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 embarassing performance against the Minnesota Vikings.
Offensive Line: D
The group is very aptly named as their performance on Monday was nothing short of offensive. Drew Brees was under siege essentially the whole night, and there were practically never any decent holes for the running backs to go through (despite the fact that Payton DID in fact commit to the run). There wasn’t a player on the offensive line who truly played well, just some were worse than others. The unit, to be fair to them, took a nosedive after right tackle Zack Strief went down with a knee injury. However, the bottom line is that they had no ability to create time for Brees, no ability to create opportunities for the running backs to make plays, and despite having some bright moments our rookie left tackle looked like…well…a rookie facing a pro-bowl defensive end. The Saints playing their 3rd and 4th tackles against one of the best front 7’s in football was less than ideal to say the least, but even taking that into account the unit had a VERY poor performance, somehow managing to only give up a single sack on Brees is what saved them from an F.
Drew Brees looked like a guy who was constantly under durress, but even when he wasn’t he looked off. Drew missed some gimme passes including a red zone target to Tommy Lee Lewis that would have been a touchdown. He threw too early on some plays, and failed to work through his progressions or give Michael Thomas a chance to make a play in the red zone. This was not one of Drew’s best games. He was certainly constantly under attack, but he also looked out of sorts and out of rhythm and I have to partially blame the lack of snaps and chemistry for that. Don’t let a late drive for a TD fool you, this was a mediocre game for Brees at best, his ability to avoid turnovers and negate sacks is the reason his grade made it to a C-.
Tight End: B+
Coby Fleener deserves an A as he’s the only Saints playmaker other than Tommy Lee Lewis that showed up. I don’t know about you all, but reading that the Saints best two offensive players were Thomas and Fleener makes we want to wash my eyes with soap. Fleener had a great game and showed toughness and hands (who knew) to hold onto contested passes. Hill was solid, but struggled to produce, but Fleener’s performance was enough to salvage the unit’s grade.
Running Back: C
It’s really had to grade this unit too harshly considering they had basically no opportunities to make anything happen. With that said they also didn’t ‘drive the pile’, make defenders miss, or make any plus plays until the game was already well over. Kamara and Ingram showed a few flashed in the passing game, but none of them were able to produce anything on the ground. Normally finishing with less than 60 yards rushing as a unit is grounds for an F and some roster changes, but in this case it really had more to do with the play of the offensive line and the dominant play of the Vikings defensive front.
Wide Receiver: D-
Tedd Ginn Jr saved this unit from being an F. He ran good routes, showed hands, picked up a number of first downs, and ran the wrong route on a play. That’s right, the only guy who really looked good in this game had an embarrassing gaff in the red zone that significantly impacted the outcome. The only other player who showed up was Tommy ‘two feet of terror’ Lee Lewis. Michael Thomas was completely erased by Xavier Rhodes, and while the line play impacted Thomas’s numbers, for at least this one game Thomas showed every one of my concerns with him being the ‘number 1 guy’. The play that was clearest was a deep pass down the right hand side late in the game, Thomas had a step, but was unable to really pull away and so Drew wasn’t able to lead him with the pass, his lack of speed (as well as a fantastic play by Smith the Vikings safety) made what should have been a long touchdown an incompletion.
Here’s the thing about the offensive coaching in this game, it wasn’t the problem. You can say we didn’t throw to Thomas in the red zone (true), but Tommy Lee Lewis and Coleman were both wide open on plays. Coleman dropped his and Drew misfired on the other, if the Saints convert those touchdowns maybe this game ends differently. The Saints played a no-mistakes brand of football designed to methodically move down the field vs a young, fast, aggressive, and dominating defense. The timeout at the end of the first half was a standard move, the game plan was well designed and for the most part it worked, the Saints had 5 opportunities in the red zone, they converted 1. Execution was the issue, not play calling (Strief getting hurt and the defense being a disaster might have affected it too, I’m just saying).