Below are the player grades for the defense and special teams vs. the Panthers.
Will Smith: B+ (2.79) Will Smith was to partly to blame for the big touchdown run DeAngelo Williams had on the second play of the game. He had a clear shot at Williams, but tried to shove him instead of going for his legs/ankles to trip him up. Instead of slowing Williams down, he gave him a little boost to spring free. He made other mistakes against the run and was not at his best as he over pursued the edge allowing gaps. Otherwise, his pass rush was constant and overall fantastic. He finished with 4 tackles, 3 for losses (2 of those sacks) and a forced fumble at the biggest of times. He could have been credited with 3 sacks, but a bobbled snap by Jake Delhomme led to a Smith tackle and was ruled a running play. Smith has played the run better than in this game, but overall he’s had a fantastic season. Half way through the year he’s at 6.5 sacks, so he’s on pace for 13, which would be a career best. He’s already more than doubled his sack total from last year.
Charles Grant: B (2.29) Grant held his ground extremely well in this game and was never really pushed around at the point of attack. He was exceptional against the run disrupting the blocking schemes, setting up the linebackers and defensive tackles to make plays. Several of the running plays that went for losses were a result of Grant’s leverage with runs coming at him. He finished with 3 tackles. His pass rushing was mediocre, but give him a lot of credit for playing fantastic football against the run.
Remi Ayodele: C+ (2.10) Ayodele was better than the last couple of games, but I still struggle to understand the coaching staff’s fascination with him. On the both of Williams’ touchdown runs, Ayodele was wiped completely out of the play. He finished with just two tackles, but was better at holding his ground as the game progressed. I think he struggles more with double teams when Hargrove in the game, which allows teams to be more physical because Hargrove isn’t a great tackle on running downs. Ayodele seemed to have a lot more success with DeMario Pressley lined up next to him.
DeMario Pressley: B- (2.67) Nice adjustment by the Saints. Hargrove wasn’t cutting it on obvious running downs early, so Pressley got a lot of playing time. As the game wore on, Pressley was essentially the “starter” on running downs, and Hargrove came in for him on passing downs. Pressley actually played a pertty good game. Ayodele’s performance as mentioned improved almost immediately with him on the field. He held his ground and the Panthers’ running game started to suffer with Pressley on the field. He finished with 2 tackles, including one very nice one for a loss.
Anthony Hargrove: B+ (2.48) Hargrove was manhandled pretty well early and not looking too good. As the game wore on, though, the Saints put him in positions better suited for his style of play, and he dominated. Hargrove would get an A if he didn’t look so shaky against the run early. He finished with 3 tackles and two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown. The replay showed he was clearly down at the 1, so Hargrove was lucky the Panthers were out of timeouts and couldn’t challenge it. He also did well rushing the passer and forcing early throws.
Bobby McCray: D+ (1.86) The only tackle he made was on a 3rd and short running play. On the play, Jonathan Stewart seemed stacked up short of the 1st down, but McCray pushed him forward to the ground to allow him to get the first down. Low IQ play from McCray, who should have recognized the situation and grabbed Stewart to pull him back rather than allowing him to fall to the ground going forward. McCray just isn’t making plays this year, and has performed much worse than he did last year. His GPA as evidence, he has 7 tackles and 1 sack through 8 games. To McCray’s credit, he did an ok job rushing the passer late and put one nice hit on Delhomme as he released the ball. Otherwise, another lame performance. I keep thinking sooner or later he’s going to make a play for the Saints.
Jonathan Vilma: B+ (2.96) Vilma had bad angles on a couple of running plays, including two 3rd and long running plays that allowed the Panthers to secure improbable first downs. Otherwise, he was all over the field as usual and played both fast and physical. 12 tackles, including 2 for a loss. He did miss a couple of coverage assignments on tight ends, most likely because the Saints were so committed to stopping the run.
Jo-Lonn Dunbar: B+ (2.78) Do we even let Fujita start when he’s healthy? Seriously, this young linebacker is just getting better and better! Dunbar is terrific against the run, and VERY physical. The only drawback is he’s very aggressive so he sometimes contains poorly and lacks discipline. Those are things, by the way, that Fujita excels at. He had 8 tackles and played a very good game. I’m glad the Saints decided Dunbar was a better option than Troy Evans. Physically there is just a huge difference between the two. I think Dunbar could be a viable starter for the Saints in the future.
Scott Shanle: B- (2.79) Nice to see Shanle bounce back from what I considered his worst performance of the season. He finished with 4 tackles. He still got pushed around and cleared out of some running plays where he could have had an opportunity to make a tackle, but he showed off some terrific coverage skills against the Panthers.
