into the fire. It will be a very interesting thing to watch for!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saints Nation: Injury Report Looms

The injury report is supposed to come out tomorrow and there's a number of player's we've all been dying to get updates on. While the report won't give us the answer as to who will definitely play quite yet, we'll hopefully get a better sense of how the banged up players are healing. As far as I'm aware, the status is in question for the following players: Lance Moore, Reggie Bush, Sedrick Ellis, Jabari Greer, Randall Gay, and Tracy Porter. That's not including any unreported injuries from the Tampa game which could surface for the first time on Friday (which is entirely possible). Here's my prediction on the playing status of the players:
Lance Moore: He's got a high ankle sprain. Those things take a LONG time to heal, and Moore has been complaining often about how painful it is to watch his teammates while he gets treatment and can't practice. I think he's still a week away from playing. As big of a game as it is in the media's eye and the fan's hearts, it's not a game the Saints NEED. I can't see the Saints risking his health when they have 3 healthy receivers playing at a very high level. I think he sits.
Reggie Bush: I'm not sure what's going on with him. Sean Payton has been very quiet about the knee swelling Bush has suffered which kept him out of the Tampa game. The Saints had no problems getting production out of their running backs without Bush, so this may motivate them to sit Bush again. I think Bush will be a game time decision, but ultimately I don't think the Saints want to risk him for the stretch run. I'm going to predict he dresses for this game, but gets limited duty and under 10 touches.
Sedrick Ellis: He's been out there practicing on a limited basis, and I think he could have been back for the Tampa game but the Saints felt they could win without him. I truly believe he's back for this one and starting at defensive tackle, because the Saints desperately need him back.
Randall Gay: Depending on the severity, hamstrings can be nagging and take a painstakingly long time to heal. I don't think there's any way Gay is recovered in time. Just a guess, but I'm ruling him as inactive for this one against his former team.
Jabari Greer: The Saints keep being so tight lipped about Greer's groin injury, who knows what's really going on? I feel like the signings of Chris McAlister and Mike McKenzie are a sign things aren't going as well with Greer. The fact that they are bringing in experienced veterans makes me think they aren't sure they'll have their key guys for the stretch run. Still, I'm going to be optimistic on this one and I'm saying Greer starts and plays the whole game. They need their best corner to limit Randy Moss.
Tracy Porter: No secret here, we know he's out at least the next 3-4 more weeks. No way he plays.
If I'm correct and both Porter and Gay are out for this game, that means Malcolm Jenkins and Jabari Greer are the starters. If Greer is out, the Saints will likely start Jenkins and Usama Young. In either scenario I think Chris McAlister will be active and playing in nickel/dime situations. He may even play ahead of Usama Young. We'll have to wait and see about Mike McKenzie, but if Greer plays like I think he will, I tend to think McKenzie will sit and learn the new defense from the sidelines.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saints Nation: Amit's Take

Patriots vs. Saints

Next Monday night, the Saints play arguably the toughest game of their season against a team that they have attempted to mimic. The 7-3 Patriots, who have been highly touted as the team of the decade, come into the Crescent City to play the 10-0 New Orleans Saints in a MONSTER game on Monday Night Football. Now, personally, this game is so important to me that I am willing to skip the turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce of Thanksgiving just so I could fast-forward to next Monday. But enough of all that—here are some thoughts:

The Saints go into the game with NFL’s #1 offense—6th in passing yardage with 266.2 YPG and 5th in rushing yardage with 154.3 YPG. This newfound balance that Sean Payton has committed to has simply made this offensive attack unstoppable. When teams commit to shutting down the New Orleans passing attack by playing two-deep safety the entire game, the Saints gash the defense with Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Reggie Bush. When teams try to slow down the running game, the Saints will air it out on them. The challenges that the 6th ranked Patriots’ defense will face are magnificent. Because they play a 3-4 defense, the Patriots will be able to throw some different looks at Drew in an attempt to confuse him and slow him down. I truly believe that Bill Belicheck will try to attack the left side of our offensive line, which includes second-year pro Carl Nicks and backup left tackles Zach Strief and Jermon Bushrod. He will send run blitzes early and often in order to force the Saints into third-and-long and force Drew Brees to make long throws in order to convert those third downs.

The Saints’ receiving corps goes into the game with a major advantage over the Patriots’ youthful secondary. The Saints will likely go into the game with three healthy receivers: Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem. I feel that these three will continually get down field because the Patriots’ corners—Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs—are much more suited to bump-and-run coverage. Also, the Patriots’ safeties—Brandon Meriweather and Brandon McGowan--are very young guys who may be a little too aggressive and jump some routes. I feel that if the offensive line can give King Drew enough time to make his reads and get the ball downfield, the Saints will be able to torch the Pats’ secondary all night.

The Patriots go into the game with the NFL’s #2 ranked offense and stopping that unit will be a backbreaking attempt. The Patriots, going into the Jets game this past Sunday, were down to their second-string left tackle Sebastian Vollmer; but during the game, he faced and injury and his status in the Saints’ game is in doubt. This means that Will Smith, who has come on as of late, should be able to apply pressure to Brady’s blind side throughout the game. Gregg Williams will also see this advantage and will likely send several blitzes to the left side of the Patriots’ offensive line. Another key to the Saints slowing down the Patriots attack will be Sedrick Ellis. If Ellis returns healthy during this game and can get a consistent push in the pocket, not allowing Tom Brady to step up, this will give our defense more opportunities to hit Brady and maybe even get a couple of sacks. His return will also help shut down the running game of Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk, forcing the Patriots into a more one-dimensional approach.

The layout of the secondary will be another key for the Saints’ aspirations of winning this game. If Jabari Greer returns, that will be big in slowing down Randy Moss because he has world-class speed and great ball skills; and maybe with a little help from Roman Harper from time to time, the Saints can prevent Randy Moss from ruining the game. The rest of the layout, however, is a little bit more obscure. Tracy Porter and Randall Gay likely will not play and Leigh Torrence has been placed on the Injured Reserve. This means that the two new signees—Chris Mcalister and Mike McKenzie—will likely be pushed into action after spending very little time in Gregg’s system. Playing Usama Young and Pierson Prioleau is another option for the Saints, but whatever they do; they ABSOLUTELY MUST prevent Wes Welker from doing what he did against the Jets.

I believe the Saints go into the game with a clear advantage because of their offensive balance and aggressive defense. The crowd-noise will be a major factor in this game because, just as it did in the Giants’ and Falcons’ games, it will make calling audibles and hard counts very difficult on Brady. It may also force the defense into several neutral zone infractions that may give the Saints a few free plays. In order to win this game, the Saints need to play the perfect game that they have been claiming they are capable of. No sacks, no penalties, no big plays for the Pats, and most importantly—NO TURNOVERS!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Saints Nation: Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades @ Buccaneers

Below are the grades for the defense and special teams @ Tampa Bay. Some terrific play all around.

Will Smith: B+ (2.83) Smith finished with 3 tackles and a sack. He did a reasonably good job of putting pressure on Josh Freeman, and was able to waltz in untouched for an easy sack on a missed blocking assignment. It was nice to see Smith help against the run on a number of occasions, too.

Charles Grant: C (2.37) Grant finished with just 2 tackles, and he knocked Freeman down once on a pass rush. His pass rushing was mediocre, and his run defense was mediocre... so he gets a mediocre grade to go with his mediocre GPA.

Bobby McCray: D+ (1.89) What happened to this guy? He was a very solid pass rusher last year, but his reps get lessened each week mostly due to his complete lack of production. At one point in training camp they were talking about installing packages that would include McCray blitzing from the linebacker slot. Whatever happened to that? No tackles for McCray in this game despite a decent number of snaps. He was complete neutralized on pass downs, too.

Anthony Hargrove: B- (2.44) Just one tackle for Hargrove, but he did a good job getting push on passing plays up the middle, and he recovered a CRUCIAL fumble that broke Tampa Bay's back.

Remi Ayodele: B (2.19) Ayodele plugged up the middle much better than usual and forced the Tampa backs to often bounce their runs outside, allowing the Saints' linebackers to make plays. He finished with 3 tackles and also showed more effort than what I've seen in the past. The main problem I've had with Ayodele is he has a lazy streak where he won't play to the whistle, but I didn't see that in this game.

Scott Fujita: A- (2.72) Fujita is back and playing at a high level. This was arguably his best game of the season. He was making terrific reads and had a very impressive play getting in the backfield and hitting the Bucs' runner for a loss. His tackles were sure and he showed no ill effects from the calf injury that slowed him down. His biggest play was a blitz off the backside where he sacked Freeman and knocked the ball loose, leading to Hargrove's big recovery. Nice to see Fujita making plays, he's been missed. He was a major reason the Bucs struggled to move the ball after that first drive.

Scott Shanle: C+ (2.77) Quiet day for Shanle, who really didn't do much until the second half. There were no major mistakes, but some of the bigger runs early in the game were plays going right at him where he didn't absorb the blocks very well. He was solid in coverage and ended with 2 tackles.

