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Saints Film Study: Offensive Line Sets the Tone Early against Lions

The athleticism of the Saints offensive line was on full display Sunday against Detroit.

New Orleans Saints v Miami Dolphins Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images

While the defense got all the [well-deserved] attention for their outstanding performance against the Lions, the offensive line set the tone on their side of the ball early and often. For the first time all season, the Saints started the offensive line of the future: Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, and Ryan Ramczyk. Let’s take a look at some of the fine plays made by the big fellas that helped pave the way for a combined 189 yards on 35 carries from the Saints one-two punch at running back.

This first quarter run is just supremely well-executed across the board. From left-to-right: Ryan Ramczyk quickly moves downfield to get a beautiful, on-the-move block on the backside linebacker; Larry Warford reaches a 2i in front of him and gains play-side leverage to the football; Max Unger gets to the second-level linebacker and makes disruptive contact; Andrus Peat pulls and wraps around the edge; Terron Armstead down-blocks on the playside 3-tech defensive tackle to seal him from the play; and Josh Hill gets to the second level and engulfs strong safety Miles Killebrew at the the point of attack while ‘Hooman’ does just enough to disrupt Ezekial Ansah’s path to Mark Ingram.

As well as the entire offensive line executed on the play, the star of the show was Andrus Peat. When an offensive lineman is able to get hands on a cornerback or safety in space, that’s typically a positive play. Peat isn’t content to simply get his hands on the corner; he wants to put him on the ground. That distinction separates good pulling offensive lineman from great ones: not if you can just hit your target, but if you can get them to the turf and take them out of the play. Andrus Peat does just that.

It takes serious mobility for a 6-foot-7, 320-pound man to hit a lightning fast defensive back in space. If Peat can use his size and athleticism to get himself into positions like that, and continue to use his technique and discipline to hit his target, there will be several more long runs for the Saints this season. Not to be ignored: Ryan Ramczyk also puts his man on the ground 5 yards down field, and Mark Ingram stiff-arms the linebacker in the alley. Just gorgeous.

Having a guard with athleticism and mobility is great, but that won’t help you nearly as much on the goal line. What you need there is physicality and the mentality of a bully. You have to want to absolutely rock the man in front of you and be able to back that desire up with the leverage, core strength, and hand placement to get it done. On this goal line run, Andrus Peat shows you that he can be all of the above for Sean Payton’s offense. Chris Spielman draws a circle around the victim of Peat’s tenacious play.

Low man wins, right? That can be difficult for someone of Peat’s stature, but he manages it on the goal line by being violent and relentless with his hands at the beginning of the play. A’Shawn Robinson, a promising young defensive tackle from Alabama, tries to work his hands inside on Peat to no avail. Put simply, the goal for each man is to see who can get their hands inside of the other man’s shoulders, and have their hips and chest low enough to control the opponent.

Both players had good burst and initial contact at the snap of the ball; at that point it was a draw. But the Stanford product wins the rep by insisting that he will be the one controlling his opponent and not the other way around, re-establishing his hands inside after the initial jolt from Robinson. That’s 13th overall caliber play right there.

Here we have a play in which several Saints work together to help rattle off an 11 yard gain on 1st and 10 in the 3rd quarter. You’ll see Peat and Armstead cut their men off on the backside and you get 2 different double teams at the point of attack: Unger and Warford overwhelm the defensive tackle while the two Saints tight ends work together to stymie the defensive end.

Ryan Ramczyk again shows off the mobility and refined technique that made him a high draft pick in 2017. He blocks #59 linebacker Tahir Whitehead and seals him in the hole, creating a clear path for Alvin Kamara to shuffle through. Kamara’s goal is to read the unblocked defender and essentially go to where the linebacker doesn’t. He presses the line of scrimmage and forces the linebacker to fill one of the 2 gaps before choosing the open gap, following Ryan Ramczyk into the 2nd level, and ultimately carrying 3 defenders for an extra 4 yards and a first down.

Take note of Drew Brees checking into the run pre-snap; Brees notices that the Lions are in a 2-deep coverage with their nickel personnel (5 defensive backs) vs the Saints 12 personnel package (2 tight ends, 1 running back). That’s just a math problem, where Brees notices that there are 6 defenders in the box and 8 gaps they need to defend. Brees has absolute mastery of Payton’s system and often walks to the line with 2 separate play calls, the first of which he can kill in order to switch to the second.

It’s difficult to quantify just how important this is for the Saints; if Payton can be confident that his run game can punish the opponent for playing deep coverage with outnumbered run defenders, the Saints offense will return to the form that made them playoff contenders for so many years.

Finally, let’s look at a run-game contribution from a skill position player. Michael Thomas is going to be recognized around the country for his prolific ability to catch passes, but he’ll be loved by his teammates and coaches for giving effort like this when the ball isn’t coming his way. Pay attention to the receiver at the top of the screen and how he lets his presence be felt to finish the play.

Head on a swivel, kids. There’s grown men out here.

The Saints have made a clear and conscious effort to invest in their offensive line and running game. On the offensive line alone the Saints have 2 first round picks, 2 different guys that have been to Pro Bowls, and 1 player that was a 2017 high-priority free agent acquisition. And perhaps most importantly, the average age of the Saints starting offensive line is 25.8 years. Among all the things that make the New Orleans Saints worthy of recognition, their offensive line is perhaps at the top of the list.

Just remember: everybody wants the Dallas Cowboys offensive line, but nobody wants to draft it. Except, maybe, for the New Orleans Saints.

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