Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Oct 2009

Payton On The Saints' Win

Sean Payton notes that his team's offensive line did a great job of keeping the Giants' front four off of Drew Brees ...

That was a key statistic as we were looking at this game, you know, our ability to handle that front. New York’s got a really talented group, they’re well coached and they’re players that have had a lot of success when you start looking at Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, there’s a number of players you have to account for. And Jermon Bushrod stepped in, and I think the group in general did a great job of allowing Drew the necessary time to get the ball down field. It’s one thing in your game plan to say hey, we want to attack down the field. But the other aspect of that is protecting to allow the quarterback the time to throw it down the field and I thought we were outstanding in that area.”

As I mentioned in Quick Reads this week, the Giants' scheme against the Saints was reminiscent of the scheme the Giants used in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, rushing four on most plays and dropping seven into coverage. It worked really well against the Patriots because the Giants won one-on-one matchups up front over and over again; against the Saints, well, that didn't happen.

Payton's also right to mention Bushrod, who's having an under-the-radar great season as the fill-in left tackle for Jammal Brown. An actual question: Is there anyone having a better under-the-radar season than Bushrod?

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 20 Oct 2009

16 comments, Last at 21 Oct 2009, 10:36am by ammek

Comments

1
by Sophandros :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 2:57pm

The Saints are 5-0.

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Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

6
by zlionsfan :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 3:45pm

The Lions are 5-29.

2
by JasonK :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 3:09pm

Something Antonio Pierce has commented on in interviews since the game: the Saints were going against pretty much everything that they saw on tape (formation tendencies, etc.). New Orleans' coaches used their bye week well and changed up a lot of their established patterns, which, amongo other things, had the whole Giants defense biting hard on every play-action fake. They also successfully used their RBs and TE early on in the game to make the defense more worried about coverage and containment than they were about pressure.

Additional comment: Nobody knows how Antonio Pierce studies film to help him read an offense and adjust his defense better than Gregg Williams does.

Additional comment 2: This is not intended to take anything away from the performance of the Saints' OL in this game. Even in clear passing situations, they simply won their battles against a very dangerous DL.

10
by Bobman :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 5:15pm

It's really the only smart thing to do, changing tendencies. After all, it's what Callahan did when coaching the Raiders to a big win in the Super Bowl against their old head coach.

What? Damn, I gotta get out more.

3
by C (not verified) :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 3:26pm

Brees also did a good job of feeling the rush and getting rid of the ball when he has to. If your QB can't do that, it makes the line look worse and the entire system fail.

4
by ChrisNO (not verified) :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 3:38pm

and pretty easy to grasp. It's just harder to pull off.

It really began in 2006 when the Ravens dominated them physically, and it's been repeated mostly by Tampa-2 teams since then, like Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Tennessee.

The pass protection philosophy of the Saints stresses small line splits among the interior 3 and pushing the pass rush out wide to the edges. It's easy to play tackle for the New Orleans Saints as long as you don't give up on the play. Just don't get beat inside. Everything is geared to pushing defensive players wide, clearing the middle for Drew Brees to step up into (which he excels) and clearing his passing lanes for throws and simple vision (necessary because of his height). Combined with his excellent pocket awareness and short drop backs, the typical NFL defensive philosophy on pressuring the edges generally plays right into the Saints hands.

The way to beat it has been with usually with defensive tackles winning individual matchups inside, defensive line stunts, and well timed blitzs up the middle. Anything that collapses the pocket from the inside, forcing Brees deeper, not allowing him to maximize his arm by stepping up, and clouding his passing lanes.

The Saints and Sean Payton have various ways to try and neutralize that, but by and large its the most successful means of limiting what is one of the best NFL offenses over the past 3 years.

This, however, requires you win those individual matchups along the line of scrimmage. More overlooked then Bushrod is the play of what is turning out to be one of the elite guard combination in the NFL, Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans. The interior of the Saints offensive line is arguably even more critical to the success of the Saints then their tackles, which is why the LT position is looking decidedly "replaceable" for the Saints, going from Brown, to Bushrod, to Strief (vs the Jets), back to Bushrod.

The Giants lack an Albert Haynesworth on the interior Defensive Line, came into the game with a weakened DT rotation (with Alford out for the season and Canty out for the game), and seemed to me to limit the number of defensive line stunts I would have expected, leaving Osi and Justin Tuck on the edges precisely where the Saints wanted them.