Jonathan Vilma: A- (3.00) Vilma was all over the field, looked fast and was steady. He finished with 6 tackles, a defended pass, a knockdown on a blitz, and an interception. When he gets a clean look at stopping a rusher he almost always makes the play. I don't think he's playing at quite the level he was a season ago, but he clearly makes everyone around him better. Nice to see him get that pick, he made a fantastic catch covering a tough customer in Kellen Winslow Jr.

Randall Gay: C (2.59) Gay was pretty solid in coverage before leaving early with a tweaked hamstring. From what I've heard it sounds unlikely he'll be back in time for the Monday Night game.

Malcolm Jenkins: A- (3.07) Jenkins made a terrific interception, the first of his career, going to the ground to come up with a low pass. He benefited from Antonio Bryant slipping, but still jumped the route well and showed terrific hands. He led the team with 7 tackles on the day and 2 defended passes. He held a very good receiver in Antonio Bryant to just 3 catches. Bryant did have a 21 yard reception against Jenkins at one point, but the coverage was picture perfect and Bryant just made a ridiculous catch on his outside shoulder - not much you can blame the rookie for there. He really stepped in and did not miss a beat.

Roman Harper: B (3.23) Harper dropped an easy interception, jumping a route well but failing to come up with the catch. If there's one thing I've learned from watching Harper all the years is the guy has the worst set of hands I've almost ever seen. He finished with just 3 tackles, but was sent blitzing a number of times. He was able to register a half sack, and he also knocked Freeman to the ground two other times.

Darren Sharper: B- (3.15) Sharper was fine. No real chances to get a pick this time. The few times he was in a good position, the ball by Freeman was so poorly thrown that Sharper had no chance. He finished with 5 tackles and was especially helpful against the run. His grade suffers because of yet another personal foul 15 yard penalty. He's had at least 4 or 5 this year. It was a blatant facemask penalty, and there really was no need for him to do that.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar: C+ (2.73) Dunbar finished with 3 tackles and played in spot duty late in the game at linebacker. He was aggressive and did ok. He over-pursued twice but with the game so far out of reach it's hard to grade him. I'll give him some love for doing a great job on special teams, though.

DeMario Pressley: B- (2.78) This guy deserves to start alongside Sedrick Ellis. There, I said it. I know there's a love affair going on with just about any avid Saints watcher and Anthony Hargrove, and the coaching staff seems enamored with Ayodele, but Pressley has been the tackle performing most consistently. I see him sometimes get pushed off the line of scrimmage, but once when that happen he bounced back up the middle and ended up making the tackle. Even when he's beat he plays to the whistle and shows terrific effort. He finished with 3 tackles and did a decent job rushing the passer.

Pierson Prioleau: B- (2.67) He finished with 3 tackles and did a fairly good job in coverage. With the Saints depleted at corner thanks to the injuries to Torrence and Gay, he stepped in and helped hold down the fort.

Usama Young: B (3.17) Young also lent a helping hand at corner with the Saints shorthanded by injury. He was pretty good, especially helping in run support. He finished with 2 tackles. His grade gets a boost, too, from 2 spectacular special teams plays. First he forced a deep punt to be fair caught inside the 20 with terrific downfield coverage, then he dove on a ball and downed it at the 1 yard line after another great punt by Morstead.

Leigh Torrence: C (2.00) Torrence was placed on IR, I'm told, and that's too bad. The guy was finally getting some playing time. Sure, he wasn't the best corner but you can't argue with the guy's toughness. He separated his shoulder and came back in the game to play and make a tackle due to the Saints' injury problems. He finished with 4 tackles and teamed up with Harper to get the other half of a sack on Freeman. He was also responsible for the touchdown pass to Michael Clayton, though, and I feel like his coverage was spotty enough that a better quarterback could have made him pay. I'm surprised as far as he was playing off receivers that Freeman didn't take advantage of the short routes in front of him.

John Carney: A- (2.77) Carney did his job, so it's hard to give him a worse grade. He hit a big 38 yard field goal to break a 7-7 tie, and at the time it was important. He also hit all 5 of his extra points, but once again got one or two barely inside the upright.

Thomas Morstead: A+ (3.03) He was booming the ball all day long. I tip my cap to you, Mr. Morstead, and I can't tell you how glad I am the Saints kept you over Glenn Pakulak. He was, in a word, fantastic. Every kickoff he booted went into the end zone, and as the game progressed they kept getting deeper and deeper (I believe his last 3 were touchbacks). Clifton Smith is known for being one of the most dangerous returners in the NFC, and Morstead completely neutralized him. He also blasted 4 punts for a 48.8 average, and pinned two inside the 20 (one of those at the 1). He only had one of his punts returns for 11 yards, so he ends up with an extremely impressive net average of a little over 46 yards. Without question his best game as a Saint.

Courtney Roby: B+ (2.93) Roby was pretty good returning kickoffs. No standout plays but he returned 2 kicks for a 25.5 average. His coverage skills, however, are what earned him his grade this time. The play that Usama Young made at the one was only thanks to a great athletic and head's up play by Roby, as he dove into the end zone and tipped the ball back into the field. For some reason the Bucs challenged that play, too, which had to be one of the dumbest challenges of all time.

My Defensive Player of the Game: Malcolm Jenkins
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead

Monday, November 23, 2009

Saints Nation: Saints Bring Back Mike McKenzie

After a long and very successful stint in New Orleans, Mike McKenzie is back for more. The Saints agreed to terms with the cornerback, and he'll join recently signed veteran Chris McAlister as a new member of our depleted defensive backfield (STORY HERE). McKenzie has suffered two major knee injuries in the last 3 years, but he's apparently recovered well and is ready to play.

The Saints were without starters Jabari Greer (groin) and Tracy Porter (knee) this past Sunday at Tampa Bay and they suffered two more injuries to fill ins Randall Gay (hamstring) and Leigh Torrence (shoulder/stinger). It's safe to say that both Porter and Gay are both out for this upcoming Monday night game against the Patriots, and Torrence and Greer are both questionable. That leaves rookie Malcolm Jenkins, and recently signed vets McKenzie and McAlister as the other corners on the roster. My guess is Greer will return, giving the Saints four active corners for Monday Night, and they'll get spot duty help from backup safeties Pierson Prioleau and Usama Young.

UPDATE: Leigh Torrence has been placed on IR to make room for McKenzie. Torrence is thus done for the year.

Saints Nation: Offensive Player Grades @ Buccaneers

Check out below the player grades for the Saints' offense at Tampa. The letter grade represents the player's performance in the game, and the GPA represents the cumulative performance for the season.

Drew Brees: A- (3.04) Brees wasn't flawless, but considering the amount of pressure the Bucs got with their four man front, it was impressive he managed to go the whole game without turning the ball over. He was also never sacked despite getting knocked to the ground 5 times. There were a couple of close calls, but Brees' final stat line was impressive enough: 19-29, 187 yds, 3 TD's and 0 INT's. Brees was victimized by a couple of drops on 3rd down passes, and got his best results throwing to Marques Colston and David Thomas.

Mike Bell: A- (2.92) Bell ran with his usual aggression and authority. At one point in the game my wife said to me "I don't think I've ever seen him go backwards." She's right, the guy is a human wrecking ball. In fact, I think that should be his new nickname. Anytime he gets a full head of steam behind him (or any steam for that matter), there is no way you are hitting him for a loss. Bell got in the end zone twice and finished with 75 yards on 13 carries. He also caught a 5 yard pass where Ronde Barber popped him pretty good and it looked like Bell aggravated the knee he's had problems with. Luckily he was able to come back and be very effective.

Pierre Thomas: B+ (3.12) Thomas somehow ran the ball over better than Bell. I remember watching the game thinking Bell had grossly outperformed him, but Thomas ended with 92 yards on just 11 carries (8.4 yard average). Thomas also caught 3 passes for 11 yards. He helped the Saints move the chains constantly and was tough to bring down. Only negative: he did slip and fall on a 3rd and 1 early in the game, forcing the Saints to punt.

Lynell Hamilton: C+ (2.67) Hamilton came in for mop up duty and converted on a 3rd and short, and ran with authority. Keep in mind he was playing behind mostly backups and the Bucs knew the run was coming. Still, he was able to move the chains once. He finished with 19 yards on 9 carries. He also have a nice carry in the second quarter that went for 4 yards.

Marques Colston: B+ (2.80) Most of Colston's stats came on three consecutive plays on the Saints' last drive before halftime. They were all big plays as the Saints moved within scoring distance, and ended the drive by taking a 17-7 lead before halftime. It was nice to see Colston back to his old form. He made nice catches and proved tough to tackle. 5 catches for 74 yards.

Devery Henderson: D (2.93) Henderson was invisible all game. He finished with just 1 catch for -2 yards. On that play, Meachem completely whiffed on Ronde Barber which allowed the veteran to make a tackle before Devery had any room to run. Hard to blame Devery for that one. Otherwise, Brees didn't look his way at all. His grade could have been an F or a D-, but I had to give Henderson some love for throwing good blocks downfield at the second level.

Robert Meachem: B+ (2.96) Meachem, per usual, is making the most of his touches. Just 2 catches for 10 yards, but he scored both times. Meachem did have the terrible block aforementioned, but he also had a great block on a Pierre Thomas scamper in the second half to make up for it. He was also interfered with on a long pass downfield. The side judged threw a flag, but it was somehow mysteriously waved off even though the replay clearly showed contact. The refs get that call right and the Saints could have put it out of reach sooner.

