With the New Orleans Saints often blowing out teams during their eight-game winning streak, there were questions as to whether the passing offense had enough to bring it when the pressure turned up.
We hadn’t seen it, and at times, you could see Drew Brees and his receivers working to get on the same page. Things have gotten better each week, but seeing it happen in crunch time was important, regardless of how good the Saints offense has been for years.
There’s no longer reason to worry. The answer came during Sunday’s 34-31 overtime victory over the Washington Redskins.
The final two drives of regulation, during which Brees completed all 11 of his attempts, were masterful. The quarterback picked the right spots and repeatedly manipulated the defense, and coach Sean Payton made all the right calls to create mismatches.
Here’s how it went down.
Pass 1: Complete to TE Coby Fleener for 5 yards
The Saints quickly broke Washington’s zone coverage. Operating out of a trips look with two receivers and one tight end on one side, New Orleans overloaded the right side of the field.
Ted Ginn Jr. ran a vertical route, taking Josh Norman out of the play. Brees stared down the left side of the field, which froze the safety, who is supposed to be covering the right. The quarterback pumped, which got the safety and linebacker who is matched up on Fleener, who was running a curl route from his inline position, to jump. Brees tucked the ball, rolled that way, and hit a wide open Fleener, who rolled toward the sideline with the quarterback.
The Saints ran this same play twice against New England earlier this season. Brees hit Fleener for a gain of 9 and missed on a pass to Mark Ingram.
Pass 2: Complete to Fleener for 25 yards
The Saints moved into an Ace formation (one receiver and one inline tight end on one side of the field, two receivers on the other side), which they stay in until pushing into the red zone.
Fleener and Brandon Coleman, who is in the slot, ran post routes over the middle of the field, while the outside receivers, Michael Thomas and Ginn ran vertical routes. Alvin Kamara came out of the backfield and ran a curl over the middle.
New Orleans uses this route concept often. Brees takes advantage when the linebacker covering Fleener passes him off, and the safety is slow picking him up, dropping a pass between the two defenders.
The Saints' tight ends have done a lot of dirty work this season.
Pass 3: Complete to Fleener for 8 yards
Brees saw something before the snap and made an adjustment. Perhaps he noticed that Washington didn’t have anyone directly on Fleener and wanted to take advantage of the mismatch, which is what he did next.
Washington’s linebacker couldn’t get over to cover the tight end’s curl route, and Brees hit Fleener immediately coming out of his three-step drop for an easy gain.
Pass 4: Complete to Kamara for 10 yards
The Saints again took advantage of Washington’s coverage and created a mismatch for Kamara.
New Orleans sent everyone on go routes, which carried all three cornerbacks and the linebacker matched up on Fleener down the field, and the safeties continued to drop. Kamara was left alone in the box on a linebacker. He made the catch, dodged a tackle and got out of bounds to stop the clock.
Pass 5: Complete to Ginn for 7 yards
The Saints again took advantage of Washington’s scheme to create the look they want.
New Orleans had Kamara run a route to the flats as Ginn moved toward the middle of the field to run a curl. Kamara’s route froze Norman, putting Ginn on a linebacker. Brees saw the look and hits the receiver for a gain of 7 yards.
Pass 6: Complete to Fleener for 24 yards
The Redskins finally dropped a safety down to match up with Fleener, which created an opportunity for Brees to manipulate the coverage again.
After the snap, Brees stared down the right side of the field, which got the safety moving that direction. Once he turned his hips, Brees shot his head back to the right side of the field and let go of a pass to Fleener, who gained a step on the safety.
While the play design was exceptional throughout the drive, Brees’ ability to manipulate the defense and create favorable looks was equally pivotal.
Pass 7: Complete to Josh Hill for a 3-yard touchdown
The Saints came out in a trips look with three receivers to the left and Josh Hill lined up on the other side of the formation.
Hill ran a curl route, and Kamara, coming out of the backfield on the same side of the formation as Hill, ran to the flat. The middle linebacker and safety played zones over the middle, leaving Hill and Kamara in one-on-one matchups.
The safety covering Hill jammed him and passed him off to pursue Kamara. But the other linebacker also went with Kamara, leaving Hill wide open for a touchdown.
Pass 8: Complete to Thomas for 17 yards
On the next set of downs, New Orleans came out in a trips look with two receivers and the tight end on one side and Thomas as the lone receiver on the other side of the formation.
The Saints again took advantage of Washington’s zone coverage to get the look they want. Kamara came out of the backfield and ran a route to the flat, which occupied the cornerback initially on Thomas and put him on a linebacker.
The receiver outran his defender and caught a crossing route over the middle for 17 yards.
Pass 9: Complete to Ginn for 18 yards
The Saints moved back to an Ace formation, and things continued to look too easy. Perhaps a callback to the second play of the drive, Ginn ran a post route and got wide open for a gain of 18.
When Ginn got 5 yards down the field, Norman passed him off, at which point Ginn started to turn inside and Brees delivered a pass between the linebacker and safety.
The New Orleans Saints haven't had to rely on their passing-game personnel much over the course of the past two months.
Pass 10: Complete to Fleener for 29 yards
Washington decided to blitz here, which left Fleener on pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan.
As the blitz arrives, Brees rolled out away from it and hit Fleener, who easily outran his defender and got down the field for a big gain.
Pass 11: Complete to Alvin Kamara for an 18-yard touchdown
The idea behind this play is very similar to the fourth completion.
New Orleans sent everyone on vertical routes, this time with the inside players running out-and-ups. This sent all the defensive backs down the field, leaving Kamara one-on-one with a linebacker.
Brees targeted him, and there’s no analysis for what happened next. The running back juggled the ball, pulled it in while a tackle attempt came from behind, and then ran through two defenders to get into the end zone.
As a matter of policy, Saints quarterback Drew Brees doesn’t like to compare teams he’s played on. New Orleans coach Sean Payton likes doing i…