There has been a clear demise in the New Orleans Saints passing defense so far in 2020. Deep shots. Long passes connecting either by way or miscommunication or simply getting beat by the man across from them at the line of scrimmage, they were the downfall early in the season for Dennis Allen’s men. However, during the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, snapping a 9-game win streak in the process, it wasn’t the deep shots that destroyed the Saints defense, it was the mobility and proficiency against the blitz from new Eagles starting quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Per Pro Football Focus, Jalen Hurts was blitzed on 13 of 34 dropbacks on Sunday (which makes 21 dropbacks where he wasn’t for those less mathematically-inclined). Hurts responded with going 7-10 against the blitz for 88 yards and his lone touchdown, which is the best example about how Hurts beat the Saints’ blitz.
On this 4th and 2 early in the second quarter, the Saints rush six and deploy Cover 0, leaving the other five members of the Saints defense one-on-one with their assigned man. This leaves the Saints with a free rusher, Kwon Alexander, coming off the left tackle with a free shot at Jalen Hurts. Hurts sees the blitz coming and throws one up to Alshon Jeffery right before Alexander gets home. Then, in the year of our lord 2020, Marshon Lattimore gets beat by Jeffery, for Jeffery’s 3rd catch of the season and first touchdown, and the Eagles take the lead that lasts them the rest of the game. (For the record, this pass only gets made if Hurts is playing. Wentz curls up into a ball and takes the sack the moment he sees Alexander running free).
gonna avoid the AK and terron armstead discourse and instead drop in to say that marshon lattimore's given up more touchdowns this season (6) than the first three years of his career combined (5)— Matthew Terry (@MatthewGTerry) December 14, 2020
This play is less on Hurts’ ability against the blitz and more on the Saints not being able to get past the Eagles’ offensive line on said blitz. With no pressure on the quarterback, Hurts is able to sit back and watch as Greg Ward sits wide open in the middle of the field for an easy 14-yard gain. (For an added bonus, watch Kwon Alexander get completely confused on this play and end up running a seam route to no one).
Hurts dinked and dunked the Saints all over the field, only completing two passes that went 10+ air yards (both plays linked above), and didn’t complete a pass 20+ yards downfield. This Sunday the Saints will face a wildly different opponent in the transcendent Patrick Mahomes. The reigning Super Bowl MVP already has an argument for the best quarterback in the NFL and is one of the most exciting players in the sport, and the Saints defense will need to play their best game of the season to beat him, and the way to do that is to get pressure on him. Mahomes is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt when pressured compared to 8.7 when not and his passer rating drops from 123.2 to 85.2 when pressured. That being said, blitzing Mahomes isn’t the strategy either. Mahomes averages 9.5 yards per attempt when blitzed and his completion percentage actually rises from 71.8% to 67.4% when blitzed. The Saints will have to rely on their defensive line to get pressure on Mahomes while keeping the majority of their linebackers and secondary in coverage. With the Chiefs’ two starting tackles both an injury doubt, this might not be as tough as advertised, but there is nothing easy about stopping Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
And let’s just collectively agree to close our eyes and not watch when Marshon Lattimore has to cover Tyreek Hill.
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