Jeremy Shockey: C (2.97) Just 2 catches for 17 yards for Shockey today, who was targeted much less than backup David Thomas. In fact, Thomas has been more targeted for two weeks now. He was uncharacteristically quiet compared to what we're all used to seeing. He seemed tweak his ankle on his second reception, and I know he's been struggling with ankle problems, so it's entirely possible Shockey isn't operating at 100%. That would explain his limited snaps. Though Ronde Barber broke up a 3rd down pass intended for Shockey, it looked as though Shockey could have still come up with that ball.

David Thomas: A- (2.33) Back to back stellar performances by Thomas after starting off the season a little slow. He finished with 4 catches for 66 yards and his first touchdown as a Saint. He had a key 37 yard reception on the Saints' first scoring drive which would later tie the game at 7. More impressive than his stats, though, were the repeated terrific blocks on the edge and at the second level which aided the running game significantly.

Jermon Bushrod: C- (2.71) Bushrod was benched in favor of Zach Strief, but oddly came in for a couple of series at left tackle in the first half. While he was in the Saints ran the ball poorly to his side, and he was abused at least once by Stylez White which forced an incomplete pass. Based on the limited action it's hard to give Bushrod much worse of a grade, and he did come in for mop up duty and handle himself fine.

Zach Strief: C- (2.42) I was excited to hear that Strief got the start over Bushrod because I actually think he's a better option at left tackle. From what I understand the Saints decided to give Strief a shot because of the recent spike in turnovers, many that were coming due to a breakdown on the left side of the line (ahem, Bushrod). I was also a little sad for Jermon, though, because I felt like he actually handled himself admirably overall. Anyway, Strief struggled more than I've ever seen him struggle in pass protection. He was bailed out by Brees' uncanny pocket awareness. How Brees feels pressure from his blind side like that I'll never understand, but he does a great job of making his left tackle look good by avoiding the rusher that beats Strief/Bushrod on the edge. Still, Stylez White hit Brees four times, and at least 3 of those were due to Strief getting beat severely. His run blocking was pretty good in the second half, but the pressure from the left side was constant all day.

Carl Nicks: A (3.10) I was happy to hear the announcer give Nicks props at one point in the game, because he was absolutely destroying anyone that came in his path. I encourage any of you to watch the game over and pay particular attention to Nicks. Pardon my language, but he was putting guys on their ass all day long. Of particular note was a mauling lead on Bell's first touchdown run, and a pull on Bell's second run where he created a lane for Bell to jump over the goal line. For a 350 pound guy, Nicks actually moves pretty well too. I don't think he's ever going to beat Reggie Bush in a foot race, but he gets out there on pulls and shows some agility and quickness. As far as pass protection, forget about it. Anytime Brees stepped up from the annoying rush he was getting off the edge, he was comfortable knowing that no one would be in his face.

Jonathan Goodwin: A (3.13) Goodwin was particularly awesome in this game, as well. Numerous of the big runs the Saints had were not only a result of Goodwin's initial blocks, but his ability to follow the progression of the play and finish it off. He was picture perfect for most of the day. Had a nice pull block on a screen pass, his calling card. He also got tremendous push on short yardage plays, including both of Mike Bell's touchdowns. Yes, Jeff Faine is and was a terrific player, but Goodwin is making me forget all about him with the season he is having. Meanwhile, Jeff is stuck on the 1-9 team we just obliterated. I hope the contract was worth it.

Jahri Evans: A- (3.37) While he didn't stand out like Goodwin and Nicks, he was his usual, reliable, and sound playing self. No mistakes, which rarely ever happen with him. Can any of you even remember a time this season when penalty has been called on big Jahri? Maybe one? He was solid in both run and pass blocking. It would be criminal if he doesn't get a Pro Bowl invite based on the season he's having.

Jon Stinchcomb: B (2.97) Perhaps a harsh grade given how well he played run blocking. Just one negative play from Stinchcomb that I can remember, but it made me hold me breath and could give me nightmares. I just can't shake the memory of his poor block on Roy Miller which allowed the rushing Buc to absolutely drill Brees as the Saints' QB was releasing the ball. Brees was hit so hard I thought he might not get up. Luckily he was fine, but I can't imagine that Brees will feel too good today. Stinchcomb gave up less heat from his edge, but there were times where pressure would come from his side and Brees would casually step up in the pocket to nullify any threat. I want to again emphasize that Stinchcomb was terrific run blocking.

Darnell Dinkins: C (1.56) He was targeted on one pass and grossly overthrown. I don't think Dinkins and Brees are on the same page, given that Dinkins missed all of preseason and most of the beginning of the regular season. His run blocking was fine when he came in. Nothing much to comment on.

Kyle Eckel: B- (2.11) Eckel was pretty good operating as a lead blocker on the sets where he saw action. He threw some nice lead blocks and the Saints have mixed success running behind him.

My Offensive Player of the Game: Carl Nicks

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saints Nation: Saints Annihilate Bucs 38-7, Move to 10-0

I was calling for it and I got it. The Saints delivered a complete and dominant performance today, as they destroyed Tampa Bay on their home turf 38-7. The Saints looked far superior as a team, and outclassed the Bucs in each facet of the game. You can check out the box score HERE. With the Saints win (10-0) and the Falcons loss (5-5), the Saints now have a commanding 5 game lead in the NFC South. Check back for player grades coming up soon.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saints Nation: Aiming Big Against the Bucs

As fun as it's been to watch the Saints win ugly the last 4 weeks, I'm calling on the Saints to go back to their dominance of the first five weeks starting this weekend. There is no reason they can't go into Tampa Bay and hand it to a struggling team in full on rebuilding mode. Check out THIS ARTICLE I wrote on Canal Street Chronicles, calling for the Saints to finish with style points this Sunday. I feel like we can be satisfied with the season (or not) when it ends. Until then, as a fan, I'm not going to be satisfied with a 9-0 record. This team can go much further. You have to take advantage of the times where you're in a position to go far, because you never know when that opportunity will come back around. WHO DAT.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Saints Nation: 1st Round Pick Malcolm Jenkins to Earn First Start of the Season

Sunday against Tampa Bay, Malcolm Jenkins will get the first start of his career. Drafted 14th overall in the first round of the 2009 draft, Jenkins will get an increased role due to injuries suffered by regular starters Jabari Greer (groin) and Tracy Porter (knee); neither of whom are expected to play this week. This is a perfect opportunity for the 9-0 Saints to showcase their promising young star against a 1-8 Tampa Bay team with a rookie quarterback in Josh Freeman. I could not pick a better game to see Jenkins thrown into steady action at cornerback. What we saw in both preseason and on special teams during the regular season is that Jenkins has a knack for finding the ball and making plays. With extended playing time in base packages it will be interesting to see how he manages. I don't doubt for one second that he'll be tested early and often, and I believe he will have successes and failures as the game progresses. Either way, the timing could not be better for us to see what Jenkins can do. To get this young man ready for the postseason and primed to contribute down the stretch, it is undeniable that he needs experiences like this. Could he get his first career interception this week? Go do your thing, Malcolm.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Saints Nation: Jeremy Shockey dunks on LeBron James

Per Jeremy Shockey's twitter account: "Everyone trust me Lebron James could not play in the NFL, ESPN is crazy to even think he could even make a practice squad. He;s a 4.9 40 time."

I actually kind of agree with Shockey on this one. As ridiculous of an athlete as LeBron is, he can't run. What's more, getting hacked by Tyrus Thomas while driving to the basket doesn't compare with getting hit over the middle by Ray Lewis. That's not to take anything away from the physicality of the NBA - your average human would need to be hospitalized after getting fouled trying to score on a drive. But I also think your average human would need to be put on life support after a hit from Ray Lewis. This LeBron to the NFL talk needs to end, it's just ridiculous. Once again I blame ESPN and their Barbaro, Barry Bonds, Mike Vick, Brett Favre and now LeBron to the NFL attention seeking storylines that never go away.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Saints Nation: Saints' Current Play Starting to Make Me Nervous

Given the way the Saints have played the last for weeks: sloppy, mistake prone and vulnerable, it's semi miraculous they are still undefeated. They've beaten Miami, Atlanta, Carolina and St. Louis despite turning the ball over 13 times in those 4 games. That averages out to 3.25 turnovers per game. Now sure, the Saints have had mounting injuries. Sedrick Ellis has been out, Lance Moore has been out, Darren Sharper missed a game, Jabari Greer missed a game, Scott Fujita has missed a good amount of time, Kendrick Clancy got placed on IR, Tracy Porter just got hurt and you could point to injuries before the season started like Jammal Brown and Billy Miller. The truth is, though, that most of those injuries are happening on the defensive side of the ball, and that's not the side of the ball that all those turnovers are coming from.

