It took awhile for the Saints to unleash C.J. Spiller on the Cowboys on Sunday night.
Once they finally did, it was clear there was a plan.
New Orleans never would have had to pull the curtain off other pages of the Spiller Protocol if Zach Hocker had nailed a 30-yard field goal at the end of regulation. Luckily, the Saints spent the evening preparing for rain.
The 80-yard touchdown pass Spiller caught was set up throughout the game. When a twist was added to the route concept, the Cowboys weren’t ready for it, which allowed Spiller to race to the end zone and deliver the 26-20 victory.
The plotting for the play began during the third quarter when Spiller caught a 9-yard pass near the right sideline. New Orleans came out in its 12 personnel on the play, with Spiller lining up in the slot to the inside of Brandin Cooks. Cooks ran a short route over the middle, drawing a linebacker with him, which allowed Spiller to get open in the flat.
Later in the fourth quarter, the Saints showed the same look and got the same result. Cooks ran a quick out route, drew a linebacker, and Spiller got open in the flat again for a gain of 9 yards.
New Orleans rolled out the same look a third time in overtime. This time, Cooks ran an in route and the linebacker was ready to attack Spiller in the flat. The difference was that he kept going when he turned up the field. Dallas wasn’t ready for it, and it resulted in an easy touchdown.
The Saints will continue to look for ways to get Spiller involved and create mismatches. Even though his usage was limited until late in the third quarter, it’s clear the coaching staff has a vision for him, and he will continue to open things up for the offense.
It became clear in the first quarter that he can change the way this team is defended. On one play, he motioned across the formation and was able to pull both linebackers and a safety his direction. This left Willie Snead in position to beat one man for an 11-yard reception on a slant.
As Spiller continues to integrate himself in the offense and takes on a larger role, it will become easier to create these mismatches because teams will have to respect his presence.
QUARTERBACK: 2.5 out of 4
There were only two blatant examples of Brees passing up open deep receivers for shorter routes, and it’s difficult to place blame on him for either one.
Overall, Brees held the ball for an average of 2.10 seconds. He held the ball for over 2.5 seconds on only seven of his 41 attempts. Some of that was because of pressure, which made it difficult for deeper plays to develop.
Other times, it was the result of going to more of a precision passing attack. Brees attempted only two passes traveling 20 or more yards through the air.
RUNNING BACKS: 3 out of 4
One reason the Saints averaged 4.1 yards per carry, their best mark of the season, is that they didn’t face many heavy boxes throughout the contest. The Saints faced eight or more men in the box on 10 of 25 carries, but most of those came in situations where the Cowboys’ hand was forced.
RECEIVERS: 2 out of 4
Cooks spent most of his day being shadowed by cornerback Mo Claiborne. Cooks’ four catches came on screens (two for 9 yards), a slant (13 yards), and a crossing route (3 yards). Cooks was targeted four other times, twice on go routes.
He faced tight, press coverage throughout the contest. He showed some physicality at times fighting through jams, but it was often too late.
He likely could have scored or picked up a first down on a screen pass in the third quarter if he had slowed down and let his blocking develop.
OFFENSIVE LINE: 2 out of 4
Senio Kelemete continues to do a passable job filling in for Jahri Evans, but this performance had more mistakes than last week’s game against the Carolina Panthers.
He allowed at least three pressures, including one that forced Brees to take a sack after Zach Strief allowed outside pressure.
Kelemete also allowed an Ingram run to get stuffed in the first half when he got caught up on a defensive lineman and failed to block a linebacker in the second level, which appeared to be his assignment.
DEFENSIVE LINE: 2.5 out of 4
This was one of the better games defensive tackle John Jenkins has played during the past two seasons. He was active in the run game, recording two stuffs, batted down a Brandon Weeden pass and hurried him once.
But even when Jenkins wasn’t compiling his own stats, he was helping others make things happen.
On a Stephone Anthony run stuff in the second quarter, Jenkins ate up two blockers and created a lane to running back Darren McFadden.
Five plays later, he opened another lane for Anthony to get another run stuff.
Undrafted rookie Bobby Richardson was also impressive in the running game.
LINEBACKERS: 3 out of 4
Kikaha was something of an unstoppable force at times against the run. He had five stuffs during the game, including two when he came from the backside of the play.
He also recorded a pressure and a sack. So much of his game is about effort.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: 2 out of 4
Jairus Byrd returned to action and played 36 snaps. He was not directly involved in any passing plays, though he was shading over the top on the 67-yard reception allowed by Brandon Browner. Byrd appeared to trip while running back in support.
Keenan Lewis also returned to action and was not targeted.
Delvin Breaux continues to provide excellent coverage. He just needs to figure out how to cut down on the penalties.