In what ended up being one of the more thrilling games of the Sean Payton era, the Saints exorcised some personal demons in Seattle with an improbable 33-27 win on Sunday. The Saints played their first competitive game without Drew Brees since 2015 and only 2nd ever in the Brees era. Teddy Bridgewater made his first real start since his horrific leg injury in the summer or 2016. And in a city where the Saints have died every time they make the trip to the rainy Pacific Northwest. CenturyLink Field in Seattle is the scene of a few recent grisly Saints murders including the BeastQuake game, the Colston lateral game, and a dreary Monday night outing in 2013. You wouldn’t have blamed the Saints for taking another loss there this past weekend.
Fortunately, while the game was played under a typical Seattle cloudy sky, lady luck shone brightly on this Saints team. New Orleans produced not one but two non-offensive touchdowns and were aided by the bumbling ineffectiveness of the Seattle coaching staff. Pete Carroll erred on a 4th down call, an extra point and a timeout decision at the end of the first half, that cost the Seahawks points. The Saints would gladly take it, of course.
The question is how often will an opposing NFL team give you a free win. How often can you win a football game while being outgained by 250 yards? The defense did play reasonable well as some of those gaudy Seahawks yards did come in what amounted to a garbage time drive but the offense was another story.
Last week, I outlined how I thought Sean Payton could morph the Drew Brees offense into the Teddy Bridgewater offense. Coach Payton did a few of those things (mainly his usage of the alien, Alvin Kamara) but still fell short in creating easy short throws and explosive big throws for his new quarterback.
I am not writing that to let Teddy off the hook. He was bad, there’s no other way to say it. His 3.3 average intended air yards is the 4th lowest in the NFL since Next Gen Stats began tracking it. Ironically, the lowest in the past 4 seasons is Brees’ outing against the Vikings last year. The difference is that Brees’ bad showing last year is an outlier in a career that will make him a Hall of Famer. With Bridgewater, this is probably closer to who he is. Even in his Pro Bowl season of 2015, he finished 21st in the league in Average Net Yards per Attempt. That’s not good.
We’ll get to the backup quarterback’s inspired (because of his personal injury history) and not so inspired (because of his on the field play) game later. First, Payton.
As noted, Payton’s usage of Kamara was excellent. He didn’t just slam him into the line on designed runs, he used him all over the field and created opportunities for him in the screen game as well. This might have been Kamara’s most important game as a Saint. However, a stubborn Sean Payton did not turn to the RPO game for his inexperienced quarterback. The word on the street that I’ve gotten is that Payton and the staff don’t believe in them. This has proven to be more than a fine strategy over the years with Drew Brees at the helm but probably not the best idea with Bridgewater. The short passing game was not great on the weekend. If Payton can create a window for a slant to come through where Bridgewater only has to read 1 defender, that’s a win. Michael Thomas is an expert slant runner and installing RPO’s in practice is cheap and easy.
Furthermore, the offense only really attempted 1 hard play action shot. With Teddy’s livelier arm and Ted Ginn Jr.’s timeless speed, play action posts and corner routes down the field could help create much needed explosive plays. The Saints offense created few explosive plays. Payton did call some deeper shot plays but it from a normal dropback set. The play action aspect allows receivers to run into bigger windows when the defenders fall for the trick. Play action works and the Saints didn’t use it enough.
I also wrote last week that all of these “gimmicks” wouldn’t really matter unless the quarterback was able to keep drives going by hitting intermediate routes. These type of concepts proved to be a hard ask for Bridgewater and it’s why the Saints passing game amassed only 177 yards.
Against the Seahawks Cover 2 defense (RIP the Legion of Boom), Payton cooked up a really nice concept that put the weakside hook defender in a bind.
When Bridgewater hits the last step of his drop, he should be seeing both inside linebackers play shallow. Jared Cook runs right behind them as Austin Carr creates the hi/lo on that weakside hook player. Teddy doesn’t look there.
Next is another concept where ultimately Payton again put the weakside linebacker in a bind. This time it was through the Saints double seams + follow concept
When the Seahawks split into cover 2, Teddy does not want to throw the field side seam route. That’s fine. He should then get his eyes to Jared Cook running the over route to find him in vacated space between the deep safety, the weak linebacker and the flat corner. No throw.
Sean Payton then created a version of the Post-Wheel concept for this game where he had Thomas run a go route with Kamara following on the wheel. Essentially it’s a hi/lo on the cornerback who ends up squatting in the flat (the ‘hawks are playing Cover 2 again). With how far deep and inside the safety to that side is playing, there is tremendous room to hit Thomas as he runs by him.
Even on simple plays near the goal line, Teddy refused to pull the trigger. Payton gets Austin Carr open on the fake block and release but there is no throw.
Hard to find a reason not to throw the ball. Carr is beating the corner above and outside. Just lob it to the back pylon.
Even when Teddy was able to find and throw to open receivers, his accuracy was not great.
Above Teddy goes through his progressions to find Ginn who he overthrows. It’s a good job going from the curl flat concept on top to Cook on the spot route only to then find Ginn all the way across the field but his throw let’s him down.
Even his best completion of day forced Thomas to climb the ladder. The Saints are running “Post-Wheel-Sail” a very nice concept. The post and wheel are covered by the safety and cornerback who both falls off. The underneath defenders play low on Kamara’s flat route to open up space for Thomas’ sail route. Throw is high but catchable.
There was also a comeback route to Thomas that the quarterback overthrew (albeit with a guy in his face) and an option slant route that was high to Thomas who came down with the catch.
The back shoulder seam that Jared Cook dropped is also interesting. Certainly, Cook should catch the ball, I won’t argue otherwise. The ball, however, should be higher. On backshoulder throws you want the ball at the receivers face mask.
The potential game changing interception that KJ Wright dropped is on the Saints Weakside Option concept:
Once the Mike linebacker, Bobby Wagner, opens to the 3 receiver side, Bridgewater should immediately move his eyes to Kamara and Thomas on the weakside. Instead, he waits til the end of his drop to flip his hips to the right side takes a slight reset step and then throws late to Thomas.
Overall, I have come off the ledge a little bit when it comes to Bridgewater’s proficiency playing quarterback. He understands the reads and knows how to go through them. He can set his feet properly for each route and isn’t afraid to stand around in the pocket while he does it. The issue, again, is him not trusting that anyone is open in the 10 to 20 yard range. He sees it but he doesn’t throw it. His process for determining what is open is off and he’s had trouble throwing accurately to receivers. Teddy really just has to let it go at least once in a while. There’s a big prime time performance in there somewhere and I hope he can find it in time for Sunday night.
If the Saints offense produces another measly 250 yard performance against Dallas, it will be tough to win. There are scenarios, like in the Seahawks game, where the Saints could find other ways to win but it’s unlikely.