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Saints Film Room: Defense steps up on third down

The defense may have given up 515 yards to the Seahawks but were able to get off the field on third downs

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The scoreboard may have indicated a close game that came down to the wire, but in fact the Saints had this game wrapped up half way through the fourth quarter. While the defense did give up over 500 yards of total offense they were able to step up when it counted most on third downs.

The team limited the Seahawks to converting only 35.7% of their third downs, ultimately going 5 of 14 on the day.


1 13:08 3RD & 13 SEA 22 - 2 yards
1 10:53 3RD & 9 SEA 26 29 yards
1 9:29 3RD & 14 NO 49 10 yards
1 4:36 3RD & 5 NO 27 32 yards
2 13:42 3RD & 1 SEA 11 2 yards
2 11:56 3RD & 4 SEA 19 2 yards
2 5:26 3RD & 10 SEA 32 18 yards
2 3:21 3RD & 1 NO 41 no gain
3 6:09 3RD & 6 SEA 30 incomplete
3 3:36 3RD & 6 NO 14 1 yard
4 13:28 3RD & 3 NO 28 incomplete
4 10:27 3RD & 2 SEA 27 1 yard
4 3:03 3RD & 2 NO 14 6 yards
4 0:17 3RD & 5 NO 13 incomplete
-Successful conversions in bold

One way to make third downs more manageable is to keep the offense off schedule and prevent them from getting into third and short situations (1-3 yards). Of the 15 attempts, only four were 3 yards or less.

An issue that did arise was Russell Wilson’s ability to extend plays with his feet as well as his scrambling ability. Wilson was able to pick up 51 yards on seven rushes including two touchdowns.

However, the defense did a solid job at preventing him from scrambling on third downs only allowing him to convert one time on a pass play.

Quarter 2 5:26 3rd and 10

Wilson’s successful scramble came in the second quarter on a third and ten.

The Saints come out in their nickel defense and initially show a cover-2 look, but the call is actually a cover-3 robber. P.J. Williams will match the vertical route by Tyler Lockett in the slot and linebacker A.J. Klein carries the running back to the flat.

The “robber” comes from the safety Vonn Bell (bottom of screen, between 45 and 50 yard line) who drops down to defend the hook zone right around the first down marker. Here he can help defend the seam and should be in position to drive on any checkdowns.

The Saints will rush four and have Trey Hendrickson and David Onyemata run a twist “stunt” that the offensive line does a good job of picking up. This opens up a running lane for Wilson and he doesn’t hesitate to take off. Bell is in a position to make a play, but doesn’t take the right angle and Wilson picks up the first down and an extra eight yards.

This will be the only third down where Wilson is able to pull this off. The Saints prevented this by containing him in the pocket and also putting a “spy” on him later in the game.

When you put a spy on a quarterback, you essentially have a defender playing man coverage on him.

The spy, typically played by a linebacker or athletic defensive end, will attempt to mirror the quarterback’s movements and prevent any lanes for the quarterback to scramble through. Against the Seahawks the Saints used defensive end Marcus Davenport as a spy on multiple occasions.

Quarter 3 6:09 3rd and 6

Later in the third quarter the Seahawks face a third and six from their own 30 yard line. They will roll out with 11 personnel and will send Lockett in motion to create a bunch formation to the left. The defense is playing man to man, with bracket coverage on Lockett and one deep safety (Cover 1). Linebackers A.J. Klein and Demario Davis will have the running back and tight end in coverage, respectively, but have a “green dog” call. This means that if the man they are responsible with covering stays in to block they will rush the quarterback.

Davenport will be playing the spy here and defensive ends Jordan and Hendrickson will be responsible for containing Wilson by using a wide speed rush that will prevent the quarterback from leaving the pocket.

The secondary does a great job at covering all the receivers, and you can see in the second part of the clip Wilson look side to side to see if he has any room to run. Stuck in the pocket his only option is to air it out for Lockett and nearly has it picked off by Bell.

Quarter 2 13:42 3rd and 1

Much like Payton will use backup quarterback Taysom Hill, the Seahawks also have the zone read in their playbook for Wilson. The zone read is a running play where the quarterback will make a “read” and decide to either hand the ball off to the running back or keep it himself and run. Saints fan are accustomed to seeing Hill do this with Kamara.

Wilson will “read” defensive end Trey Hendrickson (#91, left of screen)—who is purposely left unblocked— as he rides the “mesh-point” (where running back and quarterback meet). Based on how Hendrickson reacts, he will decide either to hand the ball off or pull it and run the opposite direction.

If Hendrickson “crashes” and attempts to tackle the running back Wilson should keep the ball and run. But the defensive end will “slow-play” the quarterback through the mesh point, meaning that he will shuffle laterally along the line of scrimmage in an attempt to defend against both the quarterback and running back. Unfortunately, Hendrickson squeezes too tight to the formation which opens up a lane for Wilson. With a block from his tight end he’s able to get two yards and the first down.

The defense did just enough this past week to prevent many big plays and contain a dangerous, mobile quarterback. They’ll have to play better this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, who under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore boast an explosive offense that currently ranks third in total offensive output at 481.3 yards per game.