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Film Study: Was the Saints secondary good, or was Nick Mullens that bad?

Both!

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The beginning of Sunday’s game looked like a New Orleans Saints secondary that had shown drastic improvement in the win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the week prior. Facing off at home against a horrifically injured San Francisco 49ers squad that was starting fourth-year Nick Mullens at quarterback, this game had all the makings of either a repeat of the thrashing that occurred the week before or a massive letdown.

At the start, it looked like the former, as Mullens led the 49ers on a 13-play, 60-yard drive that spanned nearly half of the first quarter and ended with a 4-yard pass to Brandon Aiyuk to give San Francisco a 7-0 lead over the NFC South leaders.

The thing about that opening drive is that the Saints defense didn’t even succumb to their normal vices. Blown coverages, missed assignments and 50-yard passes to wide open receivers. Instead it was a long, slow, death-by-papercut drive where only two of the plays went for more than 10 yards (both were passes to the aforementioned Aiyuk). However while there wasn’t anything egregiously wrong with the Saints secondary on either of those plays, instead let’s watch Marshon Lattimore get woefully destroyed by pre-snap motion and one unfortunately placemed Janoris Jenkins for Aiyuk’s touchdown.

That would go on to be the only touchdown allowed by the Saints all day, and while Nick Mullens was able to make some nice passes during this game to help out his team, he also was his own undoing. With the score 17-10 in favor of the black and gold, Mullens faced a 3rd and 12 in field goal range. While a touchdown was obviously what the Niners needed in this situation, still early in the 3rd quarter a field goal wasn’t the worst-case scenario. Instead, the worst-case scenario was this.

First, Malcolm Jenkins is hiding behind the line of scrimmage at the snap before dropping back into coverage, so it’s likely Mullens didn’t anticipate him being in the exact spot Mullens was planning to throw the ball before the snap. Mullens’s eyes are on intended receiver Brandon Aiyuk the entire way, and Jenkins is smart enough to see that and not overcommit to Aiyuk’s side. Jenkins just slowly creeps over until Mullens makes the throw, and by that time Jenkins is in the perfect position to intercept the pass and give Drew Brees Taymeis the ball.

Lastly, some may be wondering how newest Saints acquisition Kwon Alexander did in coverage against his old team. Let’s take a look.

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Alexander was targeted four times on Sunday, allowing four catches for 32 yards. Not a great debut, and at least at the start it’s easy to see why the Niners were willing to give up on him, however it’s still just one game.


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