The kicking game and poor field position certainly didn’t help, but two turnovers early pretty much doomed any chance of winning this game. A heroic defensive effort made things interesting, but the bottom line is the Saints offense is not taking good enough care of the football right now. It’s too bad, because they’re so good when they eliminate careless mistakes. They were able to move the chains late when the Panthers essentially went into prevent – but the lack of urgency and time taken in huddles was costly. Too much time elapsed for them to make a serious run at the end of the game. Below are the grades:
Drew Brees: C- (3.10) Not enough urgency and command late in the game. It was frustrating to see second after second evaporate as he was kneeling in the huddle, accounting for countless checks at the line etc etc… I understand that’s how he plays and you can’t fault him for his OCD nature when you consider what it’s done for his career. Still, I would have liked to have seen more of a hurried effort considering what was needed to come back. He was 35 of 44 for 285 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interceptions. It was all dump offs and short passes with zero impact downfield. Give the Panthers credit for taking away the shot plays. Brees became patient but it was already two late. His two turnovers (a fumble where he holds on to the ball too long, and a horrible interception) were killers.
Mark Ingram: B- (2.57) He looked as fast on his receptions as I’ve ever seen him. He had 7 carries for 28 yards and 3 catches for 47 yards before leaving the game with a concussion. It’s really too bad, I thought he was playing well.
Tim Hightower: B+ (2.53) The Panthers were giving up so much underneath he exploited it. He catches the ball very cleanly and turns upfield quickly. Great vision and cut backs, hitting the hole decisively. He had 69 yards on 12 carries and 8 catches for 57 yards. A lot of it was against soft defense where at times they didn’t even cover the back but he was always falling forward.
John Kuhn: B- (2.80) As a blocker he saw limited action but his best was a blitz pickup where bought Brees time on the Coleman score. He had 2 carries for 3 yards, one which was another 3rd and short conversion, and 2 catches for 9 yards. Tough and workmanlike.
Brandin Cooks: C+ (2.90) A lot of underneath stuff. He really has zero tackle breaking ability, so once a tackler is nearby he’s going down. He had two carries for 7 yards where he failed to really gain as much as he could have. He also had 7 catches for 42 yards. Some was impressive underneath, other was short throws where he would tried to cut back and make things worse. He did have one tremendous seal block on an Ingram run.
Willie Snead, IV: C+ (2.85) Finished with 4 catches for 33 yards but dropped a big one in the end zone taking a big shot that he could have had. Always tough after the catch, he was exceptional blocking downfield.
Michael Thomas: C+ (2.93) The #shhhh was appropriate given had quiet he was in the game. He had some stat padding late, but the Panthers bottled him up well. He did make one ridiculous catch while basically laying on the ground. 5 catches for 68 yards.
Brandon Coleman: C+ (2.48) Had one nice 9 yard touchdown catch where he uses his wingspan and size to score like Colston used to. Unfortunately later in the game he makes a catch on a deep throw downfield, takes a shot, and the ball comes loose for an incomplete call. He catches that ball and the Saints might win the game. A killer drop. Nice job on the score, though.
Coby Fleener: C (2.30) A first half worthy of an F. The offense had to settle for a field goal after his first down reception was negated by his fumble behind the line. Ball security is still an issue. He was a target on two really bad throws by Brees, one which was intercepted. Not Fleener’s fault but it underscores the lack of chemistry. He had 3 catches for 17 yards and a touchdown. I boosted his grade on the score because it was a sick catch and gave the team late (futile) hope.
Josh Hill: C (2.48) Two incomplete targets and a so so day blocking. While he was poor on offense, he did have two special teams tackles.
John Phillips: D+ (1.67) Brought in to be a blocking guy, I thought his blocking was spotty at best. He did a poor job in pass protection which led to a sack and he got a run play blown up. He had 1 catch for 0 yards. His presence does give more formational flexibility.
Andrus Peat: C- (2.81) I would say he struggled the most so far this season in this game. Mario Addison was a handful for him and he gave up a couple sacks, though one was a play where I blame Brees for holding the ball too long. He just never showed the level of play we’ve seen this season.
Senio Kelemete: C+ (2.63) Some good moments, but he whiffed on open field pulls chasing down Kuechly too much. Held up really well in pass protection but his run blocking was spotty.
Max Unger: C (2.93) Had a number of low snaps in this game out of the shotgun. Perhaps blocking Lotulelei and Short caused that. He was blown up on one Ingram run by Short where the play is stuffed in the backfield. He had some positive stuff, too, but this was a tough interior to face.
Jahri Evans: B- (2.73) Held up pretty well both run blocking and in pass protection. The right side seemed to have more success on both counter plays and delays.
Zach Strief: A- (3.03) He continues to play at a high level. His pass protection was clean as usual and I thought this was one of his better run blocking games.
Tim Lelito: C- (2.44) Played some on the edge and did so poorly. Got one run play to his side blown up.
My Offensive player of the Game: Zach Strief