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). We thought the worst was behind us with the defense, we were wrong.
Defensive Line: C-
The defensive ends actually did get pressure on Tom Brady fairly consistently throughout the game. Kikaha had a great sack where he stiff-armed the tackle and put Brady down before he could get rid of the ball. Cameron Jordan had multiple good rushes and Alex Okafor showed some flashes as well, but unfortunately for the defensive line while the edge players played well, the interior line was beyond mediocre. The Saints got no push, no pass rush and had basically no impact throughout the game as Brady constantly had room to step up, step aside, and to avoid the pass rush to tear the Saints defense apart. The play of Sheldon Rankins begins to become concerning as his inability to be even effective against medium level talent at best is very disturbing.
This would be an F, but Marshon Lattimore was a stud. He basically neutralized Brandin Cooks as he shadowed him throughout the game. Harris was up and down as expected, and PJ Williams continued to be either great in coverage, or atrocious on a play to play basis, and that’s just not acceptable. The inconsistency, the struggles with technique, the miscommunication, the Saints secondary as a whole has struggled for two weeks, but getting killed by New England the way they did was inexcusable. There were multiple plays where the Patriots were lining a full back out wide, and the Saints corners not only played off, but played like they were afraid he was going to run past them. Inexecusable.
AJ Klein showed good instincts, good tackling ability when appropriate, and was a solid steadying presence in the front 7. Everyone else struggled (and he was far from perfect), but no one struggled nearly as much as rookie Alex Anzalone. Anzalone was a nightmare in coverage giving up two early touchdowns on completely broken plays. The good news is he’s a rookie and I expect these kind of plays to happen, the unfortunate part is the Saints don’t have any other options and the rookie is going to need to step up sooner rather than later. I gave the group a little leeway on the grade because of his youth, as well as them being decent but not bad outside of Anzalone
Work your way down the alphabet and you will eventually reach the play of Vonn Bell and Kenny Vacarro. Bell’s best play was when he concussed Marshon Lattimore, and Vacarro was so bad he got benched to start the second half. The unit grade is unfair to Marcus Williams as his interception and return deserve credit (despite not counting), but his terrible tackle attempt on Gronkowski’s touchdown and the play of the unit overall was awful. Vacarro is the reason they exceeded an F though, Kenny made it abundantly clear he needs to be played 15 yards and in. You CANNOT play him deep.
Special Teams: B-
For the second week in a row the special teams were the lone bright spot on the team. Lutz did miss a 49 yard field goal, but I’m not going to ding him too hard for that, especially because height wasn’t the issue on the kick. Morestead was awesome as usual, coverage was solid, and there were a few ok returns as well. Nothing too much to complain about the special teams.
Dennis Allen and the Saints defense looked unprepared, disorganized, and out of their depth. I understand that this is the youngest and least experienced defense in the NFL, and that does matter, but to make some of the mistakes they were making is unacceptable. One of the plays that clearly defined to me the issues in coaching for this game was when the Patriots lined up their fullbacks and running backs out wide, and the Saints played off coverage and gave them so much of a cushion they could run 3 steps forward, turn around, and get the 1st down. That’s just not something you can do. One of the biggest responsibilities of coaches is to put their players in a position to succeed and right now that is simply not what is happening in New Orleans.