It's admirable that the Saints can do a beyond awful job of taking care of the football and still find a way to win. That's the sign of a very good team, that can get the job and win despite playing ugly. But we're talking about 4 games in a row where turnovers have been a major reason the Saints have let the opposition stick around much longer than they should have. The defense will get healthier and play better once key players return, but with the same offensive line all season and the same offensive lineup (save Lance Moore) there is no excuse for the continuous issues hanging onto the football. One game is an aberration, 4 games in a row is a trend. Drew Brees has been at the forefront of this ball security issue. Starting this Sunday against Tampa, I think the Saints need to focus on limiting their turnovers. As their defense gets more banged up and starts to play worse, not turning the ball over will become even more necessary. The wins are great, and I don't want to come off as negative as the Saints are 9-0, their best start in franchise history. But I've seen the Saints make the playoffs before, and I've seen them win a playoff game. That's not enough to satisfy me as a fan, especially when I see this team truly has the potential to make the SuperBowl. There is no question they are good enough. What they are doing right now, though, will get them beat in the playoffs. The point is they may be 9-0, but they're not currently playing like an NFC Champion team. Five games into the season they were, and they've since regressed. It's 4 games in a row they keep donating the ball to the other team, so it's time to stop the streak there.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saints Nation: Saints sign former NFL superstar Chris McAlister

The Saints signed a McAlister, and no, it's not the McAllister you've grown to know and love over the years. But he's been a superstar and former Pro Bowler in his own right. Chris McAlister has been brought in due to the recent rash of injuries at cornerback (starters Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer are both struggling with ailments). You can read about the signing HERE on I think it's safe to assume McAlister will get some playing time this weekend in Tampa. To make room for him, the Saints cut 3rd string quarterback Chase Daniel. I think it's safe to assume the Saints will try to move Daniel to their practice squad should he clear waivers.

Saints Nation: Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades @ Rams

Below are the grades for the Saints' Defense and Special Teams @ the Rams.

Will Smith: B- (2.78) Smith registered yet another sack which also forced the ball loose, but unfortunately the Saints weren't able to recover. The Rams ended up scoring on the next play on a long pass to Avery. He's been getting better and better this season rushing the passer. Against the run he was mediocre. He finished with just 2 tackles.

Charles Grant: B+ (2.41) Grant was terrific against the run for the second straight week. He finished with 5 tackles and was present on many of the stops the defense made against the run in the second half. 2 of his tackles were plays where he beat his blocker and was able to meet Steven Jackson in the backfield for a loss. His play was aggressive and his tackles were hard to break. He even had a couple of decent pass rushes, and I felt he deserved a half sack on the sack given to Ayodele.

Bobby McCray: B- (1.96) McCray showed some nice ability against the run for once, and this time he got more pressure on the quarterback. Just one tackle for McCray in the game, but I at least saw him involved, active, and always in pursuit. A promising performance given how invisible he's been.

Anthony Hargrove: C (2.42) Hargrove did finish with 4 tackles, and his pressure on Marc Bulger was good, but he's still a little light to play the run effectively. He was pushed out of the way often and mauled on several of Jackson's big runs.

Remi Ayodele: C (2.09) Ayodele got a coverage sack, and just 1 tackle. He was surprisingly pretty good rushing the passer and he pancaked Bulger on another play just as Bulger released his pass. Otherwise, he was eaten alive on running plays and did a poor job of playing at the point of attack. Sedrick Ellis needs to get back in the lineup healthy because the last three weeks watching the Saints attempt to stop the run have been painful.

Scott Fujita: C- (2.53) Fujita was feeling things out early and he seemed rusty in his first game back from a calf injury. He was juked a couple of times by Jackson and allowed him to run through weak arm tackles at other times. As the game wore on, though, he seemed to get better and better as he adjusted back to the game speed. He was in the right place for most of the game and played well in coverage. He finished with 4 tackles, and I hope he'll play more like he did in the second half for all of next week.

Scott Shanle: B (2.81) Nice to see Shanle bounce back and play a pretty solid game. Like Fujita, he was pushed around a little early and seemed to be too tentative in his reads. He did make a couple of terrific open field tackles on a very hard to bring down Steven Jackson, though, and those plays could have been massive gainers if Shanle doesn't come up with the tackle. His tackling technique is very sound, and it's nice to have a linebacker you can trust. True to form he also did a good job in coverage. He finished with 6 tackles including one for a loss.

Jonathan Vilma: B- (2.93) Mixed bag for Vilma. He did have 8 tackles and seemed to get better as the game wore on, but he also had a number of opportunities to make plays where Jackson made him look like a backup. Vilma did a good job on blitz of hitting Bulger, and almost got a sack at one point but Bulger released the pass as he was going down. Vilma also missed a couple of assignments in the passing game, allowing Daniel Fells to make plays.

Marvin Mitchell: B- (2.45) Mitchell had 2 tackles, including one which was a vicious hit. Overall he didn't make mistakes and looked good against the run and pass in limited duty.

Tracy Porter: C (3.11) Before Porter left the game with an injury, he was having a forgettable game. Assigned for a large part of the game to cover rookie Brandon Gibson, who had no catches on the season going into this game, he was beat all too often. On the play he was injured, he was not only beat but completely blew the tackle. Porter finished with 2 tackles. The news that his injury is only a strain is huge, though. The Saints need him desperately, and the fact the he should be back in time for the stretch run and the playoffs is crucial.

Randall Gay: D- (2.67) Gay was beat on two touchdown passes to Donnie Avery and the Rams in general picked on him all day. He looked slow and despite good coverage on the second touchdown he showed terrible ball skills. Gay did finish with 4 tackles on the day. Gay in my estimation is best used in the slot as a physical corner. I know the Saints were short handed, but matching him up against a burner like Donnie Avery was a terrible matchup. I heard whispers of Jason David comparisons (ahem, Saintsational) and that is going a little too far. Just because he can't run with Donnie Avery it doesn't mean he has no clue out there. Gay will be fine, just a rough day for him lined up against a receiver that is as fast as just about anyone. Next week against Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton I think Gay will look better.

Malcolm Jenkins: C+ (2.92) He was ok, not great. He finished with 2 tackles and put nice pressure on a couple of blitzes. He did have one devastating hit on Bulger that the Rams' quarterback barely got up from. He also had a big "defended pass" late in the game, where he ran with Avery before getting hit in the back with the ball. One thing I was impressed by was a running play where it was Jackson, a blocker and Jenkins, and Jenkins did a good job of sticking his head in there and trying to take out Jackson's legs. He slowed Jackson down enough to make it an easy tackle for his teammates. Malcolm is pretty physical for a corner.

Roman Harper: B+ (3.26) Another solid game from Harper. He's becoming a pretty steady performer for the Saints, and brace yourselves because he actually looked good against the pass. He was around the box a good amount, especially in the second half, and finished with 8 tackles. He did a good job, mostly, of limiting Jackson's effectiveness at the second level. He had a key pass breakup late in the third quarter on a 3rd down in the red zone forcing a Rams' field goal, and he was involved on the hail mary attempt breakup.

DeMario Pressley: B (2.84) He was pretty good against the run. Sure he was pushed around at times and somewhat responsible for the yardage Jackson amassed, but he looked aggressive and I liked his hustle. Given the fact that Pressley is essentially a red shirt rookie that's only in his second game as a pro, he's performed admirably. He had 5 tackles including 2 for losses.

Pierson Prioleau: C+ (2.67) Prioleau gave up a couple of passes but also laid some nice hits. He finished with 3 tackles and helped the Saints out when they were so thin on the final drive in dime coverage.

Usama Young: B+ (3.33) At times Young looked like a harder hitting, faster version of Darren Sharper. He had a terrific break on the ball on his interception, and he also defended another pass showing nice anticipation. He finished with 4 tackles and had some nice hits. His grade could be better, but he took a couple of bad angles on Jackson at the second level and did a bad job of wrapping up at other times which allowed the Rams to gain more yardage.

Leigh Torrence: C (2.00) Torrence did finish with 4 tackles, and showed pretty good coverage specifically on a deep ball late in the game, but in general he played too far off his man allowing easy throws underneath. He was beat at least twice on slants. He was responsible for Gibson once Porter left with an injury and he did very little to slow him down.

John Carney B- (2.67) No field goal attempts and Carney finished 4 for 4 on extra points. I'm sure some of you are thinking: well, he did everything we asked him to do, why doesn't he get an A or an A-? Well, first off, the best I'd give him for that minimal of a contribution is MAYBE a B+, but couple that with the fact that the Saints were forced to punt once and go for it another time on 4th down because Carney's leg strength was unreliable and there you have it. As much as I like Carney and trust his accuracy, it's a bummer that we don't have an option we currently trust with the game on the line and the ball at our opponent's 35 yard line.

Thomas Morstead D+ (2.89) Morstead didn't have any touchbacks on kickoffs, but his depth was ok. His punting performance was actually pretty dismal. He averaged just 37.3 yards on 3 punts, and netted just 20.6 per punt if you count 2 touchbacks and a 10 yard punt return. On his last punt he blasted it out of the end zone, but it sounded like there was a coaching mix up and he was just following instructions.

