This wasn’t the same offense that you’re used to seeing.
The Saints didn’t stick to their usual staples during Sunday’s 27-21 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Coach Sean Payton switched things up, broke away from the tendencies to some degree, and turned to a different method of operation.
Typically, the Saints operate heavily out of their 11 personnel (three receivers, one running back, one tight end) and complement it with other personnel groupings. On Sunday, New Orleans operated primarily out of its 12 personnel (two receivers, two tight ends, one running back), with tight end Michael Hoomanawanui at times serving as a fullback.
Overall, the Saints ran 38 plays out of its 12 personnel and 19 out of its 11 personnel.
For the sake of reference, New Orleans has averaged 28.5 passing plays per game out of its 11 personnel and 5.6 passing plays per game out of 12 this season. That’s not counting running plays. On Sunday, all of the plays out of 11 were passes. Fourteen passes came out of the 12 personnel.
This marked a sizable shift from the norm, and the Saints enjoyed some success because of it. New Orleans averaged a shade over 5 yards per carry out of this personnel grouping and completed eight of 14 passes for 57 yards.
This allowed New Orleans to have heavier sets against the Colts’ front seven, which was been susceptible against the run, and then set up some passing plays off of the look. It also helped dictate some things and clear out some congestion in the passing game because Indianapolis was often expecting a run.
When the Saints had to pass, they often rolled out their 11 personnel. There wasn’t much need to try to disguise the running looks since New Orleans didn’t have many issues running even when Indianapolis stacked the box.
QUARTERBACK: 2 out of 4
This was a perfectly fine performance for Drew Brees. He made the plays he needed to make, stepped up in huge moments and moved the ball.
He was a couple of inches away from having a great performance.
Take the deep pass to Brandin Cooks in the first quarter that was overthrown by just a few inches. If Brees shortens that up, he’s tacking on a good amount of yards to his passing line, which was 28-of-44 for 255 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
RUNNING BACKS: 3.5 out of 4
This is what happens when Mark Ingram has running lanes to read, diagnose and choose from.
The Saints’ zone-blocking scheme struggled through most of the first six weeks of the season. The offensive line got it together in Week 7, and Ingram broke loose.
The double cut he had to slice through running lanes on his 35-yard gain in the third quarter was unquestionably the best run of the season for the Saints. Not only did Ingram hit the hole and cut his way up the field, the blocking also showed up.
RECEIVERS: 2 out of 4
The Saints used Cooks a little bit differently than they did earlier in the season. Instead of trying to get him open deep only to have Cooks run into safety help, he ran more routes over the middle of the field.
Of his 13 targets, seven came on crossing routes, one on a slant and one on a screen. Only three were on go-routes, and the other was a desperation throw on a play that lasted more than six seconds.
Cooks is effective when working the middle of the field because it allows him to use his quickness off the line and when changing direction to shake free.
OFFENSIVE LINE: 3 out of 4
Terron Armstead didn’t give up much, if anything, in the passing game. His man hit Brees in the second quarter, but that was more the result of a blitzer coming free.
Armstead was also responsible for a pair of bad runs, but we’re nitpicking at this point since Armstead was often the catalyst of many successful runs during the game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: 3 out of 4
This game was an example of what can happen when the pass rush and coverage are working in concert.
There were great individual efforts on the defensive line — Cam Jordan, in particular, might have put together the best game on the line of the past two seasons — but much of the success in the pass rush would not have been possible without solid coverage from the secondary.
Jordan’s first sack came 3.4 seconds after the snap and was made possible because none of Andrew Luck’s receivers shook open.
Another Luck pass was thrown away 3.5 seconds after the snap, and Bobby Richardson and John Jenkins combined for a sack 4.25 seconds after the snap.
LINEBACKERS: 2 out of 4
During training camp, one of the things that stood out about Stephone Anthony at times was his zone awareness in the passing game. That didn’t always show up during the early weeks of the season, but he’s gotten better as time has progressed.
His growth resulted in an interception on Sunday. As a cornerback peeled off his man to pass him off in coverage, Luck attempted to thread a pass, which Anthony jumped in front of and pulled in for an interception. Anthony also had a couple of run stuffs.
SECONDARY: 3 out of 4
This grade is mostly overlooking the two passes Luck completed to T.Y. Hilton after Delvin Breaux twice slipped. A harsher view of those plays would knock the score down a point.
Otherwise, Breaux was targeted eight other times and gave up only one reception. He also broke up three passes.
Kenny Vaccaro put together another very strong performance. His pass break up in the third quarter might be one of the most spectacular plays of the season.