Well here we are dead smack in the middle of the Saints purgatory – the dead period. I always dread this time of the year when the players and coaches depart to recharge their batteries for a few weeks before the brutal rigors of camp and the season begin. We have about three weeks until the players report to Saints camp 2015 so until then I figured I would take a closer look at Sean Payton’s offensive passing game and the different looks when applied to different situations.

I hear a lot of rumblings that the Saints will shift philosophies and be a more run dominant team. In my opinion that’s not going to happen. Sean Payton plays situational football bringing in multi personnel packages and keying in on offensive tempo. Sean Payton has been the coach of the Saints for nine years–of those nine years he’s led the Saints to the NFL’s number one offense five times and all but one year (2010) the Saints offense was in the top five – you don’t fix what isn’t broke. Below is a breakdown of the total offense by the Saints under Sean Payton since he took over the helm in 2006.

route tree

2006 1st – 391.5 per game
2007 4th – 361.3 per game
2008 1st – 410.7 per game
2009 1st – 403.8 per game
2010 6th – 372.5 per game
2011 1st – 467.1 per game
2012 2nd – 410.9 per game
2013 4th – 399.4 per game
2014 1st – 411.4 per game


Offensive Mindcrime Hammering Defenses Since 2006

Of course you don’t put up a yearly dose of stats like these unless a top tier quarterback is running your system and that QB is on the same page at all times with the trigger puller – Sean Payton.

When I say situational football, a lot of it depends on the hot read at the line of scrimmage and the recognition of the mismatch. A defense’s job is to confuse, disguise the coverage and to bring the heat. A quarterback’s job is to quickly read the weak link in that disguise.

This play is a good example (from 2013) of Payton’s aggressiveness and Drew Brees quickly recognizing a subtle shift from the safety on top of the trip receiver set. After going for and making a 4th down attempt Payton spreads the defense out with a four wide set (Tampa Bay is in a 4 – 2 – 5 defense to counter)

In this screen shot below Brees is checking to his hot read which is Lance Moore as he sees free safety Dashon Goldson keying in on Marques Colston. Bucs cornerback Leonard Johnson is playing semi press coverage on Moore while the other man coverage on Kenny Still is playing off man.

Moore 1In this screen shot is the route tree and the coverage by the Bucs. I’m not a Jimmy Graham defender or detractor…I’m a realist and this is a good example on how he opens up the field for the other players, he completely takes out the other safety (Kieth Tandy) from center field.

Moore 2

Brees doesn’t hesitate on who the ball’s going to with both Stills and Moore doing fade routes with one on one coverage and Moore’s man playing closer to the line of scrimmage. It’s executed perfectly for a 50 yard touchdown strike as seen in the shots below.

Moore 3Moore 4Next up is the game against Detroit last year (Yes, I know that hurts). In this play Drew Brees goes with the quick snap completely catching the Lions off guard. The defensive front Detroit has resembles Rob Ryan’s amoeba defense where nobody has a hand on the ground but to be honest I just think Brees catches them sleeping plus they look confused. Below is a look right before the ball is snapped.

Colston 3

What the Lions are doing is a zone blitz in a cover one (Glover Quin is the lone safety) bringing five on the play with LCB Danny Gorrer (36) bringing the heat as seen in the screen shot below.

Colston 1Brees has all kinds of options on this play including Josh Hill open underneath but because Gorrer is unblocked his hot read is Colston. If Brees had more time he would have seen Brandin Cooks wide open running a fade route down the left side of the field but with the pressure he hits Colston for a 21 yard gain as seen below.

Colston 2Next up – This is from the home opener against the Falcons in 2013.  Atlanta is in a cover zero (no free safety) and bring everyone to the line of scrimmage trying to fool Brees into thinking it was an all out blitz but instead only rush three and drop everyone else back in zone. Below is the pre snap look–notice Brees calling the audible, he’s not fooled.

Colston 1Brees checks off and sends everybody on a go route to the end zone (except Sproles who is a safety valve). The Saints really caught Atlanta on their heels with this play. Brees had multiple targets to choose from and any of them probably would have resulted in a touchdown. Brees chooses Marques Colston who had MLB Akeem Dent out of position and the results were an easy pitch and catch as seen in the shots below.

Colston 2Colston 3Anytime you talk about the Saints offense you have to bring up a Sean Payton staple – the screen pass. Payton has an uncanny knack for calling it at the right time and that’s key–whether it’s an over aggressive defense, personnel mismatches or defensive schemes, he seems to pull the trigger at the right time and for the last eight years there hasn’t been a better running back in the NFL reading his blocks on a screen than Pierre Thomas.

On this play against the Patriots the Saints use misdirection and personnel to get the Patriots all moving to the left. First when the Saints line up, the free safety alerts the defense to Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham. Sproles will go in motion and line up on Brees left side and when the ball is snapped. Kenny Still comes around for a fake reverse with Sproles reversing field with him – the whole defense shifts to that side as seen in the screen shots below.

PT 1PT 2At this point it’s all about Thomas doing his thing. Offensive linemen Charles Brown, Ben Grubbs and Brian De La Puente release from their initial blocks and get out front blowing a hole open that even I can run through as seen in the screen shots below, the result is a 27 yard gain.

PT 3PT 4Of course these plays are just a snapshot of what Sean Payton and Drew Brees bring to the table. Since 2006, the faces may have changed and the scheme may have evolved but make no mistake the core belief that you create mismatches and in doing so you control the tempo has always been in place.

I firmly believe the X-Factor this year will be C.J. Spiller.  He fits in to what Payton does best – create opportunities for a shifty play maker to get in space where his speed and football instincts make him a home run threat every time he touches the ball.

Sean Payton has a history of being an aggressive coach with his play calling and that’s not going to change with a trigger man like Brees under center. The question that begs to be asked is…will the young guns on this team step up to the plate? Every opportunity is laid out in front of them and the system that they are playing under has proven to be consistently successful. I think it’s time to start hammering defenses again and arrogantly shut the rest of the NFL up.