Courtney Roby A (2.88) Roby took one to the house to open the second half and break a 14-14 tie. His speed hitting the hole on that return was impressive and no Ram ever had a chance at him. I'm happy to see Roby solidify his standing as the team's returner. I also liked that on a deep kickoff later in the game, he didn't let the big play go to his head and he downed it for a touchback. He also came close to making a nice play as a gunner on a punt that bounced inside the 5, but punt returner blew him up before he had a chance to down the ball prior to it going in the end zone. Glad he didn't get hurt on that play, it was a vicious hit and we need him.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B (2.83) Dunbar threw an awesome block on Roby's return, and he was credited with a tackle as a gunner. I could have SWORN I remember him making two tackles, though. None the less, he was involved downfield and had a good day on special teams, so I thought I'd give him his props.

My Defensive Player of the Game: Roman Harper
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Courtney Roby

Monday, November 16, 2009

Saints Nation: Offensive Player Grades @ Rams

Below are the offensive player grades for the flawed victory at St. Louis. The grade represents the player's performance for the game and the GPA behind it in parentheses represents the player's cumulative effort for all games combined.

Drew Brees: C (2.96) Is anyone getting tired of Brees' turnover penchant? Yes, he's the franchise's savior, yes, he's an mvp candidate, and yes, we should all be thankful he's the quarterback of the Saints. But he really hasn't looked all that great in recent games. He's played good enough to win, but he hasn't played mistake free football. I've given him lenient grading up until now, but this time it's going to be a little harsher. He finished 18 for 26 for 223yds, 2 TD's and 2 INT's. His second interception in particular was a horribly overthrown pass intended for Shockey. I will admit that his touchdown pass to Meachem was one of the prettiest passes he's thrown all season, so give him credit for that. The main disappointment for me, though, was that the offense had the opportunity to kill the game TWICE and Brees misfired on two third down attempts to keep the chains moving. Normally you can at least count on Brees, even on an abnormally pedestrian day this season, to come through in the clutch. Today, he didn't, and his grade suffered because of it. I was also frustrated by the constant reliance on the security valve throw underneath and what I perceived as sometimes questionable clock management (spiking on 3rd down before halftime with 6 seconds left).

Reggie Bush: A (2.59) I thought this was Bush's best game of the season. He looked shifty, quick, and elusive. I understand he's not your prototypical running back, but when someone gets you 83 yards on 6 carries - how can you not give them more carries?? His 17 yard run on the first drive was impressive. His 55 yard breakaway career long run was amazing. Oh, and he also ran for a score and caught another one. In short, he was awesome.

Mike Bell: C (2.81) He finished with 8 carries for 30 yards. He showed decent effort. He didn't really get into the game or get a chance to show his stuff.

Pierre Thomas: C+ (3.09) 11 carries for 37 yards for Thomas. He was barely more involved than Bell, and no more effective. He also caught a pass for 5 yards.

Marques Colston: D+ (2.74) Colston finished with just 2 catches for 17 yards, and was almost never targeted. Perhaps he was feeling the ill effects (no pun intended) of the flu he was battling earlier in the week. He also rushed once for 6 yards, though I can't for the life of me understand why he'd get a reverse over Meachem or Henderson. Colston, despite his massive size, decided to try the Reggie Bush leap over the end zone which resulted in a big fumble. The Rams stopped the Saints inches from scoring, and that kept the game close. That's back to back horrendous games from Colston, so hopefully he can bounce back. His GPA is falling fast. He does deserve credit, though, for throwing a terrific block on Reggie Bush's first touchdown run.

Devery Henderson: B+ (3.15) It's truly been special to watch this player's maturation into a complete NFL receiver. We can no longer accuse him of having bad hands. How many drops does he have this year anyway? One? He made reliable catches and was dangerous after the catch. Another solid performance from Devery, who's been the most consistent threat in the passing game this season. He finished with 4 catches for 72 yards, and was wide open on a couple of Brees' misfires.

Robert Meachem: B+ (2.90) I can't really give him a better grade when he touched the ball 2 times. That said, to say he makes the most of his touches is a gross understatement. Once again Meachem was a difference maker, and he's finally validating the decision to draft him in the first round. Just one catch, but it happened to be 27 yards for a touchdown and was the difference in the game. Oh, and he took a reverse 41 yards to set up another score. Did you all see how fast he was on that play? Wow.

Jeremy Shockey: C (3.07) Just 3 catches for 42 yards. In most blocking sets, the Saints relied more on David Thomas and Darnell Dinkins. Shockey was the target on both interceptions, though neither can really be blamed on him. A very quiet day for the former Pro Bowler.

David Thomas: A- (2.14) Not only did Thomas move the chains and prove himself to be a very reliable target, he was fantastic blocking. Give him all the credit on the Meachem reverse, as he completely took out a would be tackler to clear up an open field for #17. He did a formidable job in the fullback position, too. 5 catches for 45 yards on a day where he was often targeted. I'd give him an A if he had gotten in the end zone.

Jermon Bushrod: B (2.84) Bushrod was mostly fine. He got Brees hit once and sacked once by Chris Long, but on both plays Brees could have had better pocket awareness and gotten rid of the ball sooner. His run blocking wasn't great, but it was pretty good.

Carl Nicks: B (3.00) Nicks was great in pass blocking, but the run blocking wasn't as good as usual. The Saints in general didn't have a tremendous amount of success running on the left side.

Jonathan Goodwin: B (3.04) He was having a fantastic game, but I got annoyed at him for missing a block on the screen pass to Pierre Thomas. He was also partly to blame for Eckel getting stacked up on that 4th down play. He makes his assignment there and the game is basically over. Otherwise, he was solid in pass protection.

Jahri Evans: A- (3.33) Evans continues to prove why he's Pro Bowl worthy. The right side of the Rams' line was neutralized all day. Every single successful run came from the right side. He threw a phenomenal block on Bush's 55 yard scamper. I'd give him an A but he should have had more push on the 4th down play.

Jon Stinchcomb: A- (2.96) Matched up against an aging but very dangerous defensive end in Leonard Little, Stinchcomb ate him alive. He was also responsible for a terrific block on Bush's long run. On Bush's 17 yard run in the 1st quarter, he was also involved. Little finished with 1 tackle and never even got close to touching Brees. Stinchcomb is playing some good football right now.

Darnell Dinkins: D (1.34) The Saints pained through weeks of this guy being hurt, for what? He blocked poorly, he can't catch, and he had ANOTHER false start penalty. I realize this guy is supposed to be a good blocker, but at what point do the Saints decide he's not worth a roster spot when he hurts us every time he's on the field? I hate to be hard on him because I know he's capable of better, but Dinkins is making too many mistakes for how little he plays.

Kyle Eckel: C (1.84) He was ok in run blocking. The Saints overall had more success running with David Thomas as the fullback. Give him credit for converting a 3rd and short with a nice 7 yard run. That got him another opportunity on 4th and 2, but he got stacked for a loss. That was a critical point in the game, but I blame bad play calling for that play more so than Eckel.

My Offensive Player of the Game: Reggie Bush

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saints Nation: Saints Barely Beat Rams 28-23

The Saints got another win and moved to 9-0, but it was anything but pretty. The picture of Tracy Porter being helped off, which unfortunately looks like a serious knee injury, embodies how ugly the game was. The Rams bullied the Saints, ran the ball very effectively, and gave New Orleans all it could handle before losing as time elapsed on their final drive on an incomplete hail mary. Check back for player grades.

Saints Nation: Saints Running Out Skeleton Crew in Defensive Backfield @ Rams

Darren Sharper was ruled out and made inactive for today's game at Saint Louis with a banged up knee. He'll join defensive back starter Jabari Greer, who was already ruled out with a tweaked groin earlier in the week. Randall Gay and Usama Young (pictured) will be placed into the starting lineup to replace the two players who have clearly been the best starters on defense this season. Those are big shoes to fill, and the defensive backfield will be very depleted for the Saints today. Hopefully they can step up. Enjoy the game and geaux Saints!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saints Nation: Key to beating the Rams

Check out my KEYS TO BEATING THE RAMS. Basically, just make sure no one parties too hard the night before. I'll be shocked if Steven Jackson doesn't get upwards of 25 carries, so the Saints better be ready to stop the run. It looks like Jabari Greer will be out for this one, so we'll also need Randall Gay and Malcolm Jenkins to step up. Jonathan Goodwin and Darren Sharper are also both questionable, but I'm hearing both will play. The Saints will also get Scott Fujita back for this one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Saints Nation: Friday Q&A with Sean Payton

Sean Payton met with the media to talk about the upcoming Rams game, the injury report, the team's flu outbreak and more. Check it out HERE.

The more I think about this game, the more I think we're going to blow them out. Seriously, we have no business losing to the Rams. Anything less than a 3 score win would be a shock to me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Saints Nation: Mid Season Grade Report

Contrary to the obvious picks, I actually went with Jahri Evans and Jabari Greer as my respective most performing offensive and defensive players of the first half of the season. While Brees and Sharper have both been fantastic and have gotten the lion share of the media attention that follows the Saints' improbable 8-0 start, my grades and the numbers don't lie. How's that for cliche? Sidenote, Thomas Morstead my special teams props.

