Teddy Bridgewater’s first two starts had left something more to be desired. He wasn’t playing horribly or making mistakes, but his lack of confidence in throwing the deep ball hampered the teams ability to move down the field at times. His average depth of target going into week 5 was only 5.2 yards, but he was able to nearly double that against the Buccaneers‘ defense.
The first drive of the second half is a good example of his progression.
The Saints came out in the second half determined to push the ball downfield, taking only three plays to find the end-zone on the opening possession with all 75 yards coming through the air.
The offense will line up in shotgun with 12 personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends) in a 3 x 1 set on first and ten from their 25-yard line. Jared Cook lines up off the line in a tight split with Josh Hill inline to his left. This playcall is a version of four verts where they have Cook running the deep crossing route, typically reserved for Michael Thomas. Instead, Thomas is split out wide and will run a go route.
The Bucs will stay in their base 3-4 defensive package to combat the extra gaps the two tight ends create. They call a cover-3 defense with a “MEG” adjustment to combat the trips formation the Saints are in. MEG means that the cornerback to the single receiver side (top of screen) has the receiver in man to man coverage. This gives Thomas a one-on-one on the outside against cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III who lines up in press coverage.
Off the snap, Thomas is able to beat Hargreaves’s jam and eventually gains vertical leverage after some hand fighting. Bridgewater does a good job of holding the middle safety (#31) in the middle of the field with his eyes and launches the ball for Thomas before he creates the needed separation.
This is a good example of Bridgewater trusting his receiver to track the ball and win a contested catch, something he hasn’t done often in his first two starts.
The next play the Saints will attempt to run it up the middle with Alvin Kamara, but the Buccaneers do a good job of filling all the gaps and stop him for no gain.
Defensive tackles Vita Vea (#50) and Ndamukong Suh (#93) will clog up both A-gaps while the left defensive end (#94) will gap-exchange with linebacker Kevin Minter (#51) on the backside. On the frontside of the play, Armstead is unable to get to the second level in time to block the linebacker (#54) who is then able to fill the B-gap and force Kamara to try to bend the run the other direction but is met by Minter and tackled.
This brings up a second and ten and the coaches will call a deep shot from the Buc’s 33-yard line.
Once again in shotgun, this time with 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end) in a 2 x 2 set with fullback Zach Line split wide to the field (bottom of screen) and Thomas in the slot. Cook and Ted Ginn Jr. are to the boundary (top of screen) with Cook in the slot and Murray to Bridgewater’s left.
To the field side the Saints call a hitch/seam concept that has Line running a hitch route while Thomas attacks the seam with a go route. At the top of the screen, a “scissors” concept is called that consists of Cook running a corner route and Ginn crossing underneath him on a post route.
This concept is effective against a cover-2, and the Bucs will call a variation known as “Tampa-2.” (The defense was developed by Tony Dungy when he was the head coach for Tampa Bay, giving it its name.)
In a Tampa-2 coverage, the middle linebacker will drop back to cover the deep middle area of the field, making it a semi-cover-3 look with four defenders underneath and three deep.
Here, the middle linebacker (#51) will open his hips toward the field side and will be responsible for carrying Thomas’s seam route. The cornerbacks will maintain outside leverage to funnel the receivers inside, but are also responsible for sinking back in to coverage and defending against any corner routes. The safety (#31) Jordan Whitehead is responsible for the post route here, but is baited in by Cook or expected help from the linebacker.
Bridgewater is able to avoid the pass rush by stepping up into the pocket and to his right. He then shows the patience to allow the route to develop even though he had almost ten yards of open grass in front of him, and hits Ginn for his third touchdown pass of the day.
While this drive only needed two passes, it shows that Bridgewater is gaining the confidence to push the ball downfield and trust his receivers and offensive line. We also saw the return of some of the staple plays the offense ran when Brees was starting, demonstrating that the coaches are confident enough to open up the playbook for Bridgewater.
Drew Brees is still without a doubt the best quarterback on this team, but if Bridgewater can continue to perform at a similar level to how he played against Tampa Bay the team should be in great shape by the time number 9 is ready to return.