Here's the defensive and special teams grades. They are really, really bad. Keep in mind that while, yes, they held Atlanta to 23 points, they were torched by Chris Redman.
Will Smith: D+ (2.74) Smith was completely neutralized on his pass rushing attempts. I don't know what teams are doing differently, but I sense they're taking advantage of Grant's nonexistent play to load up against Smith. Smith finished with 1 tackle on a nice hustle play downfield inside the Saints' 5 to tackle Tony Gonzalez from behind and save a touchdown. No matter, the Falcons would score on the next play. An extremely quiet day for the normally more active end.
Charles Grant: F (1.97) Congratulations, Charles, you've received my first official F of the season. It's quite an impressive feat, actually, that of all the performances I've graded throughout the season Grant has been the only one bad enough to get this grade. It takes a true commitment to laziness, failure and apathy to pull this one off. To get an F despite playing on a 13-0 team is even more impressive. Wow, Charles, you've outdone yourself. At one point Grant was beaten around the edge and showed decent pursuit, only to make his one and only tackle around the line of scrimmage as the play was held up on the sideline, I was almost disappointed. I thought to myself, "man that was a decent play Charles, are you going to pull off another D-?". But screw it, I'm done with the guy. He deserves an F. He's lining up pitiful performance after another, and on top of that he's rewarding the opposition with personal foul penalties and free first downs into field goal range. It's bad enough that he's being manhandled and completely useless, but he's got to cost us 15 yards too? Saintsational mentioned he's not hungry. I beg to differ, he's obviously very hungry, have you seen his stomach? His GPA is plummeting faster than the stock market was in March. Pass rushing? Forget about it. I'm telling you all right now that the chance of this guy getting another sack this season are zero. Run defense, his supposed strength? Forget about it. He's now too fat, too slow and too effortless to make a play. Am I too hard on the guy? Probably. But enough is enough. He's one of the highest paid players on the team and he has sucked. Am I even allowed to say that? Saintsational might dock my salary.
Bobby McCray: D (1.97) Nice GPA, Bobby. You guys might notice that McCray's GPA is dangerously close to someone else I've been ragging on. So close in fact, could they be the same player? McCray is getting less and less playing time in this defense. I know he's listed on the injury report and limited in practice each week. Is he too hurt to play? He's regressed majorly from a season ago. When he did get in against Atlanta, Redman had all the time in the world. No tackles for McCray.
Anthony Hargrove: C- (2.31) Hargrove had decent push up the middle, and had a nice tackle against the run. That was his only tackle, though, despite extended playing time. Ultimately, the defensive line as a whole got absolutely no pressure on Redman and they were manhandled by the Atlanta pass blocking depsite the fact that they were battling numerous injuries.
Sedrick Ellis: B- (2.70) Ellis wasn't great, but he was much better than his counterparts. He has still seemed rusty to me, and at one point I saw him walk gingerly off the field. I don't think his knee is close to 100%. One thing is undeniable, though, and that's that even when Sedrick Ellis isn't playing lights out, he's not giving up. Same came be said for Smith, and effort goes for a lot. Sometimes good things happen to you and plays find their way to you when you go out there and make some effort. Ellis finished with 3 tackles, and he got a borderline "sack" when he stopped Chris Redman around the line of scrimmage. That play was nice, though, because it forced Atlanta to kick a field goal on a 3rd and 2 play.
Remi Ayodele: B (2.31) Ayodele did an excellent job again clogging up the middle and limiting Atlanta's ability to run the football with a skeleton crew. He just had one tackle, but his impact was evident and useful. He's lined up a couple straight solid performances, so he's starting to grow on me. Atlanta finished with 89 yards rushing, but that didn't stop them from passing almost at will on the Saints.
Scott Shanle: C- (2.59) It's not that he was particularly bad in this game, it's that he wasn't really involved. This was a hard performance to grade because I couldn't really point to any things that Shanle did that disappointed me. You guys all know by now I'm a bigger fan of Shanle's than the average Saints fan. I always have been. Just 2 tackles though, and he was very quiet.
Jonathan Vilma: A- (2.98) I was upset with Vilma for allowing Jason Snelling to slip into the middle of the field for a 38 yard gain on the opening drive. Vilma took a bad angle on the play and showed poor speed catching up. Beyond that mistake, though, Vilma was pretty solid throughout. Then, when the game was on the line, he went from pretty solid to instrumental. First, Vilma intercepted a pass and set up what should have been the game killer. Oh, the offense couldn't put it away? No problem. On the next Falcon drive, Vilma hit Jason Snelling on 4th and 2 on a pass over the middle and blasted him backwards, stopping him short of the first down marker and ending the game. Make no mistake, despite a very poor performance by the offense, special teams and coaching staff down the stretch, Jonathan Vilma won this game for us. with those two plays. He finished with 7 tackles.
