You have to consider the opponent, sure, but I was actually surprised the Saints didn’t put up 50 considering how dominant they were offensively. Despite Terron Armstead going out with an injury early, the offensive line paved the way for 248 yards rushing at 5.9 yards per carry, and yielded only 1 “sack” which was a Brees scramble before he was pushed out of bounds for essentially no gain. That supposed “sack” was the only time Brees was “hit” all day. Talk about a clean game up front. 571 yards, 41 points and a win on the road that could and should have been less stressful. This offense has road grated opponents on their way to 4-4. I wish they had more help sometimes but credit them for playing a weak defense and mauling them. You could tell the 49ers never fully believed they could beat or stop the Saints. Below are the grades:
Drew Brees: A+ (3.33) He was pretty close to flawless. His balls downfield had tremendous accuracy and he just continued to put his players in a position to make plays throughout. The ball was out quickly, accurately, and when the Saints weren’t gashing the 49ers on the ground he was torching them with his usual efficiency. 28 for 39 for 323 yards, 3 touchdowns and no turnovers. This easily could be the best year of his career by the time the season ends.
Tim Hightower: B+ (2.50) A very workmanlike 87 yards on 23 carries. His lone touchdown run was impressive where he was stopped short of the goal line but his knees never him the ground and he kept pumping his legs over the back of a defender into the end zone. He also had a nice 3rd down conversion on a 15 yard catch. He didn’t have the big explosive play in this game but he was solid and steady.
Mark Ingram: A+ (2.54) He’s been up and down this year but this might have been the best game of his career coming off a miserable two game stretch that saw him benched. He had 158 yards on 15 carries, which included a 75 yard touchdown run. Surprising how fast he looked out running two DBs to the end zone there. He also had 2 catches for 13 yards and a touchdown, showing great power and strength taking a tackler into the end zone. Top to bottom, an excellent performance. Maybe the benching was the wake up call he needed.
Travaris Cadet: D (2.00) He averaged just 14.5 yards on 4 returns. He was an absolute disaster running back kickoffs. He one fielded a ball that should have gone out of bounds and he once took out a kick in the end zone even though Hightower pleaded with him not to. SO bad. On offense he had 1 catch for 4 yards.
John Kuhn: A- (2.92) A great day blocking. He had 2 carries for 5 yards, both first downs in short yardage (he’s automatic) and 2 catches for 9 yards. He also had a nice blitz pickup to buy Brees time on a deep ball.
Brandin Cooks: B- (2.92) He had 5 catches for 66 yards, a justifiable but weak pass interference call on a push off going for a deep ball, and a contested target that fell incomplete as he almost made a circus catch. He did a good job helping the offense making plays down the field but he came and went a bit.
Michael Thomas: A (3.38) He had 5 catches for 73 yards and 2 touchdowns. Speaking of circus catches, his second score was a tip drill where he comes up the touchdown. What more needs to be said about this guy? He’s becoming a superstar before our very eyes. While the back shoulder chemistry is working, the slant wasn’t alwys as teams are recognizing it. He remains ahead of Brees in overall GPA.
Willie Snead, IV: C+ (2.86) Just 3 catches for 36 yards on 7 targets. He had some big catches on 3rd down for conversions but his timing with Brees was off despite short throws on crossing routes. The way Thomas has been playing lately you figure it’s only a matter of time before Snead goes nuts.
Brandon Coleman: B- (2.48) He made the most of his 2 targets, with 2 catches for 25 yards. He showed good hands, ability after the catch and good blocking.
Coby Fleener: C+ (2.29) Because the Saints were so committed to running, we saw Fleener a bit less. He did have a drop and some soft attempts in tight coverage. Once almost led to a pick in the end zone. He had 3 catches for 42 yards. His biggest was a nice gain up the seam before halftime which helped set up an important field goal.
Josh Hill: B+ (2.73) A very valuable 4 catches for 40 yards, including a critical 3rd down conversion early wide open down near the sideline for 32 yards. He was sure handed and physical. His blocking helped the running game a tremendous amount. Great to have him back.
Terron Armstead: B- (3.07) Played well until he left with what appeared to be the same lingering knee issue. This is all obviously a big concern, especially heading into a game against the Broncos.
Andrus Peat: A- (2.95) Whether at left guard or left tackle, he dominated. His run blocking was fearless and impressive. His pass blocking was impeccable. Amrstead’s absence wasn’t felt at all. Peat is becoming a stud.
Max Unger: B- (3.08) Played extremely well, especially on pull run blocks, but he was flagged for an illegal block in the back that would lead to a missed field goal.
Jahri Evans: A (2.75) Excellent job all around by the right side. Every time the Saints ran that way it seemed like something good would happen. The return of Evans might have been the best offseason move.
Zach Strief: A (2.92) After that scary hit on Brees from Ahmad Brooks years ago, I have to give Strief credit. He kept Brees clean and out of the trouble. His run blocking was very good too.
Senio Kelemete: B+ (2.62 +He filled it at left guard extensively when Armstead went down and handled himself very well.
Tim Lelito: B (2.52) Gave the Saints extra size as an edge blocker and did well. Showed good power and understanding of where needed to be.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Mark Ingram