Teams have tried everything against the New Orleans Saints run defense so far in 2020. Teams have tried running up the middle, which was always an abject failure. Teams tried running it to the outside, which worked at first but has been less dependable of late. The Denver Broncos tried both of those and more on Sunday, but they also broke out a series of direct snaps to Royce Freeman. With the Broncos being forced to turn to practice wide receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback due to various COVID-19 issues, one of the ways Vic Fangio tried to remedy this was having Freeman lined up at quarterback for a few snaps and basically playing the wildcat game.
Royce Freeman took seven direct snaps in the game on Sunday to the tune of 46 yards and 6.6 yards per carry, giving a normally stout Saints run defense real problems (though, to be fair, a few of these carries came towards the end of the Saints’ 31-3 blowout victory). While Denver’s offense was mostly stagnant and unproductive throughout the entire game, Freeman succeeded on these runs through a mix of elusiveness and the extra blocker that comes naturally with quarterback runs.
The Broncos shied away from the wildcat runs early in the game, but with the Broncos down 24-6 they gave Freeman the ball more and he stepped up to the task. It takes a special kind of move to make Demario Davis look silly, but that’s exactly what Freeman does on this spin move to turn a sure tackle for loss into a seven-yard gain.
With the game well out of reach in the 4th quarter, the Broncos gave the ball to Freeman again on the direct snap. With a run that was designed to go to the right, the Saints defense had it read to perfection, forcing Freeman to cut back in order to make something out of the run. Rookie linebacker Zack Baun loses outside contain on the backside, over-pursuing to the inside and allowing Freeman to bounce to the outside for a 23-yard garbage time run.
It’s hard to find faults at this point in the season with how the Saints run defense has played. Now fifty-odd games without allowing a 100+ yard rusher, Pro Football Focus’s top graded run defense in the NFL has allowed just 3.31 yards per rushing play, good for second-least in the NFL. Don’t get it wrong, the run defense is the strength of this team and should be a key reason to any potential playoff success come January
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