"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 Jets.
This game is, quite possibly, the second most dominated the Saints were throughout the entire 2013 season, second only to the first matchup against Seattle. The 26-20 score doesn't adequately indicate the manhandling nature of the physical style that the Jets employed.
The Jets were hardly a pretty team in 2013. They were young, inexperienced, and their strength lied on the trenches, particularly defensively. This formula suited Chris Ivory well, a name that Saints fans may remember.
This is the prelude to Ivory's first carry against his former team. The Jets come out in a weak shotgun formation, a variation of the Pistol, Ivory lined up immediately to the left of quarterback Geno Smith.
What this formation effectively does is allows a strongside run without telegraphing the fact that it's a strongside run. At the time of the carry, the strong ILB has his gap covered, and the rest of the defensive line is holding their respective blocks well.
Ivory, however, shakes the man from his gap with a slight lean inside, and busts it out for a huge 21 yard gain. The Jets formula to score in this game was very simple: use our franchise kicker, and don't try to beat them through the air. The Saints had the second ranked passing defense in the NFL, and the 19th ranked run defense. The Jets figured this out earlier in the season than anyone.
It's worse in realtime:
This play is a silly saxophone away from a Benny Hill sketch, and it's not not indicative of the run defense this entire game. Watch how easily Ivory draws the RILB out of his gap. He only needs to disappear behind the line for a brief moment before he hits the actual hole that he's focused in on. Then, to top it off, it takes three Saints just to bring Ivory down with four more in pursuit. If teams can rip off big chunks of yardage so easily against the #4 defense in the league the previous year, teams will quickly find a way to knock them out of that top 5 position.
Remember the stock quotes that I used earlier to describe how teams say they'll win games on defense? "We'll hold our assignments and make the quarterback make hard decisions?" Yeah, the Jets did that. All game.
On this play, the Saints come out in a spread formation that the Jets combatted by running an under nickel (three men down, one weakside rusher in a 2-point stance).
What the Saints are running here is a classic progressions play. Brees starts from the left of the field and works his way across the defense. The Jets bring a four man rush and drop 7 back into coverage. Of those 7 men, 4 of them are looking into the backfield. Only the two inside corners and the bottom corner are looking at their respective men at this point in the play. Meanwhile, the Jets are pushing the pocket back at a steady rate.
I must admit, this play is also an exhibition of the tremendous potential of Dee Milliner. It looks like Thomas has space on the out route, but Milliner successfully undercuts the route and breaks up the pass. Only one other receiver has space on the play: Brees's #4 option. One thing that this indicates is that if you keep getting pressure on Brees, it becomes harder and harder for him to go that 3rd or 4th read on a play. The ball comes out sooner, and he may miss guys like he did Milliner up top on this play. The pocket wasn't even really collapsing on this play, it was just an ever so rare occurrence of Brees not going through all of his progressions like he loves to do.
The common denominator of the Jets and Patriots? What they did wasn't sexy. They were tough, physical teams last season that made the right plays at the right time. And the next loss of the season wouldn't come until Week 13, against the epitome of physical football.