It seems like every week the Saints are introducing a new surprise or wrinkle to take an advantage of their opposition’s weaknesses.
Last week against the Colts, New Orleans rolled out more sets with multiple tight ends than what is typical. This week, during a 52-49 win over the New York Giants, the Saints used empty looks on pass attempts.
Those looks have been very rare for the offense this season, yet the execution out of those looks – like most things on offense during this game – were flawless. Quarterback Drew Brees connected on 17 of his 19 attempts out of those looks for 270 yards. Five of those attempts went for 20 or more yards, including Brees’ two biggest gains.
The first was a 46-yard completion to Ben Watson following a roll out from the Giants’ goal line, and the other was a 53-yard touchdown to Marques Colston during the first half.
Many of the plays out of these looks included audibles or checks prior to the snap, including the pass to Colston after Brees realized the Giants were going to attempt a zone blitz and the middle of the field was wide open.
New Orleans still has its core tenants on offense and are going to do the things they are going to do, but the last few weeks coach Sean Payton has done a solid job scheming for his opponents and coming up with solid game plans. The creativity has been heightened, he’s putting his players in positions to succeed and is developing new wrinkles.
As a result, the offense has become more unpredictable and it’s clear the Saints are catching teams by surprise at times. For instance, on Brandin Cooks’ first touchdown, the Giants weren’t prepared for the possibility of New Orleans passing with three tight ends on the field and one wide receiver.
They put 10 men in the box and were clearly expecting a run. Brees killed the play once seeing single coverage on the outside. Instead, Cooks ran a slant, Brees connected with him, and New Orleans had an easy score.
The Giants had to adjust how they covered those sets later in the game and paid for it when Mark Ingram ripped off a 15-yard run with three tight ends on the field during the fourth quarter. The Giants only had eight men in the box for the play.
As always, a lot of the success comes down to execution, which there was plenty of on Sunday. But Payton also deserves a lot of credit for drawing up the plays and making smart calls.
QUARTERBACK: 4 out of 4
Those who consistently read the film review know that fours never get handed out. Despite throwing two interceptions (one depending on your definition of what a football move is), Brees earned that mark. He completed 39-of-50 passes for 505 yards with seven touchdowns. The performance had so many positives that it washed away whatever hiccups existed. Brees’ second touchdown pass to Cooks was one of the best throws you’ll see on a football field. He let the ball go just as the receiver was getting off a jam and led him to the corner of the end zone, where he made the catch just beyond the reach of a pair of cornerbacks. It was noted here last week that Brees appeared to be throwing with more anticipation to Cooks. This throw seemed to be the continuation of that. The key to this victory, beyond the great throws, was Brees’ ability to diagnose the defense and check into the right plays. It was masterful. Go back and look at any of the bigger plays in this game and there’s a good chance Brees was making changes prior to the snap. He also did a good job of attacking the flats and getting the ball out quickly (average of 2.47 seconds) against New York’s quarters coverage, which helped keep himself clear of pressure. The crazy thing is this performance could have had a bunch more yards if Brees hadn’t overthrown Cooks on a deep pass in the first quarter and would have tucked the ball and run on his first interception.
RECEIVERS: 3.5 out of 4
It was only a few weeks ago when many people thought Marques Colston’s best days were behind them. Then he shows up on Sunday and has a vintage performance by catching eight passes for 114 yards. To be fair, 54 of those yards were created by Brees’ ability to read the Giants’ defense and get him wide open over the middle, but Colston still had to make the play. The rest of his yards were created by the things he’s always done well, such as finding soft sports in zone coverage or using his big frame to get open on crossing routes. Cooks ran a good mix of short, intermediate and deep routes. He had catches on in, out, curl, post, slant and screen routes. In terms of hitting several branches on the route tree, it was one of his more complete games as a receiver. Ben Watson has become a good safety valve for Brees and has done a good job the last two weeks attacking the seams. It’s been impressive to see him step up to fill the void at tight end. Tough call on the play to Willie Snead that was initially ruled a fumble and later changed to an interception. Either way, it resulted in a turnover. He could have controlled the ball if he had turned up field so quickly. One little twist this week was that Brandon Coleman received more snaps when the team ran out of its 11 personnel. It helped create a little more deception when the team passed with him on the field in place of Cooks.
RUNNING BACKS: 3 out of 4
Things are starting to click for the running game. Again, it might be the result of facing a soft defensive line, but Mark Ingram still managed to average 5 yards per carry. He does a terrific job of setting up blocks and seeing the field. There was one run in the third quarter where he looked dead to right and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was out of position on the play, but Ingram managed to cut behind his blocker and free himself for a few extra yards. C.J. Spiller stepped up when needed and scored a key touchdown at the end of the game. But it’s clear he’s still figuring things out. Spiller could have had a big gain if he had been on the same page as Brees on a go route in the second half. Spiller kept running up the line and it looked like Brees was trying to him him on his back shoulder.
OFFENSIVE LINE: 3 out of 4
Terron Armstead is on quite the run this season. He once again didn’t give up any pressures, hits or sacks and is on the hook for only one runs stuff. He probably got away with a hold on the first play of the third series when Brees was rolling out of the pocket in the end zone, but those are the breaks. Zach Strief did a good job picking up a block on the same play. Overall, the line did a pretty good job. Brees was only pressured three times as the result of his offensive line getting beat. Two of those and a hit were on Tim Lelito and one was on Strief. Ingram failed to pick up a pair of blitzes and Watson allowed another pressure. There were a couple bad runs that were the result of Max Unger and Lelito picking up blocks, but nothing concerning. Overall, this was one of the better performances by the line this season. Also, credit to Jahri Evans, who was solid throughout the game.