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Saints Film Room: The defense is clicking and a rookie steps up

The defense finally looks to be on the same page and Tre’Quan Smith is staking his claim for the number 2 receiving option

NFL: Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The offense and Drew Brees had a historical night and stole the show, but the defense looked to finally be on the same page and had a complete game. While it wasn’t perfect, and the Redskins’ offense made their fair share of mistakes, a lot of the problems from earlier in the season seem to be going away. Let’s take a look at two plays that show the progress of the defense.

The Defense

On the first offensive drive for the Redskins, they face a 3rd and 10. The Saints come out in nickel formation with a cover 2 zone against the Redskins 11 personnel that features tight end Jordan Reed in the slot and running back Chris Thompson in the backfield. Safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams are responsible for the two deep halves of the field, while the linebackers and corners will sit on the 1st down line. This type of defense encourages the quarterback to throw the ball short of the 1st down marker and have the receiver tackled before he can pick up the necessary yards. The safeties do a good job at picking up their coverage responsibilities. Bell will follow the dig route from the number 1 receiver on his side, while Williams will carry the post route from the outside receiver on the other side. This type of communication was an issue earlier in the season and resulted in some big plays from the opposing offense. It’s good to see the little things are getting cleaned up.

On the defensive line, the Saints roll-out their NASCAR package. Cam Jordan is lined up inside, over the B-gap in a 2-point stance with Marcus Davenport also in a 2-point stance to the offense’s left. Alex Okafor and Sheldon Rankins are the two down lineman, lined up in the 7 technique and 4i technique respectively. Pushing Jordan inside and having an extra defensive end in is a good way to get pressure on the quarterback without having to call a blitz, while also dropping 7 into coverage. Jordan and Rankins will attempt to run a twist, but Rankins is unable to penetrate his gap and he and Jordan get pinned inside. Rankins then does a good job of running with Alex Smith when he scrambles out of the pocket. Smith completes the pass but his receiver is tackled well short of the first down marker and the Redskins are forced to punt.

The next play is a good example of how the pressure was able to disrupt Alex Smith for much of the game. The Redskins will run a version of the mesh/half back wheel concept. The mesh concept here is called unders, where the two outside receivers on each side of the field will run shallow crossing routes in order to create a rub in the middle of the field that makes it difficult to defend in man coverage. Marcus Williams and Ken Crawley do a good job at recognizing this and will “switch” the receivers they are covering. Justin Hardee will then drop back into coverage. He does not see the receiver running the dig route behind him come open, but fortunately for the Saints, neither does Smith.

The halfback (Chris Thompson) will run a wheel route out of the backfield that is picked up by Anzalone. This is where Alex Smith looks first, but Davenport does a great job at disrupting the route to throw off the offense’s timing. (The Saints did this with tight ends and running backs all game) Smith will then work his way to the mesh concept in the middle of the field and sees that it is covered. He then looks back to the wheel route and baits Alex Anzalone with his eyes which give Thompson enough space to get open behind him, but at this point, Davenport is collapsing the pocket from the left side and Smith is forced to throw the ball out of the end zone.

These are just two examples that show the defense improving and how the secondary and front seven are working in tandem and seem to be all on the same page.

Tre’Quan Smith

By now, everyone has seen the play that put Drew Brees atop the passing yard record and got Tre’quan Smith his first NFL touchdown. Smith wasn’t done there as he would later score another touchdown in the 3rd quarter.

The Saints will call another four-verticals passing concept, with Taysom Hill running the jet motion that will carry into a swing route. Alvin Kamara will run his go route out of the backfield and Dan Arnold, who got his first NFL game action, is lined up as an inline tight end. Arnold was in on the two other times this play was called and looks to be the new receiving threat from the tight end group. Smith is able to beat the jam by the cornerback with a nice arm over technique and without a safety over the top, gets wide open along the sideline for the 35 yard touchdown.

Tre’Quan Smith was able to step up in the absence of Ginn and appears to be forming good chemistry with Brees, while Smith is able to run the deep routes that Ginn normally does and with this performance he may continue to see an increase in snaps as the season goes forward.