Looking at the Saints remaining schedule, teams that can slow the offense down will be teams with excellent defensive lines that can generate an interior pass rush. There aren't many left, especially as all 6 of their NFC South games are against teams struggling with their interior defensive line (Atlanta's only pass rusher being the exact sort of edge rusher the Saints aim to neutralize, John Abraham).

5
by Alex (not verified) :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 3:43pm

Very interesting, thanks for posting this.

7
by Key19 :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 3:52pm

Jay Ratliff sounds perfect for that. Too bad I don't think the corners can stick with the Saints WRs long enough for him to get there (and he's pretty dang quick off the snap).

9
by GnomeChumpsky (not verified) :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 4:55pm

That's some really impressive analysis. It brings up the question of what playoff teams will have the talent required to put the formula into practice. Minnesota? Baltimore?

Also, are you suggesting that the Redskins, of all teams, might be one of the sturdier challenges left for the New Orleans offense?

11
by ChrisNO (not verified) :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 6:44pm

I would say Minnesota is probably the best bet in the NFC. They have some weakness in the secondary which however balance out their obvious defensive line strength. It would be an interesting matchup no doubt. As for the Redskins, if that team as a whole, and Haynesworth specifically, were playing worth a damn I would say yes. They aren't, and will have given up even more by the time New Orleans makes it to Washington.

Obviously I watch more Saints games then any other team, but simply speculating about AFC teams, I would think any quality 3-4 defense with a strong Nose Tackle or a team like Denver would be your bet. Jonathon Goodwin, will playing well so far, is nonetheless the obvious weak link in the Saints interior protection. Miami and New England will be interesting tests on whether putting a large nose tackle directly over Goodwin poses any specific problems for the Saints offense or not.

14
by Whatev (not verified) :: Wed, 10/21/2009 - 2:31am

Well, it certainly seems to have worked for the Jets.

12
by Kyle G (not verified) :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 10:01pm

I have to admit to some poaching, though with source and such included, as its great analysis that's helped understand just What Went Wrong on Sunday (from my perspective).

Click homepage (this isn't advertising or spam) for the link to the thread with accompanying discussion.

A big difference here, as opposed to the vaunted SB XLII performance, is that Tuck primarily lined up inside with Strahan and Osi occupying the DE spots. Whether its a giant NT or a hybrid DE/DT like Tuck, I would imagine Tuck would be far more effective against the Saints OL and their scheme lining up inside with regularity.

Again, thanks for the post.

13
by mm (not verified) :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 11:52pm

I was in a hurry when I first read this article in this afternoon, or I would have posted something some similar, although with less detail. I'll go type what I was going to say, even though they essentially re-iterate yours:

I'm by no means a scholar of line play, but I've come to believe that Brees' height + good footwork means the Saints are probably better off with elite guards + good tackles than with good guards + elite tackles. You don't always notice it when you see plays live, but you notice it often enough on replays; defensive players can get a step past the Tackles, but Brees notices it with his peripheral vision, takes a step or 2 up (and maybe 1 to the side), and suddenly the rusher's momentum is going the wrong way and the tackle is again between the rusher and Brees. Brees can't do that if the Guards aren't keeping the area in front of him clear.

I might add that the guards controlling the area in front of Brees also means that less passes get tipped than you would think for a QB of Brees' height.

Brees is still quite good with pressure off the sides, but whenever pressure comes up the middle he can be quite ordinary. That game a few years ago against the Titans that Haynesworth seemed to win single-handed is a particularly good example of it.

captcha : "washington fried", shouldn't that be "washington fired"?

8
by Joseph :: Tue, 10/20/2009 - 4:39pm

Two things that have helped him:
1--He had a couple of pre-season games to get ready.
2--I believe he has had help with chips/TE on his side etc.
He has played great, though. Brees' excellent pocket awareness makes playing on the Saints' O-line easier than, say, OAK.

15
by Felton (not verified) :: Wed, 10/21/2009 - 8:38am

I'd be interested in answers to the following question: Were Jamaal Brown and Deuce McAllister the weak links in the Saints offense in 2008?

16
by ammek :: Wed, 10/21/2009 - 10:36am

McAllister only had 100 or so carries and finished with +9% DVOA.

The Saints ranked #2 in ALY running off left tackle.

So the stats say probably not.

The weak link was having to play catch-up too quickly and too often. (If you insist that there was a weak link on a #4 offense.)