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» Four Downs: AFC West

There's a serious need for defensive help in Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Oakland. In Denver, meanwhile, the Broncos must determine whether or not Case Keenum can really be a long-term solution at quarterback.

19 Jan 2018

Word of Muth: Au Revoir, New Orleans

by Ben Muth

The Saints were eliminated from the playoffs last Sunday in just about the most heartbreaking way I've ever seen. Everyone reading this column has certainly seen the Stefon Diggs catch-and-run on the final play of the game, so this will be the last time I mention it, but what a brutal way to lose. While everyone will remember how the Saints ended the game, a big factor that seems lost is how New Orleans started the game. It was still 17-0 late in the third quarter before New Orleans really got anything going. Obviously, Minnesota's defense was a big part of New Orleans' offensive struggles, but I want to try to keep the focus on what the Saints did and didn't do as much as possible.

One thing I've heard people mention is that the Saints running game was shut down again last Sunday. I disagree with that assessment, at least in the first half. The running game wasn't as explosive as it had been in the regular season, but the Saints ran the ball 11 times for 49 yards; that's a 4.5-yard-per-carry clip, which is decent. And their longest run in the half was 11 yards, so it wasn't like they gained half their yards on one play.

     

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This is a trap play from the second quarter that is perfectly blocked. At right guard Larry Warford (67) does a great job of influencing the defensive tackle (Shamar Stephen, 93) upfield, swimming by him, and making a block on the second level. Senio Kelemete (65) is the trapper here and finishes off Stephen. Center Max Unger (60) gets some movement on the nose tackle (Linval Joseph, 98), knocking him back a little, and really does a nice job of sealing him off from the hole by working his hips up the field. And right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (71) does a nice job of sealing off a linebacker that has him out-leveraged.

This is just a really nice football play, and the Saints had some well blocked plays throughout their first half scoring drought. The issue was a consistent failure to convert what were manageable third downs. Take this third-and-3 for example.

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This is really good pass protection on third down. Drew Brees has to step up, but he has all day. Mark Ingram (22) does a nice job picking up the blitz. Warford looks beat early but does a good enough job redirecting inside to give Brees plenty of room to move. Unger and Kelemete absolutely stonewall the nose tackle, and both offensive tackles are fine. Third-and-3 with this protection should be converted 98 percent of the time. But Brees couldn't find anyone he liked.

Brees wasn't great in the first half and he probably hurt the Saints offense more than anyone (other than the two guys who didn't get set in time and got a touchdown taken off the board). He was back to his usual self in the second half, but the hole was so big after two and a half quarters that the Saints left themselves in a position to be beaten by a miracle.

     

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This was one of two sacks the Saints gave up, and it ended up costing New Orleans three points. I think this is Brees' fault, as the Saints just can't block both the linebacker Eric Kendricks, 54) and the safety (Harrison Smith, 22) with this protection. It looks like a half-slide protection with the man side being to the left ("3 Jet" in West Coast offense terms). Any two blitzers to the man side of the protection means the quarterback is hot. Maybe Ingram could have taken Smith since he was coming quicker, but either way Brees needs to be ready to get rid of this ball ASAP.

The second half for New Orleans was much better. Brees was on his game, getting the ball out quickly and helping his offensive line out when they were running a ton of empty stuff on their final field goal drive.

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The Vikings are coming after Brees here, rushing five versus empty to get a one-on-one matchup across the entire line. The Saints do a pretty damn good job of picking it up. If Brees holds onto to the ball too long, the twist on the right side of the line is going to get home, but quarterbacks know that if you're going to have five men in the pattern, you have to be ready to throw quick or get hit, or sometimes both. This play was one of a few times that New Orleans' offensive line did enough to keep Brees from taking a shot on that final drive.

Before we close out on the Saints for the year, I wanted to look at what turned out to be the biggest play of the game for New Orleans' offense: the third-and-1 that got stuffed and left 28 seconds on the clock for Minnesota.


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Frickin' wide receivers not blocking will get your ass beat in the run game. Willie Snead (83), who missed a wide-open throw on a double pass earlier in the quarter, then redeemed himself with a huge catch on fourth-and-10 earlier in the drive, craps the bed here. He has to block that safety, or at least try to. I'm not in the Saints meeting room, but I've been in enough meetings to know that they aren't tightening the wide receivers' splits on third-and-1 so he can dick around blocking the outside leveraged corner on an inside run. That play is there for a first down if a defensive back doesn't come flying in unblocked from the edge.

And we all know what happened when the Vikings got the ball back.

That does it for this week. Over the next two weeks we'll preview the Super Bowl offensive lines in preparation for the big game.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 19 Jan 2018

6 comments, Last at 19 Jan 2018, 1:25pm by Will Allen

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/19/2018 - 11:54am

Everson Griffin's plantar fasciitis has really slowed him up the last two months, to the point where I don't think he has even attempted his spin move since November, so I thought he did well getting a strip sack (that the Saints were fortunate to recover), and a pass deflection. I think the foot gets worse as the game progresses, and I suspect cold weather will make it worse. He had no burst at all in Green Bay. Danielle Hunter had a decent year, but didn't make as large a stride as I expected this season, so I hope he has something left that he hasn't shown yet. The other thing the Vikings d line misses is a tackle who really pass rushes well, which is how Sharif Floyd's surgery mishap really kept the defense from being on the level of Denver's or Seattle's in their best years. The Vikings linebackers and secondary really stepped it up this year, and they made the difference against the Saints, who did get two tds on short fields.

2
by ammek :: Fri, 01/19/2018 - 12:16pm

Does Snead think the tight end (Josh Hill?) is going to block that defensive back in the last gif? Whoever is responsible, they should be paying for Marcus Williams' therapy. A conversion here wins the game.

3
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 01/19/2018 - 1:04pm

I'm with ammek. I think the play here is 89 picking up the safety and not trying to go immediately to the second level for the linebacker. They need a yard. A zone approach gives the RB two holes and the LB can only fill one.

I don't think Sneed can cut the safety without clipping him, and a cut is the only way he's getting in front a safety coming down the line on that angle.

A 15 yard penalty makes it a 58-yard FG. Lutz had already missed from 58, and his career long is 57. If you go by some rough stats, that's going from 80% chance of making to 40% chance of making.

6
by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/19/2018 - 1:25pm

I think you may be right. You can't see it in this screen shot, but there is another Viking db off the line of scrimmage to pick up Snead, so the corner on the line really does have a free rush down the line of scrimmage if Snead doesn't engage him. Snead may have been correct in thinking that 89's 1st responsibility was to block the safety, and forgo the linebacker, who might have been caught up in the wash anyways. Hard to say for sure.

4
by anotheroldguy :: Fri, 01/19/2018 - 1:17pm

Ben,

As the guy who requested this a few weeks ago, let me say Thank You! for using this gfycat system for the videos. The ability to slow it to half speed makes an enormous difference in being able to follow what's happening, at least for me.

My favorite FO feature just got better!

5
by anotheroldguy :: Fri, 01/19/2018 - 1:18pm

(duplicate post)