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12 Jan 2018

Word of Muth: Victory Formation

by Ben Muth

The Saints held on to beat the Panthers 31-26 and advance to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. New Orleans got out to a nice lead thanks in large part to an 80-yard touchown to Ted Ginn and did just enough to prevent a comeback from Cam Newton and Carolina. It wasn't the Saints' best offensive performance of the year, but they still put up 31 points in a playoff game and are moving on to face a very strong Minnesota defense.

A big story coming out of the game last weekend was that the Panthers shut down the Saints' rushing attack. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara were held to a combined 45 yards on 19 carries. Carolina did a great job of outnumbering the Saints in the box and creating some negative plays for New Orleans. In fact, I thought New Orleans had most of their success when they brought their formations in tight and had extra men for the extra defenders Carolina dropped into the box.


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The Saints come out with two tight ends and a wide receiver all lined up tight to the offensive line. They're running inside zone here, and they do a nice job of covering up the play side. I love what Terron Armstead (72) does here at left tackle. He knocks the defensive tackle (Kawann Short, 99) out of his B-gap and gets a piece of Luke Kuechly with the down defender. Both tight ends for New Orleans also do a really nice job of completely covering up their defenders and allowing Ingram to make his read.

Here, the former Heisman winner bounced it outside, which was the best read. The corner is unblocked, and the Saints should be thrilled with getting Mark Ingram one-on-one with a cornerback with some room. Ingram ended up dragging the corner for a gain of 7.


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Here, New Orleans is playing in the I-formation, which in today's NFL is a tightened down and condensed formation. Once again the Saints are running a version of inside zone, and once again they get their back one-on-one with a corner and a little bit of space. Here, the corner just trips Kamara up and holds him to a gain of 5. I really like right tackle Ryan Ramcyzk (71) on the second level here. I also think Michael Hoomanawanui (84) does a nice job at tight end washing down the defensive end (Wes Horton, 96).

These plays may not look like much, but both are blocked up exactly how New Orleans wanted, and either one could have gone for big yards if the back could have made one guy miss or forced one missed tackle. It's hard to consistently churn out 4- to 6-yard runs, and most big rushing days in the NFL have a big run or two. These are the types of plays that could turn into explosive runs, and the kind of plays that New Orleans runners have turned into big plays all year, but it just didn't happen for whatever reason on Sunday.

Those were two of the best-blocked run plays for New Orleans on Sunday; most of their other plays on the ground weren't as well blocked. While the run blocking wasn't as good as I have seen from the Saints, I did think New Orleans did a heck of a job protecting Drew Brees. They consistently kept the defense off him and gave him nice pockets to work with.

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This was a big blitz pickup that led to a big play down the field. First, Brees deserves a lot of credit for seeing a blitz and trusting his guys to block it. The Saints block the hell out of this but even then, a six-on-six rep of pass protection is going to make for a tight pocket. Brees, however, hangs in there and makes a throw.

Everyone for New Orleans is pretty good here, but I want to highlight a few guys. First, I want to point out Ramczyk. The rookie always plays with such natural power, and it's really impressive. Look at how he sits on this bull rush. When he starts to give a little ground, he drops his hips just a bit and arches his back to stop the rusher in his tracks. His hands aren't even particularly good here -- he'd rather have them inside the defender's -- but he's strong enough to get away with it.

At right guard, Larry Warford (67) also does some good stuff. He knows Kuechly is walked up and probably coming. So Warford leaves his hand out there to feel for any twists or games that might be coming. As he's feeling for Kuechly, he slides to the nose tackle and works to get head-up with him, helmet stripe to helmet stripe.

And finally, Kamara does a great job picking up Kuechly. What I love about it is how he attacks the blitzer. A lot of young backs are tentative in blitz pickup and pick up defenders too close to the quarterback. Here, Kamara is aggressive and keeps Kuechly near the line of scrimmage.

The Saints' pass protection was a consistent highlight for the team last weekend. They only gave up one sack, and even that wasn't terribly blocked.

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Obviously, that's not a very good job by Warford. He lets the defender into his chest on the bull-rush, never recovers, and gets walked back into the quarterback. Still he does get walked back, and the rest of the line is decent enough that Brees had some room to avoid the sack. Unfortunately, he just got stepped on and tripped. Still, if the one sack of the game involves your quarterback getting tripped up and not hit, it's a pretty good day.

Next up is the Vikings. Minnesota has the best defensive DVOA in the NFC. New Orleans has the best offensive DVOA in the NFC. It should be a great matchup, and I'm looking forward to writing about it next week.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 12 Jan 2018

7 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2018, 7:46pm by Will Allen


by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 12:37pm

Does Brees get stepped on, or does he trip over Warford's leg?

I'd like to point out, too, that had Brees played for Buffalo, that back shoulder to 89 is an interception and not a catch. Buffalo's WRs couldn't catch that pass.

by milo :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 1:26pm

Most teams' WRs couldn't catch a pass that was thrown to the tight end.

by Joseph :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 3:41pm

Wondering why you think it would be an INT. Doesn't look like either defender has a real chance at the pick (unless you are thinking that it would be tipped up in the air).

by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 2:29pm

I'm really interested in how well quantified the difference in o-line performance, between a good o-line at home against a good defense, and a good o-line on the road, in a loud stadium against a good defense, can be obtained. You would probably need to go back many, many, years, to get a big enough sample size to be useful, if it can be done at all. Damned game is very difficult to analyze.

by Joseph :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 3:52pm

My 2 cents says that it would only make a difference if the stadium is really loud for a particular play. For example, a 4th and short, 3rd and long, etc.--hearing that snap count would be extremely important. Generic 1st and 10, there probably isn't a very noticeable difference.
IMO, to obtain a good sample size, you would be comparing multiple o-lines and d-lines--and if you want a robust sample, you would need multiple years--and then you have personnel changes.

However, I think both of us will get a really good sample by comparing the Saints o-line performance from this game to last game. CAR's d-line, and defense in general, is no slouch either. I hope you get your question answered, but that my Saints go home victorious. This should be the best game of the weekend.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 7:46pm

Yeah, I anticipate a close one, possibly determined by that Great and Terrible God, Randomness.

I'll sacrifice a shot of bourbon, in an attempt to placate Him, late Saturday night.

by Tundrapaddy :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 6:58pm

Keep in mind that New Orleans just lost their pretty good left guard (Peat) to a broken leg against Carolina.