The New Orleans Saints run defense continued its stellar work this past Sunday, holding the Atlanta Falcons to just 70 yards on 21 carries total. By all metrics, the Saints run defense has been one of if not the best run defense in all of football, and while Sunday’s showing wasn’t their top effort of the season, they still did well to stifle the Falcons run game and keep the 50+ game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher alive. That being said, they weren’t faultless, so here’s a look at the good and the bad from the Saints run defense on Sunday.
First, the best play that the run defense made in a tense situation. Saints up by five late in the 4th quarter, they’re defending a 3rd and 2 from their own 13-yard line. Todd Gurley get the ball on an inside zone. His first instinct is to try to hit the A-gap on either side of the center, but David Onyemata’s in the gap already and forces Gurley to cut backside off the left tackle. Falcons’ tight end Hayden Hurst, anticipating Gurley coming across the quarterback on his run, blocks Demario Davis (#56) instead of Carl Granderson (#96), who forces Gurley outside even more, where he runs into a wall of Davis and Chauncey C.J. Ceedy Duce Gardner-Johnson, who stop him in the backfield for a seven-yard loss to set up a 4th-and-9, which the Saints stopped to get the ball back.
The Saints registered one other tackle for loss during Sunday’s game, again run by Todd Gurley off the left tackle. This time, the Falcons run a power concept that gets blown up when Sheldon Rankins beats the left tackle off the line and takes out the pulling guard in the process, leaving Alex Anzalone unblocked to make the tackle in the backfield.
And now, the bad. Credit to Atlanta on this play, they executed their blocking scheme to perfection. On a 1st-and-10 on the Falcons’ penultimate drive, Todd Gurley hits a mack truck-sized hole off the left guard and takes it for 13 yards, the second-longest run of the day for the Falcons. The Falcons linemen do a good job of getting up to the second level on this play and preventing Malcolm Jenkins and Demario Davis from getting into the left B-gap where Gurley runs through, and the result is Gurley getting across midfield at a crucial stage of the game.
Both Malcolm Jenkins and CCJCDGJ get drawn to the right side of the play due to the man coverage that the Saints are running, and because of it, Ito Smith has a wide open hole off the left guard that he can take for an easy 15-yard gain, the longest run of the day for Atlanta. Onyemata is a victim of his own success here, beating the left guard to the inside, which forces Smith outside into that massive gap. Luckily for the Saints, Marcus Williams (?!?) is in place to make the tackle, preventing the touchdown, and the Falcons would eventually be held to a field goal on this drive.
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