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Do defenses really wear out over the course of a game? Do defenses benefit from long drives that give them more time to rest on the sideline? Guest columnist Ben Baldwin investigates.

22 Dec 2017

Word of Muth: A Well-Oiled Machine

By Ben Muth

The New Orleans Saints improved to 10-4 (6-1 at home) this past Sunday with a win over the New York Jets.

It wasn't a perfect game for the Saints offense -- they turned the ball over three times -- but they still managed to put up 31 points. It was another strong showing from a unit that's currently ranked second in offensive DVOA.

Typically I really try to focus on the offensive line, but sometimes other things catch your attention so much that it'd be hard not to write about. For me this week, it was how good the Saints' play calling was.

There were multiple times where New Orleans had the perfect play called for a defense the Jets were in or for the situation of the game. Sean Payton consistently put his offense in a position to succeed.

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This is the perfect example from the first drive of the game. If Payton and quarterback Drew Brees knew the Jets' play call beforehand, they could not have called a better play. I'm not sure if Brees checked to the screen or it was called in the huddle. Either way, that is what catching the defense with their pants down looks like. That's a 20-yard gain if New Orleans doesn't block a single guy.

The Saints actually do block some people though. That's a long way to run for right guard Larry Warford (67), but he gets his money's worth by knocking down the defensive back 25 yards down the field. The wide receiver (Michael Thomas, 13) also does a pretty nice job, and this good running from Mark Ingram, who stepped out just inside the 5-yard line.

The Saints couldn't punch it in from there though, and had to settle for three points. It wasn't the last time they would leave points on the field.

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This was a great shot play that New Orleans took in prime shot play territory (second-and-short in between the 35s). The Saints brought in an extra offensive lineman (the recently benched Andrus Peat, 75) and kept seven in to protect off the play-action. The extra protection worked, as Brees had all day and a beautiful pocket to step into to drop a dime over the safety's head.

The catch was overturned, but that doesn't take away from how great the play call was. The Saints ended up picking up a first down on the next play but fumbling later in the drive. Thomas' inability to catch the ball cleanly here ended up being a seven-point swing.

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This is one of the Saints' staple run plays from the last five years with a little window dressing. This is just toss crack, which New Orleans has been running better than anybody for as long as I can remember. It just has a fake jet sweep attached. It's crazy how good New Orleans has been at running this play with a rotating cast at offensive tackle. Zach Strief was always great at pulling and kicking out corners (Jermon Bushrod was OK too), and Terron Armstead (72) at left tackle carries on in that fine tradition. I love seeing a big fella look athletic in space and knocking down a corner.

I also love the move Max Unger (60) pulls at center. It's not the most important block on the play, but it's hard to reach a nose tackle aligned that wide on a toss play. So the wily veteran Unger just uses a little club to the back to knock the defensive tackle to his knees. Almost like a judo move where you use your opponent's own momentum against them.

Like I said, it was a really great play-calling performance from Payton, but the Jets helped him out at times with a lack of execution too. That was particularly true on Ingram's long touchdown run that hammered home the final nail in the coffin in the fourth quarter.

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There are two universal football truths on display here. These are laws that apply to all levels of football. They are:

1) Don't jump around a block in the hole.
2) Block safeties, not corners, because corners are shitty tacklers anyway

The first rule is simple enough. If 58 for the Jets (Darron Lee) takes on the fullback head-up, he'll create enough of a pile-up to force Ingram to stop his feet or stutter-step at the very least. But he tries to jump inside of the fullback, loses his footing, and creates a big hole for Ingram to hit at full speed. Just bad linebacker play.

The second rule is from an Alex Gibbs coaching clinic talk, but is generally accepted as gospel now. That corner for the Jets is unblocked and doesn't come close to making a tackle. As Gibbs famously said to a group of college and high school coaches, "We block safeties, we don't block corners. They're as shitty tacklers in our league as they are in yours." Truer words were never spoken.

That'll do it for this week. I'll be out for the holidays and the Alamo Bowl next week, but I'll be back after that to review Week 17 and the throughout the playoffs. Happy holidays.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 22 Dec 2017

2 comments, Last at 28 Dec 2017, 4:32am by atworkforu


by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 12/22/2017 - 10:40pm

Great work as usual, Ben.

by atworkforu :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 4:32am

You are my favorite Stanford grad. Eff all those Nobel bearing chumps.