Forgetting for a second that this was arguably the offense’s worst performance of the season, which came in a game with the highest stakes, it’s important to note that they were able to put together the most important drive of the season when it counted. As bad as Brees had been to that point, he put the team on his shoulders and showed the true heart of a champion. The offense also deserves a tremendous amount of credit for closing the game, getting two first downs to run out the clock and never allow the Falcons to sniff another chance at stealing the win. Below are the grades.
Drew Brees: C+ (2.89) Incredibly hard it is to grade Brees on this performance. The most notable play he made was tackling John Abraham after one of the most athletic interceptions I’ve ever seen by a defensive lineman. He doesn’t make that tackle and Abraham is gone for a touchdown, and Atlanta wins the game. Instead, he gave his defense a chance to bail him out again, which they happily obliged with. That interception was a fantastic play by Abraham, and bad luck for Brees. Hard to fault him there. His first interception, though, was on a horrible flip to Chauncey Davis as he was trying to avoid a sack. Of all the interceptions I’ve seen Brees throw, this had to be the worst. Considering the timing, too, which saw the Saints barely clinging to a 10-7 lead, the pick was an absolute back breaker of a mistake that gave Atlanta a 14-10 lead. But somehow, someway, with the chips down, Brees rallied his troops and got a win. There’s no way to really grade guts, but one thing you can never take away from Brees is that no matter how bad he’s playing, he will never quit. He lead the Saints on a game winning touchdown drive in a way that only hall of famers do. He finished 35-49 for 302 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.
Reggie Bush: C- (2.19) The Saints ran the ball 24 times, with Chris Ivory out of the game, and Bush gets 1? I’m not sure how much sense that makes. With the running game struggling, I was really confused as to why the Saints wouldn’t hand him the ball if anything more than just to keep Atlanta’s defense honest. He had 4 receptions for 20 yards and 3 punt returns for 10 yards. His lone carry went for no gain. It was completely forgettable. My main grip with Reggie was that he looked just a slight step slow which allowed defenders to catch him. The separation he normally gets in open space just isn’t happening right now, and because he doesn’t really have tackle breaking ability, it’s making him a below average player. Give Reggie credit for his job in blitz pickups, though, which was by far the best thing he did. His pass blocking recognition and execution has really come a long way.
Pierre Thomas: B+ (2.78) He didn’t do a great job as a kick returner, finishing with 2 returns for a 21.5 yard average. Based on the stats alone, one might think PT didn’t have a great game: 19 carries for 63 yards (3.3 avg) and 7 catches for 39 yards (5.6 avg). While his per touch averages were modest, Thomas fight and intangibles in this game were instrumental. Like Bush, he did a phenomenal job in blitz pickups. Atlanta sent blitz after blitz at Brees, and Thomas helped him from getting killed. On the game winning touchdown drive, he contributed a huge 22 yard gain in a screen pass. On the clock running drive to end the game, He converted first downs on runs of 4 yards on 2nd and 3 and 3 yards on 3rd and 1. I still don’t think the Saints gave their running game enough of a chance, but the Falcons were routinely in the backfield hitting Thomas behind the line of scrimmage. He fought hard for every yard that he got, and he also scored the first touchdown on a nice run.
Heath Evans: C- (2.60) His lone target was a throw away pass by Brees where Evans was in the vicinity. The Saints had 72 yards on 24 carries (3.0 average), and while that was mostly due to the offensive line getting beat, Heath Evans had a subpar game. His push at the point of attack just wasn’t as impressive as what we’re used to.
Marques Colston: D (2.93) Colston finished with 2 catches for 21 yards, but that wasn’t for lack of Drew Brees going his way. Colston has been steady and performing this year but like Drew Brees he can always be counted on for a token mistake during a game. In this game, he multiplied his drops. He’s had some struggled securing the football lately, which is surprising because we’re so used to him making circus grabs. It’s almost like his timing with Brees is off when it should be as good as ever.
Devery Henderson: B- (2.11) He bounced back from an early game drop to make a nice contribution in the passing game. He finished with 3 catches for 35 yards, and he had a 9 yard reverse that came at a crucial time on the game winning drive. It’s nice to see him involved in the offense again, because he can make a difference.
