It was a small moment. One that likely elicited a minor reaction in the stands and living rooms, if any at all, and then forgotten about as soon as the next play started.
But this small moment showcased why Ted Ginn Jr. has been a quality addition for the New Orleans Saints.
During the first play of Sunday’s 30-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the wide receiver ran a curl route — a pass he’s been targeted on five times this season — and caught it in unremarkable fashion.
What happened next wasn't particularly noteworthy. Out of the corner of his eye, Ginn saw a safety closing in, and instead of trying to push forward, he quickly stepped back to try to create a lane. He then re-evaluated his options.
Ultimately, all Ginn could do is push forward. He gained maybe 12 to 18 more inches than he otherwise would have — but the thought process behind the decision is one of the reasons Ginn has been so good here.
He doesn’t just want the yards the defense gives up easily. He wants to find ones to take, and he’s looking for them every single time he touches the ball.
“There’s this saying back at home that my father always says: ‘Catch the ball first and then use your shoes,’ ” Ginn said. “So I’m just using my shoes. You always want YAC yards. You always want to create something after the catch.”
It’s no surprise that with this mentality, Ginn has gained 221 of his 480 yards this season after the catch. Brandin Cooks, who was traded to the Patriots this offseason, had 374 yards after the catch last season.
The way the Saints used Cooks and are using Ginn isn’t drastically different, outside of the fact that 16 percent of Ginn’s targets have come on screens, whereas the number was 4 percent for Cooks last season. Their percentage of targets on slant, drag, dig, post, corner and go routes are comparable.
But admittedly, since Cooks was targeted 117 times last season, and Ginn has only seen 36 passes come his direction, the disparity in the size of samples makes any comparison flawed.
The difference is what happens in space. Take the curl route, for example. Cooks caught 11 last season and gained 3 yards after the catch, according to Sports Info Solutions. Ginn, meanwhile, has caught five and gained 46 yards after the catch. His total yards after catch on curls ranked third in the NFL behind Michael Crabtree (59 yards on 13 receptions) and Travis Kelce (58 on 17) entering Sunday's games, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Granted, most of Ginn’s yards after the catch have come on a handful of plays. Against Green Bay, he broke one curl for 45 yards. Against the Lions, he took a drag route 20 yards for a touchdown. On screens against the Packers, had gains of 17 and 18 yards. But those add up over time and become routine, adding another element to the offense.
Ginn and Drew Brees are still working to get on the same page on deep passes. This has gotten better in recent weeks, but it still hasn't smoothed out completely. Ginn had to adjust to reel in passes of 40 and 53 yards against the Packers and Bears. And the issues showed up again when Brees misjudged the angle of Ginn’s post route against the Buccaneers that would have gone for a touchdown. But the two did hook up for a 36-yard touchdown on a seam route later in the game.
The improvement in this area is one of the reasons Ginn racked up 334 yards over the past four weeks. If not for some of the miscommunications and mishaps in the deep passing game, the wide receiver would likely have a couple hundred more yards.
But it looks like the duo is closer to consistently dialing it in — and once that happens, the Saints' offense will become even more explosive.
NICE AND BREESY: It’s starting to look like the offense is finding its groove.
For the second week, Brees did a good job of protecting the football, taking what was there and limiting risks. Brees went down the field when he needed to, but he mostly won with a precision passing attack, and he did well taking advantage of the mismatch Alvin Kamara had on linebackers.
One of the only poor decisions Brees made came on the opening drive when he tried to hit Michael Thomas on a curl route on third-and-five and was nearly picked off by a linebacker. He had Willie Snead open over the middle but did not see him.
His other mistake when he missed Ginn on a post route that would have been an 87-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The safety left Ginn and bit on an in route by Thomas, allowing Ginn to get behind the defense. Brees misjudged the angle of the route and threw it outside where Ginn could not reach it.
Brees avoided disaster on the sack he took late in the second quarter. He thought he had Snead on an out-and-up route but pumped the ball instead of letting go after spotting the safety who pulled off of Thomas. Brees had to take a sack, but it was better than the alternative.
MORE ON ARMSTEAD: It looks like Terron Armstead suffered his injury on the opening drive. Early in that series, he appeared to be favoring his one arm and came out of the game before returning during the second series. He later exited the game and was replaced by Andrus Peat at left tackle. Josh LeRibeus took over at left guard.
