Wednesday may not be the day that NFL teams break down game film from the following week, but it is the day that I will be doing so here, after I have let the statistics and first reactions calm down so that we can focus on facts: The fact is that the Saints have a good team. It’s still possibly a top ten roster in the league. It takes time for a roster to come together and learn how to play off and around each other. So thus, Wednesday is a great day for me to write a Saints Film Review.
I will be breaking down four plays from the past week, looking for clues to player strengths and scheme operations that the team has been running to bring out the strengths of the team. I found quite a few interesting clues here in the depths of the film room.
Play One: 1st Quarter 7:53
Saints ball. 2nd and 8 from the New Orleans 27. Cleveland leads 3-0.
This isn’t a splash play by any means. This isn’t one of those plays that you are going to see on your twitter feed a hundred times the next couple of weeks either. I don’t ever intend to break down plays of that caliber in these articles. This play is more of a hint of the capability one player has of wreaking a defense apart. Check out the picture below.
Our main focus on this play is the right side of the play. That’s Ted Ginn Jr in the slot, and Alvin Kamara is lined up behind him. See how that near cornerback (at the bottom of the picture) is lined up on the play? He’s angled in toward the play watching the quarterback. This means that he is playing zone coverage. What the Saints are going to do here is bring both of the down linemen back into zone coverage and only blitz the ends. It’s a two man rush and nine men are playing zone coverage across the field.
The Saints are using Ginn in a clear out scheme. He runs a corner up-field designed to pull that cornerback with him. Alvin Kamara is going to run a little flare route, where he basically moves just past the line of scrimmage and turns around. If nothing is developing downfield, Drew Brees will check it down and throw it to him.
On this play, the cornerback doesn’t pull. The corner is playing zone and is responsible for the flat, that zone that’s in the first five yards after the line of scrimmage inside the hash marks. Brees recognizes that they are playing nine men back in coverage, so he checks it down to Kamara.
Alvin Kamara is something else. Most backs wouldn’t be able to get the first down here, but Kamara finds a way. pic.twitter.com/gUSkPmGIEA
— Bruce Matson (@BMatz08) September 16, 2018
When Kamara gets the ball, he has three defenders there to converge on him. Somehow, he finds a way to get past them and still get the first down. One of those guys who couldn’t bring him down was Jamie Collins Jr, arguably a top ten linebacker in the league. Wow. Kamara. Just blow our minds!
Play Two: 2nd Quarter 15:00
Browns ball. 3rd and 5 from the Cleveland 36. Game is tied 3-3.
The Saints lack of a pass rush was one of the major factors in the Saints week one loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This play, the Saints defense showed a blitz. The Browns spent the entire week leading into their game emphasizing pass protection, as the unit gave up seven sacks to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
See how the Saints are showing a seven man rush? The standing men back out of the blitz and sink into their zones. The three down linemen rush the passer, so it’s a three man rush. This means that the Saints were hoping to confuse Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor into throwing a football to a place he shouldn’t because he doesn’t know where anyone is playing zones.
The Browns are running a five man protection with running back Duke Johnson reading a “check.” This means that Johnson reads the incoming rush and decides if he needs to help in the pass protection. The Browns are anticipating man to man coverage here because of the positioning of the cornerbacks.
The Browns didn’t get man coverage, because the Saints bailed out of the blitz completely. Since they only brought three, it covered up the routes downfield. Alex Okafor and Jordan Cameron pressed on the tackles, and condensed the pocket from behind. Taylor felt the pressure and tried to step up through a hole to extend the play. Instead, he ran straight into Sheldon Rankins, who controlled his blocker completely and pulled him down for the sack.
Why point out this play? Because this defense has the capability to condense the pocket with three players. Granted, Cleveland’s tackles are hot garbage, but Rankins shut the play down by simply overpowering the center and bringing the quarterback down.
Play Three: 2nd Quarter 8:13
Saints ball. 1st and 10 from the Cleveland 43. Browns lead 6-3.
Remember how I mentioned that Alvin Kamara was going to dominate this discussion? Maybe that’s why you clicked on this link? Well, here’s play two from Kamara. I understand that his stats weren’t the best. He didn’t score a touchdown (although he scored a two point conversion), he picked up 46 yards on 13 carries, and caught 6 passes for 53 yards. That’s exactly why stats aren’t always reliable in this sport. You have to give him a lot of credit on this 14 yard pickup.
