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