WILLIAMS STEPS UP: It’s often hard to evaluate how free safeties are playing since they’re often roaming deep with an unclear assignment. You notice them when they do something wrong or are around the ball making plays. Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams made some plays Sunday. On one of them, he denied a big gain by Mike Evans by reading a pass down the sideline and getting over to knock him out of bounds before he could complete a catch. On another, Williams showed great range by running down a screen pass on the opposite side of the field. On the second play, before he made his way down to make a tackle, he showed good instincts by positioning himself between a pair of receivers, which caused Jameis Winston to go elsewhere.
COMMUNICATION: The biggest reason for the turnaround on defense has been the improved communication in the secondary. New Orleans showed a lot of two-safety shells, but those often turned into something else at the snap. The Saints were organized in this throughout the game and did an impressive job effectively making switches in zone coverage. One example came early in the second quarter when linebacker Craig Robertson passed off DeSean Jackson to Ken Crawley and picked up the outside receiver who was running an in route. Crawley picked up Jackson and the play resulted in an incomplete pass (thanks in part to an errant Winston throw). Even if the pass had been on point, Crawley potentially could have made a play on the ball or would have been in position to make a quick tackle. This seems like the kind of play that would have busted earlier in the season.
New Orleans probably played more zone coverage in this game than it has at any other point this year. It was organized throughout and was something Tampa Bay appeared unprepared to deal with at times. The only real gaffe the defense had was on the Bucs’ touchdown when the Saints got caught in a blitz and no one covered tight end Luke Stocker.
O-LINE STEPS UP: Offensive line coach Dan Roushar deserves more credit than he’s receiving. He’s been dealt a tough deck with offensive tackles Zach Strief and Armstead and guard Larry Warford all missing time to injury, but you’d hardly know it watching the Saints operate. Brees was rarely under pressure, which is due in part to him using a quick trigger, thanks to the line doing its job despite mixing and matching parts. One of the hits on Brees came when he held onto the ball, and another when Tampa Bay created some confusion with a well-timed stunt. Otherwise, outside of a few mishaps, he had a clean pocket most of the game. Brees was pressured maybe five times.
The blocking on screens continues to be key to success. Andrus Peat had a good one on the 17-yard gain by Kamara, and LeRibeus had the key block on Kamara’s touchdown later in the game.
RUNNING REPORT: Mark Ingram keeps getting his yards the hard way. Only three of his runs came with six or fewer defensive players in the box. Interestingly, his runs of 32, 9 and 6 yards all came with seven men in the box. There was a common theme on all three of those runs: Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui set a key block to open a hole for him.
Kamara also saw a lot of loaded boxes, including on a 17-yard run and his touchdown run. On the score, Kelemete and Josh Hill opened the holes. Coby Fleener played the lead blocker on the 17-yard run.
LOCKING IT DOWN: Coverage stats are often in the eye of the beholder. There’s some guessing involved when you need to assign every reception to a player on the field. So, take this with a grain of salt, but there were only two receptions definitively on Marshon Lattimore against the Bucs. He gave up a 5-yard reception near the end of the game and another one to Evans earlier on. Lattimore tweeted after the game that he only surrendered one catch, so one of those might have occurred in someone else’s zone after the receiver made his initial break.
The rookie’s best moment came when he broke up a pass to Evans by reading his hands and knocking the ball away to save a deep reception.
Everyone in the secondary provided solid coverage. Crawley only surrendered a couple of catches and broke up several other passes. P.J. Williams, who finally got some snaps this week, broke up a pass to Cameron Brate, and Kenny Vaccaro wasn’t targeted before he exited the game with a groin injury.
Vonn Bell, who came in for Vaccaro, forced a fumble, shared credit in a sack, and nearly picked off a pass. And linebackers A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o had a few nice moments in coverage.
PASS RUSH: Cam Jordan might have had the most impressive moment of the day when he got off a double team and forced backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw the ball away. He went up the field and spun off an offensive lineman, who ended up taking out the second blocker after Jordan spun off of him.
Alex Okafor created another sack for Jordan, which they split credit on, with an impressive rush earlier in the game. Okafor gained leverage on the offensive lineman and created the initial pressure on Winston.
Overall, the Saints blitzed less often than usual, but the team still did a good job of creating pressure on the quarterbacks.
BAD SPOT: Josh Hill was left in a bad position on the blocked extra point. The Bucs essentially created a 3-on-2 against Peat and Josh Hill on the right side of the line, which allowed Ryan Smith to block Wil Lutz’s extra point. These hiccups happen far too often on special teams. The Saints need to fix them before something happens in a costlier situation.