The grades will be continuing their existence past the retirement of former site manager (and creator) Andrew Juge, but with new management comes some new methods. I will be grading the Saints in all 3 phases each week just as Andrew did, but I won’t be going player by player, but instead by unit. This is to give a better understanding of the performance of each group as a whole, but I will be calling out players who stand out, for good, or for reasons of dumpster fire. Grades are based on performance relative to expectation and I try to take level of competition into account (basically this is the opposite of PFF which does none of that). Without further ado here are the grades for the Saints embarrassing performance against the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s tempting to give the corner position an F, an E, or heck a Z after this game, but after rewatching it and considering the unit as a whole I’m not going to do that. Marshon Lattimore was solid throughout the day, PJ Williams was up and down with a couple bad plays (one which was more play design that ‘bad coverage’), but also some good moments, and then we have public enemy number 1. De’vante Harris is going to receive the lion’s share of the blame for the Saints implosion at the end of the first half, and a lot of that is warranted. He played the wrong coverages, showed poor technique, and maybe worst of all he allowed Laquon Treadwell to get a reception. Were other players at fault as well? Absolutely, on the first touchdown to Diggs the Safety was just as guilty as Harris, but the frequency and consistency with which he was beaten by the Vikings gives a clear indication of where he is. The Cornerbacks as a group did not play well, and worse than that, they played really poorly throughout parts of the game. The Pass Rush being non-existant and the Vikings receivers (Theilen and Diggs) being a lot better than many fans think they are played a part. But at the end of the day they didn’t do their jobs. You get a failing grade for that.
Craig Robertson and Manti Teo dropped this from a B-. Robertson was washed out late and created a big play for the Vikings, and Teo gave up a 30 yard reception (not totally his fault, he shouldn’t have to cover 30 yards down the field). Other than those two we saw some flashes from Anzalone including a bang bang play in the second quarter where he was called for a personal foul penalty. I disagreed with the call because he really seemed to get there to break up the pass and hit the receiver as they were bringing in the ball, but I get why the refs called it. Klein looked good throughout and showed very strong instincts, good athleticism, and sure tackling for the most part. One play in particular stood out to me. Klein was Chasing Dalvin Cook on his long run in garbage time, and he chased him down and prevented a TD. It’s still a big gain (it wasn’t because of Klein which is why this is a positive), but having a linebacker who can actually catch players in pursuit is a good thing to see. Overall the unit was decent, not great, but the Linebackers were NOT why the Saints lost this game. That was a nice change.
Marcus Williams and Kenny Vacarro both had tremendously dumb penalties, Vacarro got lost in coverage multiple times (more on that below) and didn’t play with discipline, and Vonn Bell couldn’t find the field. There is a lot of youth on this unit and you could tell. The fact that the Saints got beaten so consistently in deep zones is something that the corners and the coaches deserve some blame for, however another part of that is the play of the safeties. There is a give and take between the front four and the back seven, but at the end of the day players have to do their jobs and more often than not they didn’t The grades also took a major hit for some significant miscues (total blown coverage on the first TD, multiple bonehead penalties, etc), and that’s why they ended up with a D
Defensive Line: D+
There are two grades here, Cameron Jordan (A-) and everyone else. The defensive line got no pressure throughout the game except for Jordan. Jordan also had a pass breakup, a tackle in coverage (WHAT?!), and would have had an interception if Klein didn’t nearly knock him out while he was bringing the ball in. Jordan was largely highly effective in this game and was a holding penalty from two sacks.
With perhaps the exception of Onyemata nobody else looked good throughout the course of the game. Rankins had a play or two, but got washed out way too often. Okafor showed great effort and was solid vs the run, but was non-existent as a pass rusher, and Hau’oli Kikaha was just invisible in his snaps. The Saints couldn’t get any pressure on Bradford at all, and while time will tell whether the Vikings revamped offensive line is for real, or a mirage, the fact is that the Saints defensive line outside of Jordan was the same embarrassing mess it was last year. They were solid against the run as a unit (Cook got most of his production in garbage time, and a third of it on one big run that was more the linebacker’s fault than the line), but the inability to get any pressure or penetration throughout the game makes that not matter. With the talent present on that line that simply isn’t acceptable.
Special Team: A
Thomas Morestead had a 67 yard punt. The group gets an A. The grade could really just be that simple. Will Lutz was also 4/4 on field goals and looked effortless and confident banging them through, and the coverage units were mostly solid. The only demerit the unit got was in the return game, but Minnesota rarely punted, and had good coverage when they did have to kick so I’m not marking them too far against it. The special teams really were the lone bright spot for the team on Monday, and while we still have a bad defense, at least we finally found a kicker.
There were so many incredibly puzzling things in this game. The number of times we rushed only 3, playing Devante Harris over Sterling Moore, playing him outside with PJ in the slot, so many questionable decisions. The team seemed to build an identity in the preseason of being a downhill attacking defense that applied pressure and played with aggression. They were simplified, and playing fast. Then week 1 comes and instead of staying to what was working we bring out these multiple and exotic looks while STARTING 3 rookies and playing a UDFA who has yet to ever look good in an NFL game heavy minutes, and we wonder why it didn’t work. I hope this isn’t a trend for the season as both discipline and adjustments were two of the few positives from last season, but Dennis Allen and his staff did NOT do their best work on Monday. Players have to execute, that’s a fact, but coaches should put those players in a position to succeed, they didn’t. End of story. F.