NO-ARI grades: Carson Palmer excellent despite loss to Saints
New Orleans Saints 48, Arizona Cardinals 41
Here are the key takeaways and highest-graded players from New Orleans’ 48-41 win over Arizona.
Quarterback grade: Drew Brees, 82.5
Brees dissects Cardinals’ secondary
The Saints’ future Hall-of-Fame signal-caller was tremendous in this one, as the Saints dropped 48 points on the road against a defense that ranked first in terms of yards allowed per game—and in the top half in terms of points allowed per game—heading into Week 15. Brees did struggle against pressure, completing just three of eight attempts for a total of 18 yards and a 45.8 QB rating, but he spent most of the afternoon throwing from a clean pocket. The Cardinals got pressure on Brees on just 21.6 percent of his dropbacks, which ranks as the fourth-lowest rate among all QBs this week entering Sunday Night Football, and he absolutely dissected them from a clean pocket, completing 34 of 40 passes for 370 yards and four touchdowns, good for a 138.5 QB rating when throwing without pressure. When the Cardinals tried to generate pressure by bringing an extra rusher, Brees punished them for it, completing 12 of 16 passes for 204 yards, three touchdowns, and a 156.3 QB rating against the Cardinals’ blitz.
Top offensive grades:
G Jahri Evans, 85.4
C Max Unger, 84.5
QB Drew Brees, 82.5
WR Brandin Cooks, 81.5
T Zach Strief, 80.4
Brandin Cooks has huge afternoon
Brandin Cooks had himself a day, proving once again that he’s one of the premier difference-makers at the wide receiver position. Cooks hauled in seven of eight targets on the afternoon for 186 yards and two touchdowns, with Drew Brees earning a 158.3 QB rating when targeting him. Up front on the offensive line, the Saints saw great games out of everyone to the right, including Max Unger from the center spot. Unger, Strief, and Evans combined to allow just four pressures between them in pass protection on the afternoon, while contributing positively (especially Unger and Evans) in the running game.
Top defensive grades:
DI Nick Fairley, 82.6
ED Cameron Jordan, 81.9
DI David Onyemata, 77.1
S Roman Harper, 74.1
CB Ken Crawley, 73.3
Fairley bounces back to lead defense
It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster season for Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley, and after some sub-average performances in Weeks 13-14, he really bounced back nicely in Week 15. Fairley led the Saints’ defense with four total pressures—including one hit—on 33 pass rush attempts, and he also chipped in a stop (a stop is a solo tackle which constitutes as a loss for the offense, given the situation). Cameron Jordan chipped in three more pressures—including a sack—and David Onyemata contributed two pressures on just 11 pass-rushing snaps. Ken Crawley allowed two of three passes targeted towards his man to be caught, but in an offensive shootout, he limited the production on those two catches to just 18 total yards.
Quarterback grade: Carson Palmer, 92.2
Palmer stellar in defeat
The blame for this week’s loss certainly can’t be placed on Palmer’s shoulders, as the Cardinals veteran QB was stellar despite the loss. Palmer finished the game with a 79.5 adjusted completion percentage, which ranks third (just ahead of Brees) among QBs in Week 15 (prior to Sunday Night Football). Palmer was especially effective under pressure, where he completed seven of 12 passes (with three of those five incompletions being drops) for 108 yards, two touchdowns, and a 127.8 QB rating (when you factor out the three drops, his rating shoots up to a perfect 158.3). As is customary for Palmer, he pushed the ball downfield, and this week, he found success in that area, completing 10 of 18 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns on throws that traveled at least 10 yards in the air.
Top offensive grades:
QB Carson Palmer, 92.2
WR John Brown, 80.4
T John Wetzel, 76.5
TE Jermaine Gresham, 75.1
WR Larry Fitzgerald, 72.3
Palmer-to-Brown connection clicks in Week 15
Palmer completed five of six balls for 81 yards and a touchdown to John Brown on the afternoon, good for a 158.3 QB rating when targeting the receiver. Larry Fitzgerald coughed up a fumble and only racked up 58 receiving yards despite catching seven of nine targets; however, three of those catches resulted in first downs, and he had a nice game as a run blocker, finishing with an 82.9 run-blocking grade. John Wetzel was the only member of the Cardinals’ offensive line to not allow multiple pressures, surrendering just one hurry on 44 pass-blocking snaps.
Top defensive grades:
S Tony Jefferson, 89.4
LB Kevin Minter, 85.9
DI Calais Campbell, 79.5
ED Markus Golden, 78.3
ED Chandler Jones, 77.5
Tony Jefferson’s breakout season continues
Tony Jefferson’s role has expanded every year since he’s been in the league, and now through Week 15, he’s played 930 out of a possible 933 defensive snaps (he hadn’t missed a single snap through Week 12) and is enjoying—in terms of overall grade—what has easily been the best season of his career. Jefferson has really excelled this season in run defense, where his 97.5 run-defense grade for the year trails only John Cyprien among safeties; and while he was good against the run against New Orleans (80.9 run defense grade), he earned the top spot over Kevin Minter by also allowing just one catch on three targets for just 6 total yards (to go with two pass breakups). Minter, for his part, also had a strong game in coverage, where he allowed five of six passes to be caught, but limited the production on those catches to just 39 yards—with 17 of those coming on one catch. Minter also was second on the team with five stops, and had recorded a pass breakup.
PFF Game-Ball Winner: Drew Brees, QB, Saints
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