@nick_underhill here's a mailbag question. How do the Saints score in the red zone passing the ball without graham?
I didn’t immediately have an answer. Like everyone else, when Graham was traded to Seattle, my initial concern centered on the red zone.
How would the Saints score there?
Who is going to catch jump balls now?
Is this the end of the fade route in New Orleans?
So, when this question came in, I started watching some red-zone plays from last season to see if there were clues on how the team will generate offense in that area of the field this season.
Instead, what I started to see was that my concerns about a Graham-less offense in this area of the field were overblown.
Graham scored nine touchdowns in the red zone last season. That’s a big figure and someone is going to have to pick up the slack. But of those, only four were exclusive to Graham’s talents. On those plays, he either posts up his man or goes up and gets a ball that no one else could catch.
The rest are plays others can make. Within this group, there are a handful of back-shoulder catches that are unquestionably the result of his chemistry with Brees. Marques Colston scored a touchdown in a similar manner, but there’s something to be said for the chemistry that existed between Graham and Brees.
Making sure someone can pull in those passes consistently is the biggest concern. As far as the jump balls go, one could make a case the Saints should have used those more often last season.
Still, there’s plenty of evidence this team can score without Graham. Some concern is warranted with the offense now 1-for-3 in this area of the field with Brees at quarterback this preseason, but the plays below make it seem like the Saints will figure things out.
On the first red-zone touchdown of the season, Brandin Cooks ran a short in route, at about 2-yards depth, and managed to get in the end zone. He beat his man off the line, Brees delivered the ball in the right spot to carry him into the end zone, and Cooks had an easy score.
Here’s Graham. But I wouldn’t classify this as a classic Graham touchdown. He runs a quick out route, pulls in the ball, and fights through a couple defenders to get in the the end zone. It might be the best effort he made to get in the end zone all season. Still, this isn’t a play that is exclusive to his talents.
Classic Graham here. Run to the corner of the end zone, throw it up, pray.
Marques Colston goes up the seam here, fakes like he’s coming back to the ball, and then keeps going. The fake shakes his defender, giving him enough room to make the catch, and then he fights through two safeties to get into the end zone.
Here’s Graham again. He runs a lazy route over the middle, sits in the zone between two linebackers, and then runs it in. No over covered him. This is another play that could easily be made by someone else on the team.
Josh Hill starts out blocking here. When Drew Brees begins rolling to his side of the field, he peels off, catches a pass and runs it into the end zone.
This is one of my favorite routes from a running back last season. Travaris Cadet goes over the middle and fakes like he’s going to sit in a zone. He then breaks to the sideline, pulls in the catch and runs it in.
Pierre Thomas catches a screen, gets some great blocks from his teammates, and runs it in.
Austin Johnson runs a route to the left side of the field and no one covers him. Brees spots his man, delivers the pass, and Johnson punches it in.
The Packers bite on a play-action fake, which allows Josh Hill to go uncovered for an easy touchdown.
Graham never really looks open on this play, but Brees delivers a back-shoulder throw where only he can get the ball. Other guys can make this play, as seen on Touchdown 17, but there’s something to be said for the level of chemistry that existed between Brees and Graham. It shows up here.
Graham runs to the corner of the end zone here, uses his frame to box out the corner and makes the catch. This is an example of his unique skills being put to use.
Graham runs a post route here, posts up the defensive back, and pulls in the touchdown catch. Graham at his best.
Kenny Stills motions across the formation, revealing that the Bengals are in a zone coverage. He is not immediately picked up at the defensive line and beats the safety to corner of the end zone.
Graham runs to the end zone, posts up, leaps, makes the catch. Classic Graham. Few people in the league make this play. He’s one of them.
The linebacker freezes at the line here as Graham runs down the field uncovered. This one certainly isn’t exclusive to Graham.
The throw here is almost identical to the one to Graham on Touchdown 11. Brees puts it on Colston’s back shoulder for the touchdown.
This is all after the catch. Nick Toon runs a little curl, makes the catch, then spins through about four guys for the touchdown.
Erik Lorig runs a screen, makes the catch, and runs it in.
No one covers Ben Watson. He marches right into the end zone without issue. Doubt that happens much this year. Give Graham some credit. The safety brackets him, which creates the free pass for Watson.
Watson navigates through the zone coverage over the middle and gets into the end zone.
Hill runs a delayed route here. He’s initially picked up but the man in coverage bails on his assignment. This allows Hill to score an easy touchdown.
Colston goes up the seam. The safety is late getting over. Brees delivers a high pass, which Colston has to go up for. Touchdown.
This is basically the same play as the last one. Hill runs a delayed route, isn’t covered, and scores easily.
Here’s another touchdown created by Brees putting the ball on Graham’s back shoulder. Again, this is a play others can make. The question is if Brees trusts them enough to consistently make the throw.