Check out how things played out:

Mid Season Offensive Player Grades

Mid Season Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Saints Nation: Morten Andersen inducted into Saints' Hall of Fame

I meant to give the man his due much sooner, but with the crazy 8-0 season we've been enjoying and the time I've spent doing player grades etc, you'll have to forgive me. Morten Andersen was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame this past weekend, and I can think of few players more deserving. I had the good fortune of meeting him on a couple of occasions and I can say that few professional athletes have been more friendly and gracious. Hopefully the next Hall of Fame he gets inducted into is of the Pro Football variety in Canton. Based on his body of work he would deserve it. You can check out his career stats HERE.

Congrats on this accomplishment by great Saint Morten Andersen!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saints Nation: Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades vs. Panthers

Below are the player grades for the defense and special teams vs. the Panthers.

Will Smith: B+ (2.79) Will Smith was to partly to blame for the big touchdown run DeAngelo Williams had on the second play of the game. He had a clear shot at Williams, but tried to shove him instead of going for his legs/ankles to trip him up. Instead of slowing Williams down, he gave him a little boost to spring free. He made other mistakes against the run and was not at his best as he over pursued the edge allowing gaps. Otherwise, his pass rush was constant and overall fantastic. He finished with 4 tackles, 3 for losses (2 of those sacks) and a forced fumble at the biggest of times. He could have been credited with 3 sacks, but a bobbled snap by Jake Delhomme led to a Smith tackle and was ruled a running play. Smith has played the run better than in this game, but overall he's had a fantastic season. Half way through the year he's at 6.5 sacks, so he's on pace for 13, which would be a career best. He's already more than doubled his sack total from last year.

Charles Grant: B (2.29) Grant held his ground extremely well in this game and was never really pushed around at the point of attack. He was exceptional against the run disrupting the blocking schemes, setting up the linebackers and defensive tackles to make plays. Several of the running plays that went for losses were a result of Grant's leverage with runs coming at him. He finished with 3 tackles. His pass rushing was mediocre, but give him a lot of credit for playing fantastic football against the run.

Remi Ayodele: C+ (2.10) Ayodele was better than the last couple of games, but I still struggle to understand the coaching staff's fascination with him. On the both of Williams' touchdown runs, Ayodele was wiped completely out of the play. He finished with just two tackles, but was better at holding his ground as the game progressed. I think he struggles more with double teams when Hargrove in the game, which allows teams to be more physical because Hargrove isn't a great tackle on running downs. Ayodele seemed to have a lot more success with DeMario Pressley lined up next to him.

DeMario Pressley: B- (2.67) Nice adjustment by the Saints. Hargrove wasn't cutting it on obvious running downs early, so Pressley got a lot of playing time. As the game wore on, Pressley was essentially the "starter" on running downs, and Hargrove came in for him on passing downs. Pressley actually played a pertty good game. Ayodele's performance as mentioned improved almost immediately with him on the field. He held his ground and the Panthers' running game started to suffer with Pressley on the field. He finished with 2 tackles, including one very nice one for a loss.

Anthony Hargrove: B+ (2.48) Hargrove was manhandled pretty well early and not looking too good. As the game wore on, though, the Saints put him in positions better suited for his style of play, and he dominated. Hargrove would get an A if he didn't look so shaky against the run early. He finished with 3 tackles and two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown. The replay showed he was clearly down at the 1, so Hargrove was lucky the Panthers were out of timeouts and couldn't challenge it. He also did well rushing the passer and forcing early throws.

Bobby McCray: D+ (1.86) The only tackle he made was on a 3rd and short running play. On the play, Jonathan Stewart seemed stacked up short of the 1st down, but McCray pushed him forward to the ground to allow him to get the first down. Low IQ play from McCray, who should have recognized the situation and grabbed Stewart to pull him back rather than allowing him to fall to the ground going forward. McCray just isn't making plays this year, and has performed much worse than he did last year. His GPA as evidence, he has 7 tackles and 1 sack through 8 games. To McCray's credit, he did an ok job rushing the passer late and put one nice hit on Delhomme as he released the ball. Otherwise, another lame performance. I keep thinking sooner or later he's going to make a play for the Saints.

Jonathan Vilma: B+ (2.96) Vilma had bad angles on a couple of running plays, including two 3rd and long running plays that allowed the Panthers to secure improbable first downs. Otherwise, he was all over the field as usual and played both fast and physical. 12 tackles, including 2 for a loss. He did miss a couple of coverage assignments on tight ends, most likely because the Saints were so committed to stopping the run.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B+ (2.78) Do we even let Fujita start when he's healthy? Seriously, this young linebacker is just getting better and better! Dunbar is terrific against the run, and VERY physical. The only drawback is he's very aggressive so he sometimes contains poorly and lacks discipline. Those are things, by the way, that Fujita excels at. He had 8 tackles and played a very good game. I'm glad the Saints decided Dunbar was a better option than Troy Evans. Physically there is just a huge difference between the two. I think Dunbar could be a viable starter for the Saints in the future.

Scott Shanle: B- (2.79) Nice to see Shanle bounce back from what I considered his worst performance of the season. He finished with 4 tackles. He still got pushed around and cleared out of some running plays where he could have had an opportunity to make a tackle, but he showed off some terrific coverage skills against the Panthers.

Jabari Greer: B (3.46) You'll notice that Greer has the highest GPA among the Saints through 8 games. I know this might not be a popular call (with Brees and Sharper having great seasons), but my vote for team MVP half way through the season is JABARI GREER. He went out with what is apparently a groin injury. He finished the game with just 2 tackles, but consider Steve Smith's stats: 4 catches for 64 yards. Never has Smith been so limited against the Saints. The Saints need this guy, badly, so hopefully he's not too banged up.

Tracy Porter: B+ (3.25) Porter was awesome yet again. He forced a BIG fumble to get the Saints back in the game early. Unfortunately Brees threw an INT in the red zone to negate the big play. He was physical, helpful against the run, and pretty good in pass coverage. He finished with 7 tackles and was all over the field.

Randall Gay: B (3.00) Gay came in for Greer and gave medium passing gain once, but otherwise did a reasonably good job. He came blitzing on one play and was able to deflect a pass Delhomme tried to get to Jarrett. He helped his teammates on gang tackles and finished with 3 total. If Greer has to miss a game, I feel ok about Gay holding down the fort, provided it's temporary.

Malcolm Jenkins: B- (3.11) Jenkins was once again a standout on special teams. Nothing was bigger than the ball he downed at the Carolina 2, which ultimately led to the Hargrove touchdown. Jenkins filled in for Gay in the nickel slot when Greer went down, and was VERY fortunate not to get flagged for pass interference on a big 3rd down play late in the game. He finished with 2 tackles and showed some need for improvement in pass coverage. Clearly, though, he's the Saints' best playmaker on special teams. I really believe he needs to be groomed as the heir to Darren Sharper.

Pierson Prioleau: B- (2.84) Prioleau was good in pass coverage the few times he played. He also did a terrific job of recovering the fumble forced by Tracy Porter earlier in the game. He jumped on top of the pile and somehow wrestled the ball away from Panther linemen. Sidenote, I forgot to grade Prioleau last week, but I retroactively gave him a B because he had 5 tackles and played well.

Roman Harper: A- (3.25) The only thing negative I can say about Harper was the pass interference call that got flagged for where the tight end caught the ball anyway. By now we all know that playing pass defense isn't his forte. He was assigned to play in the box all game and help limit the running game of Carolina. After a bad start, he finished with 12 tackles including 4 for losses. He was fast, active and all over the place. Anytime the Saints made a good play against the run I saw Harper involved. Consider that the Saints fell down 14-0 with about 7 minutes left in the 1st quarter. Carolina would only score 6 points the rest of the day. Give Harper a lot of credit as he was a big reason the Saints were able to turn this game around.

Darren Sharper: B+ (3.21) Sharper, per usual, was extremely good in pass defense. He also had 9 tackles and had two terrific open field tackles (once on Smith and once on Williams) to stop the Panthers from getting huge gains. Delhomme tried to throw a slant pass to Smith near the end zone which Sharper read perfectly and almost picked off. The only negatives were a stupid personal foul hitting Steve Smith out of bounds to give the Panthers 15 yards, and a HORRIBLE angle on the long touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams. That's twice in two weeks now that he's allowed a breakaway run for a touchdown by taking a bad angle on the runner. He just doesn't have the recovery speed anymore to make up for mistakes like that, so once again while Sharper is terrific the Saints were victimized by his limitations.

John Carney: A- (2.67) Can't say anything bad about Carney. He did his job. He hit a 40 yard field goal right down the middle to give the Saints a 23-20 lead with under 5 minutes to go in the game, which was clutch. He was 3 for 3 on field goals and 3 for 3 on extra points. He doesn't get an A because he made me nervous, twice, by barely making chip shots just inside the right goal post.

Thomas Morstead: B (3.08) Mixed bag for Morstead. His first kickoff of the game barely made it past the 15, and he had a horrendous punt that was not only short but got a tremendous Panthers bounce. That punt ended up being 22 yards. Still, none of his 3 punts were returned and Carolina had no success returning kickoffs. With the game on the line, he got much better. He had two kickoffs deep in the end zone for touchbacks, preventing a Carolina comeback attempt from getting good field position. His biggest play has a very high monster punt that went 48 yards down to the Carolina 2 yard line, where Malcolm Jenkins downed it.

