When it rains, it pours. The New Orleans Saints streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher for 55 games came to an end on the same day that the Saints’ 9-game winning streak was broken by the Philadelphia Eagles. It wasn’t just one rusher that broke the Saints streak either, it was a pair of Eagles players, in the form of running back Miles Sanders, who got 82 of his 115 rushing yards on one carry, and by quarterback Jalen Hurts, who got 50 of his 106 rushing yards on scrambles. Instead of mourning the streak, let’s look at the main cause of its untimely demise.
Well, we can point at the obvious of Malcolm Jenkins missing his tackle about 15 yards downfield, but this entire play is on Kwon Alexander. Sanders hits the left A-gap off the center’s left hip which is left wide open by Alexander, whose eyes light up when he sees the backside B-gap (between guard and tackle) open up. This leads to him being behind Sanders and unable to catch up to him and his gap is wiiiiiiiiiiiide open for Sanders to run unopposed until he gets past Malcolm Jenkins and then hits paydirt. This is very avoidable if Alexander stays in his gap and fills it, which would either put him in position to make the tackle, or force Sanders to cut backside into the waiting arms of either Cameron Jordan, who fills the gap Aleanders jumps into, or Demario Davis, unblocked.
The gif isn’t even totally necessary to see what went wrong, we can piece it together with a pair of screenshots (for your own sanity, these are not videos. Do not hit the play button in the center of the picture. If you hit the play button expecting things to happen, that’s on you. Don’t do that.)
As much of a cop out it is to disregard the obvious worst play that the Saints run defense had all game, it’s enough to point out that, without this run, Sanders finishes with 33 yards on 13 carries for 2.5 yards per carry. A bad running day made great by some horrific gap discipline from the Saints defense, and the end result is the Saints’ 55-game, 100-yard rusher streak fading away.
As for Jalen Hurts’s contribution to the Lesnar-ing of this streak, half of his damage came on scrambles, which are a little harder to quantify just where things went wrong. Normally, scrambles are the result of good coverage but a lack of pressure, or pressure but an inability to close out the play.
In this example, the Saints show tight man-to-man coverage on this Cover 1 look, leaving no open receivers and giving Hurts no option but to tuck and run when Kwon Alexander gets into the pocket. Unfortunately for the Saints, with Miles Sanders’s backfield route taking him to the sideline and a lack of short routes for the Eagles, it means that the middle of the field is wide open for Hurts to take this play 16 yards.
Here, we see the Eagles run a read option with Trey Hendrickson as the read man, and as he dips inside a little too far to make sure he’s able to make a play on Miles Sanders, Hurts sees this, takes the ball himself and goes for 15 yards. This is an example as to why having a mobile quarterback, or at least one who can contribute into the run game, provides the offense with a massive advantage. Even if Hurts hands this ball off, having that treat of the quarterback running turns the play from 10v11 in favor of the defense into 11v11. Going back to the long Sanders touchdown run later, we see Demario Davis have to stop and read Hurts instead of being able to instantly attempt to charge down Sanders.
The Saints run defense will have a good chance to right the ship against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, who boast Pro Football Focus’s 19th ranked run offense. Then again, that won’t quite matter is Patrick Mahomes throws for 500 yards, which he is very well likely to do.
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