What in the heck happened Sunday night?
They had been the better team most of the year, and the Saints had been squeaking past mediocre teams with close wins. But boy, were we wrong.
NOLA opened a can of whoop-ass on old man Tom Brady and the Bucs, with a 38-3 win, dominating in all phases.
I mean look at these numbers:
Even with two turnovers, and one at the goal line by Jared Cook, it wasn’t even a contest. They had the ball for what felt like pretty much the entire game, pressured Brady at will and didn’t beat themselves with penalties.
So, what caused this dominance? We’ll take an in-depth look at some of the most telling plays from Sunday’s win, as well as some that indicate what could work moving forward.
Offense: Play 1 - Presence of Michael Thomas
Situation: Saints Ball | 2nd and 16 at the NO 44 yard line
Time: 13:21 left in Q2
Score: 14-0 Saints
Result: 21 yard gain
Can’t Guard Mike is back, baby.
Michael Thomas may not have had the biggest day he’s ever had, with five catches for 51 yards, but his presence sure was felt.
On this play, the Saints are Hi-Lo-ing the underneath zone defenders with a shallow drag/hunt route from Thomas and a deeper crosser from Taysom Hill.
Thomas is running the drag route, but is to read and sit in a hole, if its zone. Everyone, including the Bucs, knows that Brees is not shy about dumping this off to MT for a few yards.
Even Lavonte David, one of the very best coverage linebackers in the league over the past few years, bites down on Thomas underneath, as Brees gives an ever-so-slight twitch towards him.
As David, who is a curl/hook defender in zone here, clamps down, it opens the window for Taysom right over the top of him.
The offense’s production wasn’t all about Thomas, but he definitely opened things up for some guys just by being Michael Thomas. And it’s a luxury to have him back.
Offense: Play 2 - Taysom and the power run game
Situation: Saints Ball | 1st and 10 at the TB 13 yard line
Time: 9:25 left in Q2
Score: 21-0 Saints
Result: 12 yard gain
Taysom led the Saints in rushing Sunday night, with 54 yards on a 7.7 yards-per-carry average. Of those yards, 23 came on a scramble. The other 31 mostly came on straight QB Power runs, like here.
I wanted to highlight two particular blocks that helped spring this thing open. First, #74 James Hurst, who had a really nice game on 25 snaps, getting the seal on Devin White from the jumbo right look. Second, the healthy and improved Andrus Peat getting out and mauling safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in space.
The blocking overall was flawless, but those two stuck out in paving the path for Taysom to have a nice gain on a concept the Saints utilized many times.
Taysom has caught some deserved flack over the course of the season, but games like this are perfect to have a powerful runner like him.
If he can keep this up, along with his occasional contributions in the passing game, as a receiver and QB, he just represents yet another weapon in this stacked offense.
Offense: Play 3 - RPO!!!
Situation: Saints Ball | 2nd and 4 at the NO 41 yard line
Time: 13:35 left in Q1
Score: 0-0 Tied
Result: 8 yard gain
This play is more of one that just stuck out for future reference, because the Saints don’t really run many RPO’s (Run, Pass Option) like this.
They’ve always been towards the bottom of the league in RPO usage in general, but even when they do occasionally run them, it’s typically more of a pre-snap read.
This was a straight Joe Brady style, post-snap, 2019 LSU concept. And it may not have looked like much live, but it was awesome.
They call inside zone, as you can tell by the line run blocking, but Brees is reading the safety who’s creeped down on the short side of the field.
He sees him bite down on the run, pulls it and hits MT on the quick out.
This is so exciting, because it’s a simple and effective way to get easy yardage on early downs. We talked last week about how Sean Payton was calling a tad too many run plays on early downs, which were just resulting in too many predictable plays and wasted downs.
But now, if they’re in shotgun, any time they call a run play, they can attach one of these reads to it. Not only can Brees pull it for a quick 5-10 yards occasionally, but if the defender holds, it eliminates another player from the box on the handoff.
Welcome to college football 101, coach Payton.
Defense: Play 1 - Saints Lock-down Coverage???
Situation: Bucs Ball | 2nd and 8 at the TB 4 yard line
Time: 3:01 left in Q1
Score: 7-0 Saints
This play was encouraging, not only because Janoris Jenkins almost picks the ball off after the ball is underthrown, but because the communication between he and Marcus Williams was sound. And he stayed close step-for-step with Antonio Brown because of it.