Courtney Roby: B- (2.71) Roby was good on coverage, forcing a fair catch on Morstead's first punt. He was disciplined and downed kickoffs deep in the end zone. He took one out and was able to get past the 20. He averaged 23 yards on 2 returns, nothing special there but no mistakes either.

Defensive Player of the Game: Roman Harper
Special Teams Player of the Game: John Carney

Monday, November 9, 2009

Saints Nation: Offensive Player Grades vs. Panthers

Below are the offensive players grades against the Panthers. The letter grade represents the player's performance in the game and the GPA in parentheses represents their cumulative performance for the season.

Drew Brees: B- (3.09) Prior to the drive just before halftime, I was seriously considering whether or not Brees was worthy of the first "F" I've given out. He fumbled inside his own 20, threw an interception in the red zone, botched a snap that cost his team, and was settling for little passes underneath. But of course I knew he would turn it around and he was nearly flawless in the second half, so he saved his grade. He wasn't helped by a few Colston drops, including two in the end zone. Brees finished 24 of 35 for 330 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and 1 lost fumble. He also converted a 3rd and 1 on a 5 yard sneak.

Reggie Bush: B+ (2.42) Bush did all the little things very well. He carried the ball twice, rushing for 9 and 7 yards respectively. On both carries he hit the hole and showed a nice burst. He was heavily involved in the passing game, finishing with 7 catches for 37 yards. He helped the Saints convert big 3rd downs when they needed it. He returned one punt for 4 yards, avoiding his backpedaling tendency. His best play of the game was chasing Chris Gamble downfield after an interception to save a touchdown return. Despite being blocked by a couple Panthers on that play he was able to catch Gamble, and as low as the Saints were at that point in the game he helped limit the damage already done.

Mike Bell: C+ (2.95) Bell converted twice on 3rd and short, so give him credit for powering through with his aggressive running style. Otherwise he just had 5 carries for 17 yards. Quiet day.

Pierre Thomas: B+ (3.22) Thomas was off to a slow start, especially in the first half, but played a terrific second half when he got more touches. Finished with 50 yards on 13 carries, none bigger than the 10 yard touchdown run that pulled the Saints back within 4 to start the second half. As the game wore on he refused to go down and was seen shedding two to three tacklers before going down. He also had 5 catches for 31 yards.

Jeremy Shockey: C- (3.21) Shockey had his worst game of the season. He didn't block particularly well, and he wasn't looking on a pass in the end zone that Brees threw to him. A little embarrassing, considering Fox analyst Brian Billick spent the better part of a drive talking about how Shockey and Brees were finally on the same page. He was flagged for an offensive pass interference call that was suspect, and finished with 3 catches for 26 yards.

David Thomas: D+ (1.89) Thomas played a decent amount of snaps at fullback, but didn't seem to throw great lead blocks. He did throw a couple good blocks on screen passes to the running backs, but he was never targeted in the passing game. His low grade is mostly due to the fact that I saw him beat by Thomas Davis and pushed around by Jon Beason.

Devery Henderson: B+ (3.12) Henderson came up with a HUGE 63 yard reception on 3rd down to set up the Pierre Thomas score. He finished with 3 catches for 93 yards. He also had another 3rd down conversion and made the most of his opportunities. He had no chance on an end around that went for a 3 yard loss as Thomas Davis read the play perfectly.

Marques Colston: D+ (2.92) Colston had at least 4 drops and had by far his worst game of the season. While a couple of those were gimmes, a couple of those were admittedly tough catches to make. None the less, we've come to expect Colston to make those spectacular catches and he just didn't show up. Poor performance for the Saints' star receiver who finished with just 1 catch for 45 yards. His one catch did set up the field goal before halftime, which was important for the Saints' momentum going into the locker room, but the bad overshadowed the good. He specifically had two drops in the end zone on plays I've seen him make countless times.

Robert Meachem: A- (2.83) Meachem was the most targeted and reliable Saints' receiver on the day. It was a nice surprise to see him so involved and performing well. He finished with 5 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown was a 54 strike from Brees where he was able to show off his terrific hands and speed, and it was crucial as it tied the game at 20.

Jermon Bushrod: A- (2.81) Brees got little pressure from Bushrod's edge all game, and when he did he was able to step up in the pocket. Bushrod did an admirable job in both pass protection and run blocking. While it seemed like he went out for a portion of the game with an injury, Julius Peppers had just 1 tackle and was almost non-existent in the game. Give Bushrod credit, Jammal Brown has never kept Peppers that quiet.

Jahri Evans: B- (3.29) Hard to forget about the most costly penalty of the game. On a screen pass to Thomas that converted a 3rd down inside the Panthers' 5, Evans was called for a hold, forcing the Saints to settle for a field goal and a 23-20 lead. The Saints were fortunate it didn't come back to haunt them, but Evans picked a crucial time to make a mistake. Otherwise, he was pretty solid but not as dominant as usual.

Jonathan Goodwin: B (3.04) Goodwin was back to pulling on screens and showing a nasty streak inside. He showed no ill effects from the knee injury that forced him to leave the game early last week. The shotgun snap that was dropped by Brees was not his fault.

Carl Nicks: B (3.00) Nicks was terrific run blocking, mauling ex Saint Hollis Thomas on a couple of occasions. Thomas is a load, so it was fun to see Nicks bullying the hefty veteran. I only remembered him get beat once on a passing play.

Jonathan Stinchcomb: C+ (2.88) Stinchcomb was responsible for the sack and strip in the 1st quarter. There was a lot of pressure coming from his edge, but Brees was able to step up in the pocket to avoid most of it. Stinchcomb did spring one of Bell's 3rd and 1 conversions, but he also did a bad job containing linebackers bringing backside pursuit.

Offensive Player of the Game: Robert Meachem

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Saints Nation: Saints Hold Off Panthers 30-20

The Saints are now 8-0 for the first time in team history, behind a comeback effort against the Panthers which ended in a 30-20 win. The Panthers we up both 14-0 and 17-3 at different points in the first half, and led at halftime 17-6. Check back to Saints Nation for player grades.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saints Nation: Kendrick Clancy to injured reserve, DeMario Pressley promoted to active roster

Opening day starter at Defensive Tackle Kendrick Clancy has been placed on injured reserve after struggling all season with knee trouble. Clancy couldn't reclaim his starting spot after missing a few games with the injury, and had significant swelling after coming back to action last Monday against the Falcons. Last year's 5th round draft choice, DeMario Pressley, has been promoted from the practice squad to the 53 man roster to take Clancy's place. Pressley missed all of 2008 with an injury of his own, but he now will get his chance to show what he can do. The Saints now have their two opening day starters at DT out and are hurting at the position badly. Remi Ayodele and Anthony Hargrove will remain the starters until the Saints can get their best tackle Sedrick Ellis back from injury. Not good news going up against a dominating run team like the Panthers.

Saints Nation: The Saints Need To Run the Ball

Check out THIS ARTICLE I posted on Canal Street Chronicles for my key to the Saints-Panthers matchup. Simply put, we need to run the ball down their throats.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Saints Nation: Time to Put Jake Delhomme in His Place

Former Saint Jake Delhomme (pictured) has now been a member of the Carolina Panthers for 7 seasons. In those 7 seasons, he's played the Saints 4 times in the Superdome, once at Tiger Stadium, and once he watched his team play the Saints while injured. Sunday will be the 7th matchup. In all 6 of those previous games, the Panthers are 6-0 against the Saints. Delhomme has been able to exact revenge on the Saints for letting him go as a free agent in every opportunity he's had to come back to his home state of Louisiana. The Saints haven't been able to beat him or their bitter Carolina Panther rivals, and it's gotten so maddening that the chance to break the streak on Sunday is imperative to capitalize on. We all know the story by now, and we all know we never should have chosen Aaron Brooks over Jake Delhomme. While we also know that we're now better off with Drew Brees, Delhomme has made us pay dearly for letting him go.

Let's take a look at how he's done each year against the Saints in Louisiana:

2003 @ Superdome: 12-27, 148yds, 0 TDs, 0 Ints, 23-20 Panthers win

2004 @ Superdome: 22-29, 294yds, 1 TD, 0 Ints, 32-21 Panthers win

2005 @ Tiger Stadium: 13-21, 176 yds, 1TD, 1 Int, 1 rushing TD, 27-10 Panthers win

2006 @ Superdome: 23-27, 207 yds, 0 TDs, 0 Ints, 31-21 Panthers win

2007 @ Superdome: Panthers won 16-13, Delhomme did not play (injury)

2008 @ Superdome: 14-20, 250yds, 1TD, 0 Ints, 33-31 Panthers win

Now all in all, he's never set the house of fire with amazing numbers. You can see he's played average football in these games, but the Panthers have been so good defensively and running the ball that he's won by playing mistake free football.

His stats for all the games combined:

84-124, 68% completions, 1075 yards (avg of 215 per game), 4 touchdowns (1 rushing) and 1 interception.

