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