The Saints look like they’re in a Cover 6 lock look, which means quarters on one half (the half Jackrabbit is on) and Cover 2 to the left, but with Lattimore locked onto Mike Evans. What this basically does is cut off the half of the field Lattimore is on, and it makes it Cover 3 on the the strong side with more receivers.
The Bucs run a Post/Out type of concept, trying to clear out coverage for AB on the post. But they communicate well, Williams clamps down on the shorter routes and Jenkins stays in AB’s hip pocket.
This play is a credit to the entire secondary — Lattimore for playing well enough on Evans to be singled up on him, Williams and Jenkins for knowing what to do and Jenkins again for sticky coverage and a near pick.
This level of play resulted in that trio allowing five catches on 11 targets for 58 yards, two pass breakups and a pick combined in the game, via PFF.
Malcolm Jenkins also played well, limiting yards after the catch on the way to allowing only four catches on seven targets for 16 yards, in addition to a pick.
Hopefully, the secondary can build on that performance.
Defense: Play 2 - Onyemata is monster
Situation: Bucs Ball | 1st and 10 at the TB 25 yard line
Time: 1:49 left in Q2
Score: 31-0 Saints
Result: 10 yard gain
David Onyemata, AKA the Manitoba Mauler (credit Nick Underhill), lived up to that nickname Sunday night.
He might not have had any sacks in the box score, but his eight pressures and four QB hits were felt by TB12. He destroyed the Bucs interior, which was missing Ali Marpet.
On this play, he gets a hold of the right guard with fantastic hand placement and rips him to the ground, as he swims to his outside shoulder and hits Brady.
This play actually resulted in a 10-yard gain by the Bucs, which is interesting, because it shows that even when your D line does its job and gets pressure, the coverage can allow a completion.
The coverage and pass-rush units have to be in unity, as this next play demonstrates — except in inverse.
Defense: Play 3 - Pass Rush picked up the Coverage
Situation: Bucs Ball | 4th and 6 at the NO 38 yard line
Time: 5:04 left in Q2
Score: 28-0 Saints
The Saints bluff pressure from Demario Davis and drop back into a Cover 2 match-ish coverage on 4th down here.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson should stay with AB here, as Davis picks up Gronk, and the safeties (Marcus Williams and P.J. Williams) get sucked down towards where the sticks are.
Brady’s first read isn’t there, and he gets pushed back off of his spot as he tries to get to his second read. At the last second, he looks deep and sees a couple receivers break open, then chunks it.
I put this more on P.J. Williams than anyone, because he bites down on Evans’s dig route, but Lattimore had good coverage. It wasn’t necessary. Then AB and Gronk are free behind him. If he stays put deep, he’s in position to make a play on the ball.
Luckily, the Saints get good pressure with five guys and a stunt between Malcom Brown and Onyemata. Brown gets the initial push on Brady, and Onyemata hits him to affect the throw, resulting in an overthrow.
The pass rush helped the coverage here, but as Deuce Windham points out here, the coverage helped out the pass rush at times, as well.
Sound On— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) November 10, 2020
Some #Saints fans may worry that the defenses; success was because of a dominant DL that covered up for bad secondary play.
Not the case.
Brady had no where to go most plays and made bad decisions due to having "no options". Like in this 2 minute drill INT by MW pic.twitter.com/qGrBiC0R3D
It was a great team effort on defense, in all phases. And they’ll need to continue to improve to have a shot at containing the Chiefs in Week 15.
BONUS PLAY - Trautman cooks Devin White
Situation: Saints Ball | 2nd and 7 at the TB 7 yard line
Time: 0:04 left in Q1
Score: 7-0 Saints
Result: TD Saints
I just wanted to highlight this play because this is what we’ve been waiting for from Adam Trautman all season. And the best part is he did exactly what I was raving about him doing in college — he ran a beautiful route.
The Bucs are in like a Max Cover 3 Goal Line coverage, and Trautman gets singled up on Devin White, who’s been a disaster this year at everything except defending screens and an occasional pass rush, even though broadcaster act like he’s a star — but anyways.
Truatman hits White with the ‘ole Stick N’ Nod route, getting the LB to bite on the fake stick/out route, and he cuts up field for a great catch.
With all the weapons the Saints have, if guys like Trautman can step up like this when need be, they are unstoppable.
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.