Jabari Greer: B (3.46) You’ll notice that Greer has the highest GPA among the Saints through 8 games. I know this might not be a popular call (with Brees and Sharper having great seasons), but my vote for team MVP half way through the season is JABARI GREER. He went out with what is apparently a groin injury. He finished the game with just 2 tackles, but consider Steve Smith’s stats: 4 catches for 64 yards. Never has Smith been so limited against the Saints. The Saints need this guy, badly, so hopefully he’s not too banged up.
Tracy Porter: B+ (3.25) Porter was awesome yet again. He forced a BIG fumble to get the Saints back in the game early. Unfortunately Brees threw an INT in the red zone to negate the big play. He was physical, helpful against the run, and pretty good in pass coverage. He finished with 7 tackles and was all over the field.
Randall Gay: B (3.00) Gay came in for Greer and gave medium passing gain once, but otherwise did a reasonably good job. He came blitzing on one play and was able to deflect a pass Delhomme tried to get to Jarrett. He helped his teammates on gang tackles and finished with 3 total. If Greer has to miss a game, I feel ok about Gay holding down the fort, provided it’s temporary.
Malcolm Jenkins: B- (3.11) Jenkins was once again a standout on special teams. Nothing was bigger than the ball he downed at the Carolina 2, which ultimately led to the Hargrove touchdown. Jenkins filled in for Gay in the nickel slot when Greer went down, and was VERY fortunate not to get flagged for pass interference on a big 3rd down play late in the game. He finished with 2 tackles and showed some need for improvement in pass coverage. Clearly, though, he’s the Saints’ best playmaker on special teams. I really believe he needs to be groomed as the heir to Darren Sharper.
Pierson Prioleau: B- (2.84) Prioleau was good in pass coverage the few times he played. He also did a terrific job of recovering the fumble forced by Tracy Porter earlier in the game. He jumped on top of the pile and somehow wrestled the ball away
from Panther linemen. Sidenote, I forgot to grade Prioleau last week, but I retroactively gave him a B because he had 5 tackles and played well.
Roman Harper: A- (3.25) The only thing negative I can say about Harper was the pass interference call that got flagged for where the tight end caught the ball anyway. By now we all know that playing pass defense isn’t his forte. He was assigned to play in the box all game and help limit the running game of Carolina. After a bad start, he finished with 12 tackles including 4 for losses. He was fast, active and all over the place. Anytime the Saints made a good play against the run I saw Harper involved. Consider that the Saints fell down 14-0 with about 7 minutes left in the 1st quarter. Carolina would only score 6 points the rest of the day. Give Harper a lot of credit as he was a big reason the Saints were able to turn this game around.
Darren Sharper: B+ (3.21) Sharper, per usual, was extremely good in pass defense. He also had 9 tackles and had two terrific open field tackles (once on Smith and once on Williams) to stop the Panthers from getting huge gains. Delhomme tried to throw a slant pass to Smith near the end zone which Sharper read perfectly and almost picked off. The only negatives were a stupid personal foul hitting Steve Smith out of bounds to give the Panthers 15 yards, and a HORRIBLE angle on the long touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams. That’s twice in two weeks now that he’s allowed a breakaway run for a touchdown by taking a bad angle on the runner. He just doesn’t have the recovery speed anymore to make up for mistakes like that, so once again while Sharper is terrific the Saints were victimized by his limitations.
John Carney: A- (2.67) Can’t say anything bad about Carney. He did his job. He hit a 40 yard field goal right down the middle to give the Saints a 23-20 lead with under 5 minutes to go in the game, which was clutch. He was 3 for 3 on field goals and 3 for 3 on extra points. He doesn’t get an A because he made me nervous, twice, by barely making chip shots just inside the right goal post.
Thomas Morstead: B (3.08) Mixed bag for Morstead. His first kickoff of the game barely made it past the 15, and he had a horrendous punt that was not only short but got a tremendous Panthers bounce. That punt ended up being 22 yards. Still, none of his 3 punts were returned and Carolina had no success returning kickoffs. With the game on the line, he got much better. He had two kickoffs deep in the end zone for touchbacks, preventing a Carolina comeback attempt from getting good field position. His biggest play has a very high monster punt that went 48 yards down to the Carolina 2 yard line, where Malcolm Jenkins downed it.
Courtney Roby: B- (2.71) Roby was good on coverage, forcing a fair catch on Morstead’s first punt. He was disciplined and downed kickoffs deep in the end zone. He took one out and was able to get past the 20. He averaged 23 yards on 2 returns, nothing special there but no mistakes either.
Defensive Player of the Game: Roman Harper Special Teams Player of the Game: John Carney