The Saints played their best game of the year Sunday and still came up short, why? because they made a handful of mistakes that cost them dearly. Two costly turnovers, some dropped balls and Greg Olsen running circles around the secondary sums up how the game was lost.

Going into the game I thought the Saints would have a tough time running the ball (they did) but what was a pleasant surprise was how well the offensive line pass protected.

What was also surprising was how well Luke McCown played throughout the game, he was exceptional. Making only his 8th start in his twelve-year career (his last one with Jacksonville in 2011) he showed no signs of rust. I knew from seeing him the last few years in training camp that he had a strong arm and was somewhat accurate but what I did not know about was his decision-making, he was sharp all day.

Usually what I do here on the Grind Factor is take a handful of plays good or bad that swung the game one way or another but this week I’m going to focus on McCown with the reason being I have a gut feeling the Saints are going to be without Drew Brees for at least one more week (this may change by Friday) and want to shed some light on what the Saints are doing offensively with McCown in the line up.

Clearly the game plan was for McCown to get rid of the ball quick with a short to medium passing attack (I wouldn’t mind seeing the same when Brees returns) his lone deep ball was a pass to a well covered Brandon Coleman. The plan nearly worked but as mentioned the mistakes were too much to overcome. Okay let’s get started…

The Saints have the ball 1st and 10 at their 18 yard line with 4:31 left in the 1st quarter

The Saints are in a heavy jumbo here with three tight ends (Peat reported as eligible) this is something I noticed they have been do more of than in the past. I actually like it, they draw the defense in with the run heavy look and find an isolation in the passing game, below is a pre-snap look at the alignment.

Hill 1When the play action starts to Ingram the entire front seven shifts towards his direction, meanwhile TE Josh Hill slips behind the line of scrimmage and is wide open in the flat to his right. Roman Harper comes up to make the tackle at the 20 yard line but whiffs and Hill gets by him for a ten yard gain as seen in the two screen shots below.

Hill 2Hill 3This play might not seem like much but this was the type of game plan that Sean Payton had going in, nothing too fancy and make it high percentage. Okay up next….

The Saints have the ball 3 and 8 at their 35 yard line with 8:37 left in the game

This is a real critical time in the game, the Saints are down 27 – 16 late in the game. I chose this play because I wanted to highlight the pass protection and route running on the Willie Snead crucial 3rd down catch. Below is the key offensive players and the routes they ran.

Snead 1The Panthers are in a hybrid zone/man coverage with two safeties back, by that I mean when the player comes into his area he’s with him all of the way. Look at Josh Norman (24) at the bottom of the screen, he’s going to cover Willie Snead.

What makes this play work are two things, 1st – great pass protection by the offensive line and 2nd – Norman gives too much of a cushion to Snead on the crossing route and the result is a 15 yard gain as seen in the screen shots below.

Snead 2Snead 3

The Saints have the ball 3rd and 4 at the Panthers 22 yard line with 5:23 left in the game

This play is just a simple isolation on CJ Spiller with Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis. At least Payton admitted that they need to get him the ball more saying “I got to get him more opportunities, He’s healthy” This guy is a game breaker, the Saints have to use him more than a handful of plays. Anyways below is a pre-snap alignment with the routes ran.

Spiller 1It’s really a simple play, Coleman locks down on his defender while setting a semi pick and Spiller simply uses his speed to get around the edge and is wide open as seen in the screen shots below.

Spiller 2Spiller 3I know I said I was just going to highlight Luke McCown’s short passing attack but it’s been five years since the Saints returned a punt for a touchdown (Darren Sproles against Green Bay in 2011) I figured rookie Marcus Murphy deserves a nod especially after he muffed the punt on the previous play but due to a bone head Carolina penalty he got another shot and made it count.

Murphy’s speed and vision really make this play but it was three key blocks that sprung him for the score. 1st as soon as Murphy cuts it to the outside, Michael Mauti seals off his defender and Jamarca Sanford delivers a crushing block to get Murphy a clean lane on the side line as seen in the shots below.

Murphy 1Murphy 2Next up Austin Johnson makes a key block allowing Murphy to cut back and it was all over after that as seen below.

Murphy 3Murphy 4Well that’s a wrap for this week’s Grind Factor, lets hope for better results this Sunday night. Three things are holding this team back in my opinion, lack of pass rush, poor run blocking and foolish mistakes. The mistakes can be cleaned up pretty easily but the other two are obviously a work in progress.

Dallas is going to come in and try to run the ball down the Saints throat to take pressure off of Brandon Weeden who is a mistake waiting to happen. If the Saints get them in a lot of 3rd and long situations they win the game going away…I know – easier said than done going up against that Cowboy offensive line but the Saints are in prime time with their backs to the wall and that to me my friends is a dangerous animal waiting to pounce.