DAL-NO Grades: Rookies spur defense in Saints win
Here are the top takeaways from Sunday’s Dallas-New Orleans game, including the highest-graded players from each team:
New Orleans Saints
— This was a busy off-season of rebuilding for the Saints, and their top two draft picks on defense stood out with strong performances, particularly against the run last night. Hau’oli Kikaha (+3.1) and Stephone Anthony (+2.5) both earned the highest grades of their young NFL careers last night, and led the New Orleans’ defense with a combined 11 stops. Each of them added a sack, taking down Brandon Weeden (+0.1) after he was moved out of the pocket by other pressure.
— Sometimes as a quarterback, you have to take advantage of your good fortune in having bad plays nullified—that’s exactly what Drew Brees (+0.9) did last night. An interception, a dropped interception and another miss were all nullified by penalties last night, leaving Brees’ passing grade on non-nullified plays at +3.8. When the plays stood, Brees was on point; particularly on intermediate and deep throws, compiling a stat line of five-of-seven, 167 yards and the game-winning touchdown (+4.7 PFF passing grade) on passes aimed 10 or more yards in the air.
— Playing corner in the NFL is a tough gig, and the difficulties in terms of performance and perception were highlighted very well by the night Delvin Breaux (+1.1) had in coverage. Targeted nine times by Brandon Weeden, Breaux surrendered only two catches, but one of those was the game-tying touchdown at the end of regulation. Prior to that, Breaux stood up to a barrage of deep throws, winning more than he lost, cutting off routes and preventing the receiver from reaching the target point; but his eventual loss in coverage will be what sticks in the mind.
OLB Hau’oli Kikaha (+3.1)
WR Willie Snead (+3.1)
HB C.J. Spiller (+2.9)
LB Stephone Anthony (+2.5)
DT John Jenkins (+2.4)
— After signing a new deal on the eve of the season, DT Tyrone Crawford (+2.3) had been a little short of his best through three weeks. He made it right with a disruptive game last night. Crawford racked up half a dozen hurries against the Saints’ interior offensive line, and drew a hold from Saints’ center Max Unger (-1.1) late in the second quarter. His six pressures tied a career high, set in Tennessee in Week 2 of last season.
— The Cowboys knew they had to run a limited offense with Brandon Weeden (+0.1) to have a chance of winning this game, and their spot starter came up with a solid display, bouncing back from his worst moments with solid plays soon after. A potential interception to Delvin Breaux that Terrance Williams (+0.7) got a hand in to break up would have changed the narrative, but Weeden got redemption on the very next play for the game-tying score.
— You could only describe this as a vintage performance from the Dallas secondary in the sense that it sparked recollections of the bad old days of 2013. The Cowboys’ top five defensive backs by snaps accounted for eight of the defense’s 13 missed tackles, with the final nail in the coffin coming from Barry Church’s second missed tackle of the game on C.J. Spiller’s (+2.9) overtime game-winning score. Through the air, Dallas surrendered 236 of Drew Brees’ 359 passing yards after the catch.
DT Tyrone Crawford (+2.3)
DT David Irving (+2.0)
LB Andrew Gachkar (+1.9)
RT Doug Free (+1.6)
DE DeMarcus Lawrence (+1.2)