Robert Meachem: A (2.48) Brees targeted Meachem a whooping 13 times, and it yielded 10 catches and 101 yards. Meachem was consistently moving the chains and making plays. It was a role we’re not real used to seeing from Meachem as he went away from the deep threat and became the go to underneath route option. With Atlanta so focused on blanketing Moore and Colston, it opened up a lot of real estate for Henderson and Meachem and Brees took advantage. It was nice to see Meachem step up in a year that’s been slightly disappointing for him. His hands had been suspect in recent weeks, but they were like glue in this one.
Lance Moore: B (2.89) Moore had another decent game, reliably fielding punts deep in Saints territory and getting open in the passing game. While he was quiet for a large part of the game, he came up with two crucial catches on the game winning drive to move the chains when it mattered most. Few plays were bigger than his 18 yard reception on 3rd and 11 from the Saints’ 9 to keep the drive alive. He finished with 4 catches for 48 yards.
Jeremy Shockey: C (2.64) He had one catch for 12 yards on a very low throw by Brees. Ed Hoculi had a very odd explanation on that play, not that I’m complaining. The reception was reviewed Hoculi claimed that while the ball touched the ground, it was secure against Shockey’s chest. That’s not what I saw on the replay at all, but hey, I’ll take it. Either way it was a fantastic effort on a poorly thrown ball. Other than that, Shockey didn’t play much and he wasn’t targeted. Shockey is not being used at all as a blocker, which leads me to believe he’s injured.
Jimmy Graham: B+ (3.07) He scored the game winning touchdown, and once again proved he’s the Saints most reliable red zone target right now. More reliable than Colston, Moore, Bush or Shockey. He finished with 4 receptions, 26 yards, and the all important touchdown. He now has the highest GPA of any player on offense, and that’s a tribute to how consistently he’s made plays in the second half of the season.
Jermon Bushrod: D (2.38) He had no place on the field with John Abraham. While he never yielded a sack to him, Brees was under constant pressure from Bushrod’s side and it forced Brees to pay constant attention to blindside pressure. His run blocking was terrible. I still like Bushrod but I question whether he is the long term answer at left tackle. I’d like to see what Charles Brown can offer at some time, more maybe we can give Strief a longer look at that position.
Carl Nicks: C- (2.80) His pass protection and run blocking was an overwhelming disappointment. For the standout “mauler” of the group, he got pushed around like a ragdoll. While he never made a mistake that outright hurt the team, he just wasn’t dominant at all. Based on his ability I don’t doubt he’ll bounce back in a hurry.
Jonathan Goodwin: C+ (2.69) His pass protection was leaky. I thought he was arguably the best run blocker on the day, making nice pulls and getting big hits on Falcon linebackers at the second level, but half the time the play was behind him and the runner was getting stuffed. Like most Saints lineman on the day, he navigated between decent and mediocre.
Jahri Evans: B (2.76) He was by far the best Saint on the day on the line. His pass blocking was solid and clean, and the few plays that had success on the ground were all behind him. While the line as a whole was manhandled for most of the day, Evans was a bright spot. He seems to have cleaned up his penalty spell that plagued him for most of the season. The lineman with the best GPA will come down to the final week.
Jon Stinchcomb: C- (2.49) He was beaten badly by John Abraham on the lone sack the Saints gave up. I’m not sure how that’s the only sack the line yielded, because there was pressure in Brees’ face all day long. Stinchcomb gave up significant pressure from his side all game long, and got no initial push off the line of scrimmage. He was mediocre, but he played hard to the end of the whistle and didn’t give up on plays.
Zach Strief: D+ (2.31) With David Thomas and Jeremy Shockey both out or hardly playing, Strief had a chance to show his muscle off the edge with more reps than usual and he struggled. The running game saw penetration from his side, and he didn’t have the lateral quickness to deal with Atlanta’s edge speed. I’ll say this: Atlanta plays very fast.
My Offensive Player of the Week: Robert Meachem