The offense moved the ball pretty well and did a good job against the league’s #1 pass defense overall. When your QB goes 21 of 29 for 303 yards and you only get sacked once by that pass rush, there’s a lot to like. That’s the toughest defense the Saints will see this season and it’s fair to say they’ll do just fine against any other opponent. The problem was the turnovers. It would have been nice to see the Saints run the ball more, and better, but the four turnovers decided the outcome of this game. Further, the 3rd down conversion rate was poor and that led to the Broncos dominating time of possession. A couple of questionable decisions by the Saints outsmarting themselves on 3rd and 1 – it would’ve been nice to see John Kuhn get the ball. Give the Broncos defense credit – they are very good an nearly shut the Saints out at halftime. 23 points (20 scored in the second half) was a decent effort by the Saints, especially with 4 turnovers, but that 24th chance on a Wil Lutz extra point could’ve made the performance so much sweeter. Below are the grades:
Drew Brees: B- (3.26) His numbers were good. 21 of 29 for 303 yards, 3 touchdowns. Unfortunately there’s also the 2 interceptions. The second was a ball in tight coverage where Thomas pops it up and the Saints suffer an unlucky bounce. The first was an aggressive 3rd and 1 loft downfield that the free safety reads and gets under. A poor decision by Brees there. Overall, though, Brees played well. I wish he could have the two mistakes back because they were really costly. Give him credit for rallying the Saints and getting the ball in the end zone with the game on the line. He deserved a better finish with that masterful drive. Despite a scary pass rush he did a good job getting the ball out quickly and climbing the pocket. Did a nice job on a busted play to run for a decent gain, and had 2 carries for 9 yards.
Mark Ingram: B- (2.56) I wish he had a chance to run the ball more. I thought the Broncos were spotty against the run and Ingram was the back that had things going on the ground a bit more. He got banged up on one run that looked like a thigh contusion, but he returned. He had a solid 50 yards on 11 carries and 2 catches for 13 yards. In a perfect world he gets more touches in this game. He did well when called upon.
Tim Hightower: C (2.44) Much inferior to Ingram on the ground, going for just 21 yards on 8 carries. The Broncos did a good job stuffing his runs. He made a decent contribution in other ways, with a beautiful 31 yard kickoff return to open the game and 2 receptions for 34 yards. Unfortunately, he also made a huge mistake late taking a kick return out of the end zone when he should have kneeled.
Travaris Cadet: C+ (2.04) Had a favorable matchup on the deep ball that was intercepted but not much he could have done there – just a good play by the safety. He had 2 catches for 26 yards, one of which was an excellent catch. And we should all rejoice at him not having a bad special teams play this week.
John Kuhn: C (2.81) I would have liked to have seen him get the ball on a couple of 3rd and 1s that didn’t result in 1st downs. Has that run attempt been stuffed yet? At some point you have to be stubborn and keep doing it until it’s stopped. He played little and made no positive impact.
Brandin Cooks: B+ (2.96) The first half was a disaster. He looked real shaky fielding a punt return that went 2 yards. Too bad, if he fields that cleanly there may have been real estate. On offense he was just short on a deep ball down the sideline that was well thrown by Brees. In the second half, it was just three catches, but they were all huge. All three were circus catches for gains of 37, 29 and 32. On the first he took a huge shot and held on, on the second he showed incredible concentration in traffic and kept his feet in bounds and on the third he tied the game with a tough catch in double coverage. Finished with 3 catches for 98 yards and a score. It may have been modest in volume, but it was huge in heart, skill and impact. It’s too bad that catch didn’t win the game, he deserved a game winner.
Willie Snead, IV: B+ (2.92) On 7 targets he had 5 catches for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was a lot of short yard plays over the middle but he produced two scores and he found ways to get open and move the chains.
Michael Thomas: F (3.00) His worst game of his young career. He was responsible for the second interception tipping the ball up. Hard to blame him there, he’s trying to make a play on the ball and it was just unlucky. His two lost fumbles killed the team, though. His first in particular, with the Saints driving and up 17-10 – you felt like they were about to go kill the game and he gave the Broncos new life. He had 4 catches for 40 yards on 6 targets – which is good. but half of his targets resulted in turnovers. That’s as bad as it gets. He had the highest GPA of any player on the team going into this one, and I hate to fail him, but I think he’s more responsible for the loss than the refs. Anyway, he’s an awesome player and I have zero doubt he’ll bounce back in a big way. Just a really tough learning experience.
Brandon Coleman: B- (2.50) His blocking continues to impress and he makes the most of his opportunities recently. He had 1 catch for 19 yards on his lone target, taking a huge shot, holding on and keeping himself in bounds. That play was a big 3rd down conversion when the offense was struggling.
Coby Fleener: B- (2.33) On two targets he had 2 catches for 26 yards. Both were good catches – the second was exceptional. I’m surprised Brees didn’t look his way more and maybe he should have as good as the Broncos are on the outside.
Josh Hill: C- (2.56) His blocking really made little impact in the run game, though he did buy some time in pass protection. His lone target was a slight overthrow. Not much to get excited about. His pursuit on the PAT return was in vain.
John Phillips: C (2.00) Was surprised he saw a decent amount of snaps helping as a blocker. He seemed fine, nothing great or awful.
Andrus Peat: B (2.96) A real strong showing once again. I think it’s fair to conclude he’s a good NFL player at this point. His struggles in preseason are a thing of the past and I’m excited to have him as part of this offensive line in the future. He gave up the lone sack but that was a coverage sack where the initial protection was good. The times Brees did feel pressure it was mostly from the right side. The run blocking was hit or miss.
Senio Kelemete: B (2.67) Left with what appeared to be a stinger (again) but returned. He’s been really banged up this year between that and the hamstring issue but he keeps coming back. He’s tough as nails and his pass blocking was excellent. Not as strong in run blocking but he had a good showing.
Max Unger: B- (3.04) Clean in pass protection but I didn’t see the normal push at the end of plays. He didn’t make the same impact in the run game he usually does.
Jahri Evans: B- (2.74) He struggled in pass protection late but played a really clean game for three and a half quarters prior. He was fortunate not to give up a sack but even on the touchdown to Cooks you see him get beat and for his man out of the lane to the passer.
Zach Strief: B+ (2.96) Gave up a hit to DeMarcus Ware on the first pass of the game and I thought “here we go”. But he didn’t allow a sack to Ware or Miller. It wasn’t always pretty but he’s having a fantastic season. What a gamer.
Tim Lelito: B- (2.54) Had to come in for Kelemete on the drive he was injured and the offense didn’t miss a beat. It’s amazing how they’ve maintained their level of play with all the shuffling.
My offensive player of the game: Brandin Cooks