After Sunday’s game, Curtis Lofton said his goal this season is to get back to being a sideline-to-sideline linebacker.
“I love playing in this defense, and I feel it’s catered to linebackers,” Lofton said. “The main thing for me is I just want to get back to being sideline to sideline, getting pressure on the quarterback, dropping back in coverage. Just kind of showing what I can do.”
He achieved his goal during the New Orleans Saints’ 20-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
In what might have been one of the best and most dominant performances by a Saints defensive player this season, Lofton finished with seven tackles, one assist and a pass breakup. In short, he was everywhere against the Vikings — sometimes seemingly coming out of nowhere to be where the action was taking place.
It was evident from the first moment he showed up on film that Sunday’s performance was going to be a different type of game for him.
With 2:22 remaining in the first quarter, Lofton read a run to the right side of the field, charged through the “B” gap between the right guard and tackle, and blew up a Matt Asiata run for a loss of 2 yards.
He was just getting started.
Lofton later knocked Matt Cassel out of the game after shedding a block and getting down field to bring him down after the quarterback picked up 5 yards, and then blew up a screen to Cordarelle Patterson after dancing around a Kyle Rudolph block.
As an encore, he then dropped Asiata for a loss of 3 yards and further punished the running back by dropping him to turf as he pursued a pass over the middle. It fell incomplete.
Lofton was active in the first two games against Cleveland and Atlanta, but he shined Sunday with the many blunders that plagued the defense during the first two games mostly eliminated.
Here’s how the Saints grade out of a possible four fleurs-de-lis:
2.5 out of 4
Two great drives to start the game. Two great drives to end it. A whole lot of “blah” in the middle. This wasn’t the best week for the Saints’ offense, but they showed up when needed and got the job done. That counts for something — and so does the fact that Drew Brees completed more than 70 percent of his passes.
-- The first two drives were as good as it gets. The highlight moment came on a 34-yard touchdown pass to Josh Hill. Hill owes Jimmy Graham for drawing double coverage, which left him open going up the seam. Hill also should thank Brees for looking at Kenny Stills on the left sideline and pump faking that direction, which drew the safety to that side of the field.
-- Brees attempted only two deep passes, one of which was broken up because he stared down his target, Brandin Cooks. Not sure if it the lack of deep passes was a change in philosophy. The opportunities just did not seem to exist.
2.5 out of 4
Having Mark Ingram sidelined with a hand injury was not an issue. Khiry Robinson, Pierre Thomas, and Travaris Cadet stepped up and carried the load. The big runs that Ingram broke were not present, and the overall average (3.4 yards per carry) was lower than usual, but they got the job done. Like the rest of the offense, these guys moved the chains on the first two series and the last two. The middle was lackluster.
-- Robinson continues to show impressive vision. His best run of the game came with 12:46 remaining in the first quarter. The play appeared to be a pitch to the outside, but there was no running lane to be found, so Robinson cut back and went up the middle for a gain of 13. He had a few other similar runs.
-- Thomas did a solid job (eight carries for 30 yards, three catches for 21). His only down moment came when he failed to pick up the blitz on the final play of the third quarter when Captain Munnerlyn and Robert Blanton slammed Brees to the turf. The play drew a flag, so the sack did not matter.
2.5 out of 4
Jimmy Graham continues to be the biggest mismatch in the NFL. He’s impervious to single coverage and can post anyone up. His strength was on display when he stiff-armed Blanton to the turf in the first quarter with 7:16 remaining to pick up 4 extra yards. Graham’s only down moment came when he dropped a deep pass from Brees that hit him in the hands in the fourth quarter.
-- Brandin Cooks made an impressive adjustment with 5:46 remaining in the first to pull in a ball thrown well behind him for a gain of 16 yards.
-- Marques Colston’s dropped pass drew some ire, but it’s questionable if he could have retained the ball even if he pulled it in. There were two men waiting to smash him.
-- Stills ran some solid intermediate routes and continued to get open on the clock-killing drive in the fourth.
-- Hill needs to work on his blocking, especially if Watson misses time with an undisclosed injury.
3 out of 4
This was another strong performance by the offensive line. Brees was under pressure only a few times. Jahri Evans allowed a sack, but Brees kind of stepped up into it.
-- The run blocking wasn’t as strong as it was the first two weeks, but it was good enough, and the running backs were provided some holes — especially on the aforementioned four drives.
-- Tim Lelito gets a minus for the bad snap he had after entering the game for Jonathan Goodwin, but he performed well, especially in the running game. The Saints should be fine if he plays at this level while Goodwin is out.
3 out of 4
This was probably the best game the defensive line has had all season. Both Junior Galette (one sack, four pressures, one hit) and Cameron Jordan (one sack, two pressures) were active, and Akiem Hicks (one hit, one pressure) also made contributions in the pass rush.
-- There were a few wrinkles this week as the Saints showed more zone blitzes and had Jordan and Galette line up on the same side of the defensive line this week. The first instance led to Galette recording a quarterback hit after he beat tackle Matt Kalil with an inside move. The second instance led to Galette dropping Asiata for a loss of 2 after Jordan drew the blockers. One of the zone blitzes, which caused Galette to drop back in coverage, was beaten for a gain of 28 yards on a screen to Patterson.
-- Glenn Foster made the most of his 15 snaps by getting after the quarterback twice.
-- The Vikings quarterbacks performed well against the blitz, completing six of 10 attempts for 71 yards. One of those instances resulted in Asiata getting wide open for a 41-yard gain. Teddy Bridgewater also had a few scrambles for positive yardage against it.
3.5 out of 4
Lofton had one of the best performances by a New Orleans linebacker this season. His counterparts were also active. Parys Haralson recorded a few pressures and stuffed a pair of runs. He also blew up a screen for a loss of 2 yards early in the game.
-- Ramon Humber, who was filling in for the injured David Hawthorne, had a mixed performance. He tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage, which nearly led to an interception, but he missed some tackles and was shaky in coverage.
2.5 out of 4
Some times the best performances are the ones that go unnoticed during initial viewing. Such was the case for Corey White. In his first game this season as a starter, the cornerback was really challenged only once, and his coverage forced an incompletion.
-- The Saints used more three-safety looks in this game, which put Rafael Bush on the field for 29 snaps. He faced only five run plays and was targeted five times, giving up three receptions. On one of those run plays, he made an open-field tackle that likely saved a touchdown.
-- Kenny Vaccaro continues to play well, as he recorded three hurries and a quarterback hit. There were a couple coverage breakdowns, but overall it was a solid performance for the secondary.
2 out of 4
Not a good game when you miss an extra point. Otherwise, Thomas Morstead punted well, and Patrick Robinson showed his value on the coverage teams. Allowing Patterson to return a kick 43 yards was a low point.