Michael Thomas was one of the few bright spots in the defensive debacle we witnessed on Sunday; setting the franchise record for most receptions in a single game with 16. He was consistently able to get open either by play design or by using his elite route running.
He was able to find success outside and in the slot where nine of his receptions came from. Here’s a breakdown of the types of routes he ran.
Michael Thomas 16 rec. vs TB 9/09
|DOWN & DISTANCE||ROUTE||RESULT|
|DOWN & DISTANCE||ROUTE||RESULT|
|1ST & 5||OUT||14 YARDS|
|3RD & 2||PIVOT||11 YARDS|
|2ND & 10||CURL||7 YARDS|
|1ST & 10||DEEP CROSS||35 YARDS|
|2ND & 10||OUT||6 YARDS|
|1ST & 10||10 YARD DIG||5 YARDS*|
|1ST & 10||DRAG||6 YARDS|
|3RD & 1||DIG||6 YARDS TD|
|1ST & 10||OUT||11 YARDS|
|3 & 8||SHALLOW CROSS||5 YARDS|
|1ST & 10||PIVOT||6 YARDS|
|2ND & 4||10 YARD DIG||19 YRADS. FUMBLE|
|2ND & 7||SLANT||6 YARDS|
|1ST & 10||10 YARD DIG||13 YARDS|
|1ST & 10||POST||21 YARDS|
|1ST & 10||SHALOW CROSS||9 YARDS|
His longest reception of the day came at the end of the 1st quarter. The Saints have a 1st and 10 and line up in 20 personnel, with the fullback Line offset. Ginn, Carr, and Thomas are the receivers and Kamara is in the backfield. Carr goes in motion from left to right and is lined up tight to the line. This motion is what helps set up the whole play.
It’s a play-action where Brees will fake the hand off to Kamara to freeze the linebackers. Carr helps sell the run fake by simulating run blocking before releasing into his route. Carr will wait to run his route until Thomas is in front of him, forcing the cornerback to go around the safety who is covering Carr. The rub works and helps give Thomas more space away from his defender.
On the other side Ginn will run a post, taking the cornerback and safety with him. This opens up the left side of the field for Thomas as he comes across the middle and then works up the field for extra yards.
Coach Payton called an excellent play on Thomas’ lone touchdown reception. The Saints come out in 11 personnel with Kamara and Watson and call max protect (Kamara and Watson will pass block). The receivers (Ginn, Thomas, Carr) line up in a trips bunch to the left before Carr goes in motion to the right. The safety on that side comes down to cover him, signaling man coverage. The Bucs show a corner blitz from the offensives left, and Brees now knows he has a good match up on that side.
When playing against a tighter wide receiver alignment, defenders in man coverage will use a first in/first out technique to help prevent rubs. The play call will take advantage of this. Ginn will run what is known as a pivot route; where he will release towards the middle of field, before planting his foot and cutting back to the sideline.
This route exploits the first in/first out technique by getting the inside defender to cheat down to defend Ginn who appears to be breaking inside. Thomas is able to run behind the defender and make an easy catch for the touchdown.
Thomas may not have had many big plays, but it’s the little things he did that made him so effective and able to get open frequently. This play is a great example of some of those little things.
Brees empties the backfield and sends Kamara out wide with Thomas in a reduced alignment. It’s a 3rd down with 2 yards to go. Kamara runs a go which opens up the outside of the field for Thomas on his pivot route. As soon as the defender flips his hips to run with him inside, he plants his foot and cuts towards the sideline, creating good separation to make the catch and finish strong with a stiff arm while picking up the first down.
While he didn’t go up against the best corners the league has to offer and he may not see this many receptions again this season he displayed the skill will make him a match up problem next week again the Cleveland Browns.