"Losing is the first step towards winning."
This quote and variations of it have permeated the NFL for years. As children we’re taught to learn from our mistakes and not to make them again. This mentality is complete malarkey. At least in the NFL it is. The first step towards winning is preparation. The second: Execution.
The Saints went 11-5 last season, along with a loss in the divisional round of the playoffs. This means that 6 different times, the Saints were outmatched on gameday. There is a blueprint to defeat every team in the NFL, and the Patriots, Jets, Seahawks, Rams, Panthers, and Seahawks again found New Orleans’.
The rhetoric leading up to a matchup is always the same: We need to pressure their quarterback and force him to make tough decisions. We’ll also need to control the clock and make sure that we keep their high powered offense off the field. This is every team’s strategy for beating every other team in the league, but it’s merely the foundation for how to do so. So how did New Orleans get beat last season? Today we look at their loss to the Rams.
The St. Louis Rams beat the Saints because, to be frank, the St. Louis Rams just seem to beat the Saints. They’re still evidently taking karma out of the bank for Az-Zahir Hakim back in 2000, at least that’s the only way it makes sense to me.
The Rams decided to lay it on New Orleans in a slightly different fashion than other teams before them. They still employed a bruising, relentless running game, but their defense actually didn’t play a great game. They had the same mantra as the 2009 Saints defense: You’ll get yards. You’ll get first downs. But you won’t score (although, to be fair, Garrett Hartley was apparently saying the same thing, let’s not act like there wasn’t some user error in this game).
On offense, the Rams were very steady. They didn’t do anything crazy, they just took what they were given. The statline says it all. Kellen Clemens went 14/20 for 158 yards, 2 TDs and 0 picks. Zac Stacy, meanwhile, carried 28 times for 133 yards. The Saints would end up with 432 total yards (393 were through the air), but they had 3 turnovers to St. Louis’s 0, in addition to two missed field goals from Hartley.
Once again, the first offensive play of the game is probably the best way to indicate how the pace went. St. Louis is in a basic 4-3 defense against the Saints’ strong I formation. That monster sitting at left defensive end is Robert Quinn, the man who earned Terron Armstead his first chance as a starting tackle the following week.
At the snap, Brees is looking for Colston, who is matched up with Janoris Jenkins. The problem with this is, whenCharles Brown is blocking Robert Quinn, you only really have time for one read. Quinn literally jukes Brown at the snap and gets inside of him, while Brees is about to swivel to the other side of the field.
This is mostly how the game looked from the end zone cam. Brees takes the hit and tries to throw the ball to Graham after his first read isn’t open. T.J. McDonald undercuts the route with ease:
And this is the entirely predictable result. An interception for McDonald. The Rams had four sacks and three interceptions in this game, and I’m convinced that this, in conjunction with the New York Jets game, are responsible for Brees’s apparent struggles under pressure that I noted in a previous article.
Offensively, the Rams employed an amazingly simple strategy. Give it to Stacy until he can’t run anymore. 28 carries is nothing to scoff at in today’s NFL, especially when your quarterback only throws the ball 20 times.
The Rams come out in a singleback set against the Saints’ base 3-4 defense. Generally, this would indicate a pass. However, Clemens does not have autonomy in the St. Louis offense, so he won’t audible into anything else at the line of scrimmage.
To be frank, this is entirely too easy. Through the red line, we see the hole that Stacy is presented. Meanwhile, Lofton is watching the slot receiver’s route. The other black line is the route that the LOLB takes towards Stacy. This is where we saw the Saints line struggle on occasion: they could get so locked in on the passer, that they’d forget about the option of the run. The line loses his seal of the outside, the left tackle has an easy job, and Stacy’s is just as simple.
The Saints defense wasn't strong tackling this year. They still looked undisciplined against the run and they were susceptible to overpursuing backs. Stacy continually embarrassed the New Orleans defense. Watch the LOLB topside of the screen. If the New Orleans defense is exposed, it is always in this manner. It is imperative that if New Orleans is to improve against the run next season, they learn gap discipline and don't focus in on the big play.
The Rams beat the Saints in a more opportunistic manner than the bruising opponents that had defeated them previously. St. Louis gave up a great deal of yardage, but they forced and capitalized on mistakes in the game that would ultimately lead to the cutting of Hartley and the benching of Charles Brown. The following week we’d see rookie Terron Armstead going up against one of the best in the league: Greg Hardy. It turned out as one might expect.