Ted Ginn’s return to the lineup helped open up the playbook for Sean Payton’s offense, and it could benefit the team tremendously in the postseason. Missing in previous weeks was a receiver who could stretch the defense vertically.
Having to respect his speed, the Steelers used off-coverage on Ginn for most of the game and he was able to take advantage of this to the tune of five receptions for 74 yards and a key fourth quarter first down.
On a 2nd and 5, the Saints call a play that will take advantage of the off-coverage Pittsburgh used on Ginn. The offense lines up in shotgun formation and 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end), and will call a “hank concept”. This is a a three route combination that will have Ginn run a curl route, Benjamin Watson will run a sit route, and Josh Hill, lined up as an H-back, will run to the flat. This creates two reads for the quarterback. Hill and Ginn will be a high-low read, which aims to put a flat defender in conflict. The sit by Watson and Ginn’s curl will create a vertical read for Drew Brees.
Typically, the tight end (Watson here) is the first read, but due to the off-coverage by the corner back covering Ginn , the curl route comes open and Brees will hit Ginn for the first down.
Ginn’s third reception of the game showed that he and Drew Brees are still on the same page, even though Ginn had not played since Week 4. The play call is a type of smash-concept known as “wolf”. Similar to a traditional smash concept that creates a high-low read for the quarterback with a corner route form the inside and a hitch route from the outside receiver. The wolf concept will instead have the outside receiver (Ginn in this play) run a 10 to 12-yard out route.
The timing of this play is key, and it will be a three-step drop for Brees. At the snap, Brees will receive the ball and take one explosive or wide step backwards, followed by two quick steps. These steps must be the same length each time so the receiver and quarterback are on the same page. On his third step, Brees will plant his back foot and throw the ball before Ginn is even out of his break or looking up to make the catch. Because of the timing, the ball and Ginn will arrive at the same spot at the same time, allowing the receiver to haul in the catch a yard shy of the first down marker.
The last reception Ginn made turned out to be one of the more critical plays in the game. Facing a 3rd and 20 after a dropped pass by Keith Kirkwood, the offense will lineup in shotgun with trips (three receivers) to the right. The play call is a “dagger concept” that features an outside receiver (Ginn) running a dig route, the slot receiver (Kirkwood) will run a go route, and Thomas lined up as the X receiver will run a drag route. The tight end Josh Hill will run a seam route and bend it inside towards the opposite side of the field.
Kirkwood’s purpose on the go-route is to clear out the middle of the field and occupy one of the deep safeties, while Hill will occupy the other safety on his seam route. With the safeties occupied the play is now a high-low read between Thomas and Kirkwood that puts the middle linebacker in conflict. Here, the linebacker will come down to defend the drag by Thomas which opens up a throwing lane for Ginn. He makes the catch and immediately turns up field to ensure he picks up the first down.
Ginn’s speed adds another dimension to this offense that helps open up the entire playbook. Getting him back just in time for the playoffs will prove to be crucial as he also brings veteran leadership to the young wide receivers corp.