You'll notice that while the touchdowns are actually very low, so are the turnovers, and the completion percentage is very high. 68% competions in Louisiana compared to 59.6% completions for his career, almost 9 points higher. Another mind blowing stat is that he's NEVER attempted 30 passes in one game against the Saints. Granted the Panthers aren't a pass first team, but consider that Drew Brees has thrown under 30 times in a game only once this season in 7 games, and only once last season in 16. So how does he have our number? He's really not doing all that much, he's just not making mistakes. As much of a turnover machine as he's been this season and at other times in his career, it never seems to be against the Saints in Louisiana.

Personally, I am sick of Jake Delhomme. I want to beat him so bad I can taste it. What bothers me about him is how demonstrative he is when his team scores, or when the final whistle blows. It seems, at least to me, that he's more deliberate in his celebratory reactions against New Orleans than he is against any other team. I see him running his mouth and acting like a buffoon any chance he gets. It's time for the Saints, now that they're more equipped than ever to beat the Panthers at home, to put him in his place. I want him throwing over 30 times, I want him sacked, I want him turning the ball over, but above all I want him to lose. At this point I don't care if he throws for 400 yards and 5 touchdowns if it means JAKE DELHOMME LOSES TO THE SAINTS IN NEW ORLEANS. This is long overdue and it needs to happen.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Saints Nation: Going up against Peppers

Well, he's still on the team after an rough offseason. Click HERE for an old story I did on Peppers this summer which includes the numbers he's had in his games against the Saints. We're going to have our hands full on Sunday.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Saints Nation: "I Believe" by Cowboy Mouth

Check out the video and new song by the New Orleans band Cowboy Mouth called "I Believe" off of their new album: Fearless. It's dedicated to the New Orleans Saints! GEAUX SAINTS!

Saints Nation: Defensive and Special Teams Player Grades vs. Falcons

Below are the grades for the defensive and special team players.

Will Smith: A- (2.72) He was awesome and this was arguably his best game of the season. Smith was a constant menace to the Atlanta passing game, repeatedly beating his man around the edge to apply pressure. He finished with 4 tackles, 2 sacks, a defended pass and induced a holding penalty when he was clearly headed for a sack. Honestly, I felt like holding calls could have been made against Smith at least 3 other times. The "defended pass", by the way, was originally ruled a sack and forced fumble, but reviewed and changed to an incomplete pass. He was helpful at times in run support, but that area of his game was perfectible.

Charles Grant: D+ (2.19) Forgettable performance from Grant who was invisible for the majority of the night. Several of Michael Turner's big runs came off his edge. He did a poor job rushing the passer and was largely neutralized. He finished with 3 tackles.

Bobby McCray: D+ (1.95) The only redeeming value in this performance for McCray is that he showed decent pressure on Atlanta's final 2 drives. Other than that, he recorded no tackles and had another very quiet game. Time for him to step up and make a play, already.

Anthony Hargrove: C (2.33) Hargrove was decent rushing the passer and bad against the run. He finished with 4 tackles, a sack and laid a devastating hit on Matt Ryan as he released the final pass intercepted by Sharper. The Falcons ran the ball several times right at Hargrove and his size limitation showed. He was pushed around at the point of attack and made it obvious the Saints miss Sedrick Ellis on running plays.

Remi Ayodele: D- (2.06) Ayodele had just one tackle despite playing a significant amount time in the game. He was manhandled by the Falcons' big line, and allowed Turner to escape his grasp several times. He looked slow and confused in many different sets. By far his worse game of the season. Run defense is supposed to be his specialty, but Michael Turner was allowed to run free and hurt the Saints defense immensely. Very poor performance from Ayodele.

Kendrick Clancy: C- (2.17) Clancy showed good pressure once on a passing play, and got involved a couple of times in run support. He seemed to push the pile with average results when he was in. Overall he didn't get much action in the game. Maybe he was a little rusty, but it seems clear to me he's a better option right now than Ayodele. Just 1 tackle on the day for the backup tackle.

Scott Shanle: D (2.81) By far Shanle's worst game of the season. He's been so solid and sound each and every week, it was a big surprise to see him struggle. He registered his very first tackle very late in the 3rd quarter, falling on top of a stumbling Tony Gonzalez downfield. He ended the game with 3 tackles. In the passing game he was stiff and missed a couple opportunities to deflect passes. He was a step slow getting to his assignments and he was pushed around in run support. He was useless against Michael Turner's runs. It seemed like anytime there was an opportunity for Shanle to make a play, a blocker would wipe him out contention. He did not absorb hits the way he usually does.

Jonathan Vilma: B- (2.91) Vilma finished with 6 tackles and was active. He was one of the few players that got involved in trying to slow down Michael Turner. That said, he over-pursued on at least three plays inside, allowing Turner to bounce out wide and gain big yardage. He was not dominant like he was at Miami, and got push around from time to time. His grade would be worse, but he came up with one of the biggest plays of the game tipping a Matt Ryan pass that went into the hands of Tracy Porter for an interception. At that point Atlanta was in scoring position down 24-28, so Vilma came up with a big play at the most crucial of times.

Marvin Mitchell: C- (2.34) Marvin made two critical mistakes early that could have landed him an F grade. First he got beat severely by Gonzalez on a passing route, falling down to allow the hall of fame to be tight end to get yardage after the catch. Later, he jumped offsides on a big 3rd and 4 to give Atlanta the automatic first down. Some of you may have noticed Payton going over to him and letting him know that was twice (showing the number two with his fingers) Mitchell had screwed up and hurt the team. After that, though, he came back to make a terrific open field tackle on a punt return, and he helped in run support. He finished with 3 tackles.

Jabari Greer: B (3.52) Greer was tough as usual. He was assigned to Roddy White all day and defended many passes. He came up with a game turning interception which he ran back 48 yards for a touchdown before halftime. He did give up a 68 yard bomb to White, though, later in the game to get the Falcons back in it. On that play it looked to me like he was pushed in the back and the coverage overall was actually pretty good, so while he got beat it wasn't egregious. Later, White almost had another touchdown which would have tied the game, but a review showed the pass hit the turf. Not only was Greer beat there, but he could've been flagged for pass interference. White had just 4 catches, but they went for 108 yards and a TD. Overall it was a tough player to guard for Greer, but Jabari handled it pretty well and made a huge play. He finished with 6 tackles.

Tracy Porter: A (3.24) Porter looked fantastic tackling and was very solid in pass defense. His crucial interception with the Falcons driving down 24-28 was one of the biggest plays of the Saints' young season. Despite his limited size he was aggressive in helping his teammates bring down both Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez. He made no real mistakes in the game, and he finished with 6 tackles.

Randall Gay: B- (3.00) Gay had 3 tackles and had pretty good coverage on Tony Gonzalez on occasion. He helped his teammates and didn't make any major mistakes.

Roman Harper: B+ (3.19) A solid performance overall from Harper. He was in the box and he was the only one that didn't seem scared to hit Michael Turner. He was all over the field and finished with 8 tackles. His grade could've been better, but he was bullied by Tony Gonzalez on passing plays, and he over-pursued like Vilma at times allowing Turner to bounce outside. The one play that really disappointed me was when he watched Turner get stacked up by about 4 Saints players, and instead of piling on and bringing the runner down - he saw Turner break free of the pile for a big gain. He needs to stay aggressive through the whistle, but overall he had a good game and didn't make major errors against the pass like he sometimes does.

Darren Sharper: B- (3.19) Sharper had a horrendous angle on the first touchdown run by Michael Turner. As good as he can be at times, let's not fool ourselves into thinking this guy doesn't have limitations too. He's definitely lost a step from his heyday. He's still a major upgrade over past free safeties regardless. He finished with 4 tackles, a dropped interception, an interception on a desperate hail mary pass, and a blitz where he pummeled Matt Ryan and caused a big incompletion on 3rd down. Still, his tackling wasn't always great and he was bullied by Michael Turner downfield with stiff arms. All of that aside, 7 interceptions in 7 games is just RIDICULOUS.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B- (2.50) Dunbar was great at times, and mediocre at others. He was extremely aggressive against the run and very active. Sometimes it got him in trouble, and other times he made good plays. He finished with 4 tackles. If Fujita misses another game, I think I prefer Dunbar over Evans at linebacker. He may make some mistakes due to lack of experience, but his hustle and fierce effort is refreshing. Evans may contain better, but he just doesn't have the athleticism or skill of Dunbar.

John Carney: D+ (2.52) He made 5 extra points, though two were just inside the upright and a little close for comfort. His only real "test" was to hit a simple 37 yard kick and he let the Falcons back in the game by missing it. I wonder if Garrett Hartley may get a harder look after that miss?

Thomas Morstead: C+ (3.09) Morstead got less depth on his kickoffs than usual. Most of them fell either a yard deep or inside the 5. He punted twice with a 44.5 yard average and got good height on his punts. The coverage did an ok job of bailing him out, but it wasn't his best game.

Courtney Roby: B (2.72) Roby didn't get many chances early because of the depth of the kickoffs by Atlanta, but I was impressed that he showed intelligence and restraint in downing each of them. It's good that he didn't force what wasn't there. When he did return kicks, he showed good burst and speed. He averaged 29.3 yards on 3 returns, and had a long of 35 yards. He gave the Saints decent field position when he could. He also had a tackle on coverage.

Defensive Player of the Game: Tracy Porter
Special Teams Player of the Game: Courtney Roby