- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Although it took some time to review the New Orleans Saints’ whopping total of 80 offensive plays from Sunday’s 49-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, I could sum up the entire film study in one quick sentence: Everyone played great.
There were probably nine or 10 guys who had their best games of the season, from quarterback Drew Brees to running back Mark Ingram to receiver Marques Colston to every run-blocker. Here are some of the observations that stood out most:
Evans superb: Right guard Jahri Evans was dominant throughout the night – which was arguably the most important performance of the entire game for the Saints. Evans has battled injuries all season, but he didn’t show any signs of being limited against the Cowboys. He repeatedly took out two – and sometimes three – defenders in the run game while chipping at the line of scrimmage, then heading upfield.
Evans’ highlight play was Ingram’s 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Evans shoved aside defensive tackle Nick Hayden at the line of scrimmage, then got in the way of linebackers Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims to help clear Ingram’s path.
Guard Ben Grubbs and center Brian de la Puente also consistently stood out with their run blocking. As did tackles Zach Strief and Charles Brown. Clearly they’ve found some rhythm in their zone-blocking schemes, though they were also successful with the straight power blocks, too.
Collins superb: The Saints awarded a game ball to their offensive line following Sunday’s game. Hopefully they included fullback Jed Collins in that group, because he was outstanding. This is the best I’ve ever seen Collins look, and he delivered time and again while the Saints racked up 242 rushing yards. He even added a nice blitz pickup at one point.
Colston superb: Colston bounced back from a month-long drought in a huge way, with seven catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. The “Quiet Storm” showed his passion by fighting his way into the end zone on his 22-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He was hit by safety Jeff Heath at the 4-yard line. But he stood tall, then shook off Heath and lunged for the goal line. … Colston also stood out several times as a lead blocker in the run game and screen passing game – including two great downfield blocks on Darren Sproles’ 28-yard screen pass TD before halftime.
Graham strong: Tight end Jimmy Graham had a “quiet” day since he didn’t score during the romp and played only 33 snaps while the Saints tried to limit his workload because of foot and elbow injuries. But he showed no ill effects from the injuries while he was on the field. He caught five passes for 59 yards, once dragging Heath with him for 5 extra yards after the catch. The Cowboys often used their best cover corner, Brandon Carr, on Graham – a trend that’s become popular this season. But it wasn’t a very effective matchup. At one point Carr was flagged for defensive holding while trying to contain the bigger target.
Stills strong: Saints receiver Kenny Stills has become a deep-touchdown specialist for the Saints. But not just because of his speed. The rookie keeps showing a great combination of strength and savvy as he uses subtle and legal push-offs to win some jump balls. This time, he scored on a 52-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter by shoving aside Heath at the 5-yard line. Heath (who obviously had a rough night) initiated contact when the ball was in the air, and Stills simply swept Heath’s arms away without taking his eyes off the ball. Then he cruised into the end zone.
Ingram’s big day: There weren’t many subtle details about Ingram’s monster night on tape that weren’t obvious to the naked eye. He obviously showed a ton of passion and determination throughout the game – especially when his runs weren’t breaking for huge gains early. He hit holes with aggression and burst. He made a couple nifty cuts and broke a couple tackles when needed. But mostly he just burst through some big holes and got a full head of steam going. NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth paid him the ultimate compliment (at least in the eyes of some Saints fans) by saying he looked like former Saints running back Chris Ivory. … It will be interesting to see how Ingram’s momentum translates when the Saints play less porous defenses.
Brees, Sproles, Pierre Thomas all great: But what’s new?
Brown up and down: The only Saints offensive player who struggled at times Sunday was left tackle Charles Brown, who was noticeably burned by dynamic pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware four times (one sack, one hit as Brees threw, one hit just after Brees threw, one illegal use of hands penalty). Obviously Ware is a tough assignment, though, and Brown held up well for most of Brees’ 42 dropbacks. I repeatedly wrote the words, “All Day to Throw” in my notes.