For whatever reason, Tom Brady — the quarterback many in the football community believe is the best of all time — has a really tough time against the New Orleans Saints defense.
Oh wait, I know why. It’s because the Saints defense is awesome.
In yet another representation of dominance over the future Hall-of-Fame QB in Tampa Bay, the Dennis Allen-led unit flexed its muscles, forcing Brady into three turnovers.
And while TB12 did produce for a lot of the game with 375 passing yards and 4 touchdown passes, this just yet again goes to show that the Saints’ combination of pressure and coverage savvy forces him into making decisions that he just usually wouldn’t make.
CLARIFICATION: In 3 games vs. the Saints in the 2020 & 2021 regular seasons, Tom Brady has 7 interceptions in 114 attempts, 1 in every 16.2 attempts.— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) November 1, 2021
In 21 games against the rest of the NFL in that same span, Brady has 10 interceptions in 839 attempts, 1 in every 83.9 attempts.
Last year, it was often the Saints’ pass rush that was the primary factor in Tom’s struggles. And while they definitely played a part this past Sunday as well, all three of Tom’s turnovers were primarily due to exquisite coverage from the NOLA secondary.
Even the first one, which was a fumble:
So pre-snap, the Saints are in a unique, 3-level type of Cover 1 coverage on third and six.
They only rush three, are manned up across the board and have Marcus Williams deep, with Demario Davis standing at the sticks watching Tom Brady’s eyes.
What’s interesting is P.J. Williams is kind of in between Davis and Williams. I’m not sure if he’s providing support on Mike Evans for any possible in-breaking route or if he’s just generally trying to prevent any throws to the intermediate level of the field in the “Robber” role.
But nonetheless, like in any Cover 1 scheme, the defense is trying to eliminate any throws over the middle of the field and force the QB to throw an accurate pass outside the numbers while the DBs are in outside leverage.
Now, remembering divider leverage, the corners on the outside are supposed to keep outside leverage on receivers if they’re inside the numbers — because they have help inside.
And this makes for a very difficult time finding open receivers.
Brady first looks Chris Godwin’s way on the post to the left, before progressing to his right, only to see that Marshon has Evans pinned while he tries to run an out route.
As Tom pulls the ball back when seeing no one is open, this gives the rush time to get home and make the play.
Like any good pass defense, the Saints coverage and pass rush units work well together to make opportunities like this possible. And it’s always great to see Cam Jordan make a great play like this.
The next one was a much-needed play by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who’d been getting cooked by Chris Godwin all game.
As you can see by the pre-snap shot, the Saints are again in Cover 1, except they rush five this time. Tampa is trying to run a post-out concept to the trips side and hit Godwin on the out.
The pass rush gets in Brady’s face a bit and forces him to get rid of the rock maybe a tick early.
CJGJ is actually not even covering the targeted receiver. He’s manned up with Tyler Johnson, the #2 receiver in the formation.
However, he somewhat stones Johnson in his tracks and is able to get his eyes on the QB just as he is about to release the ball.
Gardner-Johnson makes a hell of a read and audaciously peels off of his man and right in front of Godwin for the interception.
Even though he overall had a tough game in coverage, this is a play you have to be a straight-up baller to make. These are the types of plays that you get called out for in film sessions if you don’t make them, so you have to have supreme confidence to come off of your assignment and shock the opposing quarterback for a play like this.
And say what you will about Chauncey, but we all know he doesn’t lack confidence at all.
This was an absolute game-changer before the end of the first half, and I’d go as far to say the Saints probably don’t win this game if this turnover isn’t forced.
I feel like this play symbolized a lot of what has made this Saints team a great one over the past four and a half years. This defense displays depth, sound schematics, fantastic execution and an ability to step up in big moments on this turnover that sealed the Bucs’ fate in this game.
Dennis Allen deploys one of his favorite coverages on this play — Cover 2 Man — of which the Saints probably run more than any other defense in the league, and they do it well.
The objective is to cap the deep level of the field and trail the receiver with whoever is in Man coverage to force a tight-window throw that isn’t being made downfield.
To execute this to perfection, you have to really trust your safeties’ eyes and instincts, and you have to have corners with speed. Luckily for Sean Payton and Allen, they have both.
The Bucs are going to try to run crossers with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in the middle of the field, hoping Godwin can once again beat CJGJ and be open underneath the deep safety.
But what Brady seems to not realize is that the safety on that side (P.J. Williams) doesn’t have any other receivers to account for on the weak side. So he can creep up a bit when he sees Godwin’s crosser approaching.
TB12 doesn’t even account for the fact that Williams is sliding up, and he possibly could’ve expected Godwin to cut off his route to the side a bit sharper. But he let’s it rip when he sees Godwin has Gardner-Johnson beat, and P.J. makes him realize that he was in fact reading it the whole time.
To have a guy like P.J. Williams, who isn’t a starter and has historically had his struggles in coverage, be able to make this play is a testament to the coaching and depth on this absurdly good and consistent defense.
They’re singlehandedly keeping this team afloat, and are probably the biggest reason that despite numerous key offensive injuries, the Saints are in great position to make a fifth-straight trip to the playoffs.
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