What a typical New Orleans Saints game Sunday was — as New Orleans faced off with the Detroit Lions — a total flip of emotions within the first quarter of the game, followed by a transformed outlook on the season as a whole.
It couldn’t have started any worse. After losing six key starters to injury and having a COVID case scare, the Saints squad looked like they were content with getting slapped around about five minutes through the first quarter — allowing big third-and-long conversions and turning the ball over on the first offensive snap, leading to a 14-0 deficit early on.
Then, they proceeded to lock in and score 35 unanswered point from that moment on, as Drew Brees channeled his inner Hall-of-Fame accuracy and touch, and backup defensive backs like Patrick Robinson stepped up to the plate with big stops and forced turnovers.
And now they’re back at .500, with a 2-2 record.
There’s a lot to glean from this game.
Tre’Quan Smith continued his emergence as a reliable weapon in the offense, Emmanuel Sanders finally looks to be on the same page as Brees, Cameron Jordan finally made his presence felt as a pass-rusher, etc.
But the first plays we’ll look at are indicative of the game we saw from Breesy Sunday — the game we’ve been waiting for from him all season.
- The moment the game flipped
Okay, these are actually two plays. I couldn’t help but to add both of them here, because they were so encouraging and crucial to this win.
Here’s the first one:
Situation: Saints Ball | 3rd and 12 at NO 49 yard line
Time: 12:44 left in Q2
Score: 14-7 Lions
This was the third-biggest play of the game, in my opinion, and it was only an 8-yard gain.
Brees had just been sacked to bring up 3rd-and-long, and Ryan Ramczyk allows a pressure off the edge. The rusher has a clear shot at Brees.
If he gets sacked here, the drive is done, and momentum is gone. Instead, he somehow eludes the defender as he steps up in the pocket and finds Taysom Hill set up a fourth-and-manageable.
May not seem like a big deal, but it allowed Sean Payton the option to be aggressive and go for it.
THEN, this happened:
Situation: Saints Ball | 4th and 4 at DET 43 yard line
Time: 12:01 left in Q2
Score: 14-7 Lions
On the very next play, Brees catches the Lions D in their favorite look: Cover 1 robber. So they hit them with an Alvin Kamara wheel route off of a couple pick routes.
Tre’Quan Smith’s slant route acts as a pick and forces the slot corner covering Kamara to slightly elude him, leaving Kamara open over the top. Brees then launches a gorgeous floater right into the bread basket for the big gain and first down, to keep the drive going.
This was the play of the game to me. The offense would proceed to tie the game up, and Brees was back to feeling like his old self after that drive.
2. Patrick Robinson stops the bleeding
Situation: Lions Ball | 1st and 10 at NO 11 yard line
Time: 8:38 left in Q2
Score: 14-14 Tied
The Lions run a simple stick concept on this play, and the Saints are in man coverage. After no one is open initially, Stafford rolls out due to there being no pressure.
He signals for his tight end TJ Hockenson, who’s being covered by Patrick Robinson on the flat pattern, to cut upfield. As he does, P-Rob keeps his eyes up as he turns and pick off the slightly underthrown ball.
The Saints defense had been kind of getting torched through the air, whether through big plays or penalties, up to this point. So, this was not only a huge play in the game, but an unexpected one.
The Lions could’ve stopped the Saints run and gone up by a TD here, but instead, Robinson forces the turnover, and the offense is off and running. Huge play.
3. Brees cutting it loose early and often
“Hey, at this time, man, I’m on borrowed time,” Brees said, via ESPN. “I’ve got nothing to lose. So, I’m turning it loose and letting the chips fall where they may.”
It was easy to call BS on this statement Brees made through three games, just based his absurdly-low average depth of target. But he finally came through on this promise in Week 4, with a season-high average depth of target of 9.8 yards.
And his mentality was evident on his second pass of the day.
Situation: Saints Ball | 1st and 10 at the NO 25 yard line
Time: 10:23 left in Q1
Score: 14-0 Lions
On the first play of their second offensive drive, after Brees threw the batted pass INT, they draw up a play action bootleg with a slide flat route underneath and a crosser over the middle of the field, vs a Cover 3 zone look by Detroit.
The linebackers get sucked into the play action, leaving Marquez Callaway open on the crosser.
What’s noteworthy on this play is that Sanders is open on the little flat route underneath, and we all know Brees is a “first completion available” guy.
You can almost see him wanting to check it down to him for a split-second.
But instead of taking this dump-off, he keeps his eyes downfield and delivers an accurate ball for a 16-yard gain.
This was far from the biggest play in this particular game, but it was important to see Brees commit to getting the ball past the sticks on early downs.
Contrary to popular belief, his arm strength was never really the problem in the first three weeks of the season. It was just the unwillingness to use it.
But if we see the same type of aggressiveness we saw from Brees moving forward, I trust his accuracy and decision-making to keep churning out positive plays and productive drives, even against better defenses than this one.
4. Swearinger got lucky
Situation: Lions Ball | 3rd and 12 at the DET 39 yard line
Time: 0:17 left in Q2
Score: 28-14 Saints
D.J. Swearinger saw a good bit of snaps when the Saints went to Dime personnel on defense (6 DBs), with P.J. Williams having to play outside corner today.
And on this play right before the half, he almost really goofed up.
The Saints are in a Quarters look here, and pretty much their only objective is to not give up a big play. But Swearinger gets fooled by Matt Stafford’s eyes as he glances to the right side of the field.
Swearinger wanders down low into his zone because of this, even though everyone over there is covered, allowing the inner slot receiver to run right by him.
Luckily, Stafford steps up in the pocket and overthrows the receiver, and the half is basically over.
But this easily could’ve been a huge, back-breaking play. If he’s going to continue to get playing time back there, he’s got to respect his zone and stay in correct position, because while it didn’t come back to bite them this game, it could next week.
5. Tre’Quan comes up clutch
Situation: Saints Ball | 3rd and 5 at the NO 27 yard line
Time: 3:25 left in Q4
Score: 35-29 Saints
This goes down as my second-biggest play of the game, but an argument could be made that it should be first.
If the Saints don’t convert this, the Lions get the ball, with all the momentum, and a chance to go down and take the lead after just marching down the field.
On this momentous play, the Saints run one of those Drive concepts I talked about in my Pass offense article last week, to Hi-Lo the robber defender in the Lions Cover 1 scheme.
The drag route by Taysom Hill pulls the robber down, and Smith is one-on-one with rookie corner Jeff Okudah on the crossing route behind him.
Smith makes contact with him as he breaks inside, using his inside leverage against him, and gains just a smidge of separation. Brees recognizes this and throws basically a jump pass as he’s being pressure by a stunt, and the ball has enough to get there accurately.
It was a good pass, but TQS still had to bring it in in contested fashion, and boy he held on for dear life. This basically allowed the Saints to just gain one more first down to effectively put the game away.
These are the plays it didn’t seem we would’ve counted on Smith to make in the past. Not only the catch, but to even gain the separation to be in position to make the play.
Not only can we count on him now, but more importantly, it seems like Brees can. And he trusts him in big moments.
With Tre’Quan playing like he is, the weapons on this offense are pretty astounding if everyone is healthy.
Overall, things are looking on the up-and-up on that side of the ball. If they can get more people healthy soon, and is the defense can tighten things up, I wouldn’t rule out one of those classic Saints October/November runs where they barely lose any ball games.
What did you think was the most important play from Sunday? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.