So now we are going to look at the left side of this play. The Saints are doing this clear out scheme again. The idea is to get Kamara into space, because he is such a beast once he gets there. So Michael Thomas, the end receiver, runs a slant route inside to force the cornerback, Terrance Mitchell in this instance, to cover him.
This time, the Browns are playing man coverage on the corners, while the linebackers sit into their zones. James Burgess, the linebacker highlighted, has his zone that he will sit in, but his main responsibility is to pick up the running back out of the backfield. In the picture, you can see him watching Kamara intently.
When covering Alvin Kamara, you have to be able to stop and start with the best of them. He gets James Burgess here, but running that far to cover him as a LB is a tough task. #BrownsFilmBDN pic.twitter.com/zpweC4B9qi
— BrownsFilmBreakdown (@BrownsFilmBDN) September 17, 2018
Thomas manages to delay Burgess from putting himself into position to play. Essentially, they are using the route as a “pick,” forcing the linebacker to move around the cornerback and receiver to get into position. When he dives to make the tackle, Kamara pulls off this nifty side step that leaves the defender on his belly grasping at air.
Kamara is so explosive in space, and so blasted difficult to touch. He makes defenders miss and almost always gets extra yardage after the catch. Sean Payton is using Kamara the same way he used Darren Sproles in his days in a Saints uniform. Only difference is, Sproles was 5’6″ and 185 pounds. Alvin Kamara is every bit of 5’10” and 215 pounds.
Apparently, he is just as nifty as Sproles was too. Payton doesn’t have to scheme Kamara into the offense, he needs to scheme space for him. That’s what Payton is doing, and Kamara is making it work with his sheer star power.
Play Four: 4th Quarter 8:47
Saints ball. 2nd and Goal from the Cleveland 2. Browns lead 12-3.
Even though Kamara isn’t a big, powerful inside runner, he still attracts the attention of the defense. When the defense starts to key in on one player, it opens opportunities for other players across the offense.
A good coach takes advantage of this when this happens. It’s a blessing to know that Sean Payton is a great coach.
The Saints are giving a three receiver look with a tight end to the opposite side. This formation could be a run or pass look. The idea is to keep the defense guessing. The play call is what we call a Jail Break Screen. The receivers in the slot are going to block for the receiver who comes in motion from the outside.
Why would they send the receiver in motion? Most offenses design this aspect to check the defense to gain more knowledge on what coverage they will be running. If the defense is in man coverage, the cornerback will follow the receiver in motion across the formation. If it’s zone, the corner will stay on his side of the field.
However, in this case, the play design uses the motion to stiffen the defense. Normally, the receiver resets, stopping somewhere along the formation to set up for his route. That’s only if they are using the motion to read the coverage. The motion is meant to throw the defense off balance.
The defense isn’t sure what’s going on. The red line between Kamara and the linebacker, Jamie Collins, is crucial to the play. I will explain below.
That red line is what the Saints wanted the Browns to think was a match-up they were trying to get. Collins realizes he is on the end of the line and responsible for a run that might get outside. The offensive line crashes down on the play, making the defense believe that it’s a run play.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 16, 2018
Instead, Brees throws the screen to Thomas. Collins is now out of place on the line. Collins has crashed the edge to set it and stop Kamara from getting outside. The one guy who could stop the touchdown got pulled into overthinking the play and moved himself out of position, and the ball sailed harmlessly over him for a score.
This is the genius of Sean Payton. What a brilliant play call.
There are bright spots across this team
The Saints offense has bright spots all across it. The defense does too. If they can get a sack on a three man rush, that’s good news. However, this offense is about to light up the scoreboard even more when Mark Ingram returns. That’s exciting for any Saints fan.
Even without Ingram, they are executing simple principles. Get our best playmakers the ball in space and let them make plays. Then, Payton continues to show his mastery in understanding the philosophy of the player, and lets them pull themselves out of plays with his design.
The Saints are going places this year.
Image credits to the NFL and FOX Sports. Special thanks to the Windows people too for creating Paint 3D.
Main Image:Embed from Getty Images