The Saints offense spent another year hovering in the top 5 in a litany of statistical categories. Yet I can’t shake the feeling, especially during the little dip in productivity near the end of the season, that there was something or someone missing.
That feeling was the lack of reliable play from a 3rd receiving option with Ted Ginn Jr. out for most of the year. I almost feel guilty thinking this way. Michael Thomas is arguably the best receiver in the league and Alvin Kamara is one of maybe 3 running backs who actually move the needle for his teams offense. The problem is that, even with Ginn at full health, the Saints were devoid of playmaking from the intermediate parts of the field to compliment Thomas.
With the free agent acquisition of tight end Jared Cook, the Saints might not only have secured another intermediate threat but another superb playmaker all over the field.
The tight end position was lacking in 2018 with Ben Watson at the end of his career, although he still gave the Saints a lot of meaningful snaps, Josh Hill, more of a blocker than a dynamic pass catcher, and the enigmatic yet super athletic Dan Arnold. Cook ends whatever tight end problem the Saints had in a hurry.
Even with the lack of high end talent, Brees still targeted the position roughly 100 times last season. The two most common routes were the Stick route and the Seam route. Projecting Jared Cook running those routes is very interesting.
The Stick is one of the most common targeted routes in the NFL. Run by an inside receiver, the route takes the receiver 5-6 yards up field (sometimes deeper) before it turns either to an out route versus man coverage or an outside hook route versus zone coverage. As part of the concept, another receiver will run his pattern to the flat part of the defense in order to create a horizontal stretch on an underneath defender. If that player stays on the stick route, the quarterback throws to the flat and vice versa.
Because of Brees’ tremendous accuracy and ability to read defenses, the Saints are excellent at this quick hitting concept. It shows up on film a lot when looking at the tight end group.
Often paired on the backside of an Alvin Kamara/Michael Thomas combination, Brees will read the middle linebacker and throw to the opposite side of him.
We have a few examples of Cook being targeted on stick type routes in Oakland last year. With his big body, he can shield off Sam linebackers as he gets outside leverage on them. He does this here against Cleveland:
Cook is generally a mismatch on linebackers which will force defenses to get creative in how they play the Saints when Cook is in the strong side slot and Kamara + Thomas are on the weak side together. Pick your poison.
The Stick route and concept is a designed to get easy completions and the Saints get a lot out of it.
The route that the Saints call for explosive plays is the Seam route.
Even after watching every single game in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, I can’t quite put my finger on the one thing that this great offense will give to future offenses. It’s hard for teams to replicate Drew Brees’ incredible accuracy and his ability to throw in the seams remains unmatched.
the greatest seam thrower of our lifetime pic.twitter.com/qkDGGTq8cX— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) May 6, 2019
More than the receiver group, Brees tends to target tight ends in the seam a lot. In the olden days, Marques Colston was a favorite target in the seam but now the seams are usually manned only by the tight ends.
With how much NFL defenses play 1 safety zone coverages (Cover 3), throwing in the seams will remain a viable threat for the Saints.
Payton will call his double seams concept and let Brees go to work looking off the safety and then delivering pin point balls into the voided triangle between the underneath defenders, the safety and cornerback.
Where Cook comes in is when the coverage is either Cover 1 (man coverage) or Cover 3 Match (zone that turns into man coverage against double seams). With sticky coverage, we could see the return of the back shoulder seam throw, a Brees special when Jimmy Graham was on the team.
Besides Sticks and Seams, Brees targeted his tight ends on deep crossing routes, deep out routes and Josh Hill caught some screen passes. Cook can run all these type of routes and we have examples, again, from the Raiders.
Deep Cross -
Screen (note: Josh Hill ran classic screens out of the backfield for the Saints, this is more of a receiver screen) -
In Oakland, Cook was used as a true number 1 receiver. The role he fills for the Saints will be interesting. Will they slot him like any other tight end to run Sticks, Seams and Crossers or will Payton get creative and use him as a pseudo X receiver alongside Michael Thomas.
The Raiders ISO’d Cook to run slants and fade routes often. He was pretty deadly on both routes, especially slants where he was targeted 7 times for 5 catches and 2 touchdowns with 108 yards according to SIS
And the sluggo:
Those are the clips of a real number 1 receiver. You wouldn’t want to take those routes away from Cook but the guy who runs those patterns for the Saints right now is...
This is a great problem for Sean Payton and Drew Brees to have. The addition of Cook rounds out the Saints receiving corps and will keep the offense humming along. A team with an elite quarterback, the best pass catching running back in the league, 2 legit #1 receivers and a savvy speed freak will be tough for any defense to handle.