For the first time since 2011 the New Orleans Saints offense is balanced, scary and teams are beginning to respect it’s ability to strike from both land and air. Drew Brees success on Sunday night against Green Bay came as no surprise to Saints fans who have become accustomed to seeing him slice apart defenses in primetime. With that said, however, the performance Sunday was an obvious change from the team we had seen barely scrape by with two wins against bottom dwellers in the NFC in the same building. Sunday’s win came against a Packers team many considered one of the best in the NFL.
In the NFL.com power rankings released earlier today, the Packers fell from their lofty spot at number 4 down to number 10. The Saints managed a small climb from 23 to 20. While those power rankings are completely subjective, I can’t argue them. Something the Saints have going for them, though, is an offense that Sunday night finally clicked. For those of you who might have missed the shellacking the Saints gave the Packers, Mark Ingram led a Saints rushing attack that put up 193 yards on 31 carries for a 6.2 YPC average. Mark Ingram himself saw a high of 24 attempts.
Sunday was also the first game all season where Sean Payton went into full commitment mode to his run game. Can I show you how? The first three Saints plays were runs, totaling 20 yards. Previously, the Saints had featured heavy passing in their initial drive. The Saints had never started a drive with three straight runs this season, and there have been only two game opening drives this year where the Saints scored a touchdown. On both of those drives (against Minnesota and against Green Bay) running the ball was the focus. In the drive against Minnesota, 6/11 plays were for a run including the touchdown. Against Green Bay, the initial drive totaled 7 plays, with 5 of those plays being runs including the touchdown.
So, a big question I’m sure is on everyone’s mind is, what’s different? Well, anyone who listens to Who Dat Confessional with myself and Barry from Who Dat Dish has heard me harping on the playcalling so far this season. Sunday, instead of Coach trying to force his will against the defense, he took what the defense gave him. Let me show you a couple of examples.
Everyone knows that the Saints passing attack led by Drew Brees is a lethal weapon. There is arguably no other passing attack during the past decade that has been better when compared to the consistency of the Saints team. The opponents of the Saints take note of this, and as you’ll see, come into most games trying to stop the pass.
The first thing you see during the first play of the game against Cleveland is that they come out in a Nickel package rushing just four down linemen and dropping seven defenders into coverage. This play is designed to give the Browns the most bodies in space to disrupt passing lanes and force mistakes, but it leaves a team very vulnerable to the run. This play resulted in completion for no gain on an attempted screen to Thomas. Lets take a look at the very next play.
This play starts with a botched snap, but is made more difficult by the fact that Cleveland brings a corner on a blitz who won’t be picked up. The Browns showed the same front as in the first play, yet the Saints are attempting to beat Cleveland at their own game. They are trying to beat a passing defense by passing the ball. Even with a Hall of Fame Quarterback like Drew Brees this is a monumental task in the NFL.
On Sunday the Saints seemed to have finally cured themselves of mental error as they read the defense, saw what was being provided, and countered it with heavy doses of Mark Ingram who ran to the tune of 172 yards as he feasted on a Packers defense that was determined to shut down the pass. Lets compare the Saints initial drive this past Sunday to the one we just looked at in Cleveland.
Like Cleveland, Green Bay came out with the personnel to stop the Saints passing attack. But, instead of trying to force the Packers defense to stop the pass they simply took what the defense gave them. It really was that simple. The first play of the drive, they showed a slight misdirection with cooks faking a jet sweep handoff (that he would later take in for a score) and Ingram getting the care to run at the open side of the defense. Now, what happened on the second play?
Green Bay attempts to counter the run by crashing a safety down to add a 5th defender at the line, but that simply isn’t enough with the Saints coming out with 8 blockers. This play goes for 14 yards running right at the smaller, faster defenders the Packers had placed in this package.
These strong power runs came in handy later in the game as the Saints began to stretch the field. I wanna show you three more slides of film of how the rushing attack drew the Packers in and allowed the Saints to go over the top. The following play is from the same drive we had just looked at.
Already the Packers have gotten burned one too many times by the run and now have seven men down in the box and five are dedicated to stopping the run. The strong safety also begins to crash down (circled in red) to prepare for what looks to be a heavy run to the strong side. This is key, as doing this will open up the field for Kenny Stills.
The Strong Safety came down anticipating run which forced the Green Bay corner to now come all the way across the field to drop back. As you can see from the graphic, Kenny Stills is in full stride while the opposing corner back who will be providing “safety help” is still in his back pedal. Normally in the package Green Bay was running, both safeties would have stayed deep to prevent the long pass in a typical Cover 2, but because of the run game the Packers attempt to stack the box.
This final graphic really drives home the point of a successful run game. Kenny Stills has room to run up the field and will be the deepest man. You couldn’t have drawn it up any better. With this balance, the Saints passing attack Sunday was finally able to take off. How good was the running game? Well, let me show you some stats per Pro Football Focus that will really blow your mind.
Yes, you read that correctly. The New Orleans Saints have three running backs in the Top 10 of PFF’s ratings, and if you count only running backs with 120 snaps or more, the Saints have three in the Top 8. Now, I still stand by my statements from last week’s Who Dat Confessional, the playcalling must stay consistent like it was Sunday for me to put the Saints back in my playoff bracket, but some of the stats I’m seeing now really point to a successful 2014 season if the offense has found it’s groove.
- 2013 Rushing and Passing stats through 8 games
- 638 rushing yards
- 3.3 Yards per attempt
- 3 TDs
- 38 rushing first downs
- 2,541 passing yards
- 66.1% completion percentage
- 21 TDs
- 20 sacks allowed
- 2014 Rushing and Passing stats through 7 games
- 931 rushing yards
- 5.1 yards per attempt
- 9 TDs
- 59 rushing first downs
- 2,186 passing yards
- 69.5% completion percentage
- 14 TDs
- 8 sacks allowed
These stats tell a totally different story than last year’s offense. While yes, last year the W-L column was a bit different, this year’s offense is a better all around unit. Recently we’ve begun to see the team start to click as in the days of old, and all of this is due to the rushing attack led by Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. Only three running backs have posted a rating via Pro Football Focus that was better than either Mark Ingram (3.9) or Khiry Robinson (5.0) in the rushing category. Those players? Le’Veon Bell (5.0), Marshawn Lynch (4.7) and DeMarco Murray (8.0).
The Saints feature a stable of backs that have performed at the top of the league in almost every category, and their performances are the reason the Saints are ranked 2nd overall in total offense. If the Saints can duplicate their success with the ability to adapt like we saw in Sunday’s win, the Saints could wake up and literally “run away” with this division.
Thanks for reading everyone! As always, I welcome your comments, critiques and all around banter. I encourage you to interact with me on social media, and for all of that info simply check out my bio below. Also, to the fans, great job in the dome Sunday night! You were the W-Factor this past week, and we won! Who Dat and God Bless!