Randall Gay: B+ (2.67) Gay was by far the most performant player in the defensive backfield. He finished with 8 tackles. He was solid and physical in coverage, either breaking up passes or making sure tackles when he gave up a play. He also assisted his teammates in tackles, often cleaning up their mistakes. Some of you will remember the woeful performance Gay had against the Rams, but against the Falcons he showed how he can handle himself when he's not lined up against a blazing speed receiver. When used to his strengths, that is: playing in the slot, the box and close to the line of scrimmage covering underneath routes, Gay impresses. He deserves credit as well for blowing up an end around to Eric Weems for a 12 yard loss.
Malcolm Jenkins: C- (2.63) Malcolm made strides after last week, but he's still struggling to come into his own. I wonder if his destiny will be replacing Darren Sharperat free safety like we all speculated about after the draft. He's an aggressive and physical player with good instincts, but I wonder if he has the foot speed to play corner as well asTracy Porter and Jabari Greer. You could tell against Atlanta he was giving more cushion to the receivers, most likely because he's lost a little confidence after getting beat deep. He finished with 4 tackles, but his coverage and tackling wasn't impeccable.
Roman Harper: D (2.87) The recipe for moving the ball by and large the past two weeks has been to find Roman Harper on passing plays. He's been victimized in the passing game and he's really struggled. You can say the absence of Greer and Porter hurt the Saints' ability to play pass defense, but Harper and Sharper's play has been most suspect of late. You can't blame the poor pass defense on the corners this week nearly as much as the safeties. The Saints dialed up the blitz early and often, leaving Harper on an island often, and they paid for it almost every time. He finished with 5 tackles.
Darren Sharper: D- (2.89) Sharper had his worst game of the season, by far. He flirted with an F as well. He bit badly on a double move by Michael Jenkins and was victimized by 50 yard touchdown pass. Jenkins beat Sharper deep to get wide open on another play, but fortunately for Sharper the pass was overthrown because that would have been 14 points on Darren. Sharper looked very slow and vulnerable. This was not the same Darren Sharper that discovered the fountain of youth earlier in the season. He wasn't particularly good coming up and making tackles, either. He finished with 3 tackles. Let's just hope he can rebound from this disastrous performance.
Troy Evans: B (1.92) Evans was the biggest surprise of the day. He was good against the run, and while he wasn't great against the pass he was at least active and around the ball. Evans is never going to blow anyone away with his play, but he played within the defense and tackled well. If he can play like this while Fujita is out, he won't be the defense's problem. He finished with an impressive 5 tackles.
DeMario Pressley: B- (2.75) He finished with 1 tackle, doing a good job on a running play. He had limited action, but once again looked promising when he was in.
Pierson Prioleau: C (2.43) Prioleau never makes major mistakes and you can tell he's a Gregg Williams favorite because he's a high IQ football player. That said, the guy gives too much cushion to his receivers in an effort to limit the damage. He finished with 1 tackle.
Mike McKenzie: C+ (2.22) McKenzie played a decent amount in the second half and he was picked on by Redman with mixed results. At one point Roddy White was wide open and McKenzie was fortunate that Redman's pass lacked accuracy because he was beat. That said, McKenzie showed good spirit and energy out there. He had one tackle, but more importantly he showed he still has that fire in his belly.
Thomas Morstead: A- (3.05) He only got to punt once, and it was fair caught after a pedestrian 35 yard effort. He earned his keep this time with consistent depth on kickoffs. Of the 6 he hit, 4 were kneeled for touchbacks. Good thing, because Eric Weems is a dangerous returner and he was able to take one out for a 37 yard gain. Morstead has been incredibly valuable in setting opponents up with bad field position.
Courtney Roby: C (2.92) A plain performance from Roby who averaged 19.5 yards on his two kick returns.
Garrett Hartley: C+ (3.00) Hartley hit a big field goal from 28 yards out to break a 23-23 tie. That ended up being the difference, so give him credit. That said, are the Saints incapable of finding a guy that doesn't miss extra points? That's now 3 on the season and this is really starting to get ridiculous. What's more, that 23-23 tie I speak of was thanks to the shank. Hartley was also perfect on a 33 yarder earlier in the game, but the missed extra point is flat out inexcusable. While the fake field goal wasn't his fault, I wonder if the call was partially due to the coaching staff's lack of confidence in Hartley? The pathetic crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman mentioned that he was "big time struggling" and "couldn't make a kick in warmups". Not sure how accurate that is, considering he was 4-5 last week and his only miss was an unrealistic 58 yarder in bad conditions. Perhaps they were basing their statements on what they saw in the pregame. For what it's worth, I also read a Jeff Duncan tweet that mentioned Hartley nailing a 58 yarder in warmups that would have been good from 60. The bottom line is I am not asking to Hartley to be perfect, but I do expect him to be perfect on PATs.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Jonathan Vilma
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead