NO-ATL Grades: Brees ends season strong
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Saints’ 20-17 victory over the Falcons.
New Orleans Saints
– Drew Brees, who may not have played as well as he did last year, finished strong with four positively graded games. He was quietly efficient against the Falcons, not relying on big throws into tight coverage but still challenging the Falcons defense in the intermediate and deep areas (six completions). In the end, it was his ability to avoid a backbreaking mistake that was the difference between the teams.
– Who knows what the future holds for Tim Hightower, but the former Cardinals running back has done enough in limited action to have a shot at contributing somewhere in 2016. At just 29 years old there is still life in this running back, and while he rushed for 66 yards it was the nature of these yards (47 after contact) that was most impressive.
– It was another bad day for the defense who can thank the Falcons’ ineptitude for failing to expose them more. It was in coverage where they struggled, with Brian Dixon in particular, not up to the task of manning up with Julio Jones.
QB Drew Brees (+3.9)
HB Tim Hightower (+2.6)
RG Jahri Evans (+2.4)
RT Zach Strief (+2.3)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (+1.9)
– It was a frustrating year for Matt Ryan, and this game was no different, with his one turnover-worthy play ultimately being the pick that set the Saints up for victory. Ryan was playing pretty well before the interception by challenging different levels of the defense. The narrative will say a disappointing year, but there’s plenty to be encouraged by in his first year in Kyle Shanahan’s system.
– If you accept that Julio Jones is never going to have the best hands, then there’s really not a lot you can find flaw with. Another big day for the physically imposing wideout saw him reel in nine more catches and 149 more yards, with five of those passes coming over 10 yards in the air. Jones will rightfully earn plenty of accolades and awards with such an incredible year.
– There are some big questions to be asked over the Falcons defense this offseason. The team will no doubt hope for more from Vic Beasley but at defensive tackle will they retain Paul Soliai? Can Ra’Shede Hageman develop into a player who does a better job holding up at the line of scrimmage? He was particularly poor against the Saints with Jahri Evans constantly able to drill him off the line.
WR Julio Jones (+3.7)
RT Ryan Schraeder (+3.6)
QB Matt Ryan (+3.1)
DE Adrian Clayborn (+3.1)
CB Robert Alford (+2.3)