There is an argument to be made that the defense performed admirably under the circumstances. Without 3 starters out in Lattimore, Crawley, and Okafor, we should expect them to struggle, especially against a good offense like the Rams. Here’s the thing though, this isn’t 2015 or 2016 where the Saints performance on Sunday would have had some kind of intrinsic moral victory because they didn’t give up 50. The Saints defense has played some really good football this year, and while they are still a couple of players away from stepping into the echelon of the game’s elites, they are no longer in the garbage bin either. While that means we as fans finally get to be excited about the defense, it also means they have to be held to the higher standard. At this point I’m going to grade the defense on the same kind of curb as I would the offense, and really probably harder since throughout the year they’ve been the better unit overall.
On to the grades:
Defensive Line: C+
Cameron Jordan was a one man wrecking crew out there on Sunday and was as close to dominating as you can get. Jordan flat out whipped a pro-bowl left tackle and reminded everyone why he’s one of the best ends in the game today. Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata showed some flashes, however, outside of Jordan’s stellar performance the defensive line was not able to get anything close to consistent pressure on Goff. The unit was very up and down on a day where the Saints desperately needed them to perform well. The Rams are a good offense, and they did a decent job of helping to mitigate Gurley’s impact, however, their inability to really affect the outcome of the game (outside of Jordan) was disappointing to say the least. The run D and Jordan’s performance boosted the grade, but the inability to provide anything close to consistent pressure was a killer.
AJ Klein had a decent game, and Robinson got home on a very well times blitz so they helped boost the score a bit. However, the linebackers outside of Robinson’s sack had very little impact on this game, and their inability to finish tackles or make impact plays allowed multiple drives to continue longer than they otherwise should have. This is an average unit at best, and that is what should be expected of them, but this was still overall a lackluster performance for the entire front 7, albeit not a terrible one as at times they did their part in trying to give the Saints a chance.
Kenny Vacarro was awful early in this game, Marcus Williams got hurt (his grade isn’t affected for that, but it doesn’t help), and Vonn Bell was solid, but not spectacular. The unit as a whole was much closer to a C+ performance or maybe even a B-, but Vacarro struggled so much throughout this game that it created some major impact plays for the Rams. Kenny reverted back to the Kenny of the first two weeks where he couldn’t stay on his man in coverage, lost the ball in the air, got killed on double moves, and just made bad plays and dumb decisions all over the place. The Saints are capable of a whole lot better play, especially Vacarro, and if they want to have any chance of winning the division he’s going to have to get back into form…fast.
PJ Williams had a decent game. He gave up a big play, got lucky on another and somehow turned it into an interception, and got called for what I felt was a bogus PI call, but overall he was solid. PJ Williams compared to Devante Harris was Darrelle Revis. Harris was awful. Missed tackles, blown assignments, not knowing his responsibilities, and eventually (and thankfully) getting benched. Harris showed some good coverage snaps, but there is a reason quarterbacks seek him out literally every time he is on the field. The expectation is not, and should not be, for him to be a ‘good’ corner, he’s 4th on the depth chart for a reason, however Harris’s inability to even execute his position is the reason for this grade. Williams was better, but he had his own struggles, but PJ’s struggles were clearly more about experience not ability. Harris at times just plays like a dumb player. That isn’t to say he’s a dumb man, and this was certainly a tough circumstance, but when you have a player who repeatedly makes the same mistakes over and over, that player is known not to have a great ‘football IQ’. We got rid of Stephone Anthony for that reason and he is an ideal athlete for his position. Harris isn’t and might be worse. This may be his last game in a Saints uniform.