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Film Study: How the Saints defense shutout Tom Brady and the Bucs

Is the Saints defense really just Tom Brady’s kryptonite?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Yet again, the New Orleans Saints defense humbled Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in shocking fashion on Sunday night.

The 9-0 shutout of the quarterback who many consider to be the “GOAT” was just another example of the trouble this stacked defense has given him over the past two years.

In the Saints’ five games against the Bucs since Brady came to Tampa, he’s averaged a 60% completion rate, 247.2 passing yards per game and has thrown eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. And obviously, four out of those five have been wins by the Saints largely due to their defense.

In Sunday’s game, Brady completed only 54.2% of his passes and had three turnover-worthy plays, including a fumble when his offense was finally creeping towards the red zone for what would’ve been the first time all night.

But the manner in which the NOLA D prevented the alleged GOAT from scoring in this particular game was truly something to behold, and it was emblematic of how they’ve defended him so well for so long now.

No Easy Stuff

The first and most important factor of how the Saints are able to make things tough on Brady is how they prevent quick and easy completions from being made that get the ball out of his hands early. They play a lot of tight Cover 1 Man, Cover 2 man and some zone out of a lot of two-high looks with ultra-sticky coverage to make him earn every yard gained.

For example, Tom was having a tough time trying to get the ball out of his hands to his running back Leonard Fournette early on because the Saints were doing such a good job of changing looks to make it seem like he was open in the flats.

In the play below, the Saints are in a one-high look pre-snap and will be in Cover 1 Man post-snap. After the ball is snapped, they bring a linebacker on a blitz up the left-side B gap and have Cam Jordan chip Leonard Fournette on the flat pattern.

This causes Tom to hold the ball another split second and gives Demario Davis, who’s responsible for Fournette in man coverage, time to catch up to him and tackle him for a loss.

On the very next play – a third down play – Tom basically tries to do the same thing, except to the other side. The Saints show a double A-gap pressure look and are in Cover 1 Man, and TB12 tries to hit Fournette on a quick flat pattern.

But instead of chipping the running back here, Dennis Allen has Carl Granderson, who’s on the edge to the two-receiver side of the formation, peel off at the last second and cover Fournette.

Brady sees the double A-gap look pre-snap and that neither of the inside linebackers are available to cover Fournette out of the backfield. So, he knows he either has his RB open in the flats or with a defensive lineman guarding him.

But Granderson is so fast to get out there that Fournette has nowhere to go with the ball and it’s now a punt situation.

Plays like these caused Brady to hold on to the ball a bit longer as the game went on, which is typically bad news for him – especially when he’s being pressured the way the Saints were pressuring him.

According to PFF, on drop backs where he got rid of the ball in less than 2.5 seconds, he only averaged 4.6 yards per attempt. However, he didn’t turn the ball over and completed almost 60% of his passes (which, for this game, was good).

Now on drop backs when he held onto it for 2.5 or more seconds, he was 7/16 for 68 yards and a pick (two turnover-worthy plays) and posted a PFF grade of 24.5 on those particular DBs.

So, it’s safe to say that taking away the easy stuff from Brady had a massive impact in this game.

Elite Cover 1 Defense

Part of the “don’t give up any easy stuff” philosophy includes running the right types of coverages that make the QB you’re facing have to force tough throws into tight windows in order to move the ball. One way that has been proven to be able to achieve this – if you have the right personnel – is the Cover 1 Man scheme.

The way the Saints and many other teams typically run this is with one safety up top, man-to-man matchups underneath and a “robber” role roaming the middle of the field.

What it does is force receivers on the outside to either have to make tough catches in between a man corner and the sideline or in between a man defender and the robber defender/deep safety in the middle of the field. And with divider rules for outside corners and switching concepts of man defenders and the robber defender on in-breaking routes, there are so many ways to confuse QBs and make them hesitate for a split second to allow for a rush to get home.

The play below is a perfect example of some of those things coming together in a third-and-long situation.

Out of a two-high look, PJ Williams rotates down to play the robber role and Marcus Williams stays high in a Cover 1 scheme.

The Bucs have Chris Godwin and Mike Evans right next to each other in the slot, and they run a switch concept with Godwin on the inside drag and Evans on the out route.

The way the robber role works in Cover 1 is that the first in-breaking route sometimes creates a “switch” situation where the robber takes the man defender’s receiver, and that man defender now becomes the robber. This happens with Roby and his man (Godwin) here, where PJ comes down to take his guy on the inside drag, as Roby now becomes the robber.

Brady is under pressure and has to get the ball out, so he lets it rip to Godwin and unfortunately gets his receiver hurt on a hospital-type throw that was short of the sticks anyways.

It sucked to see a great young receiver like Godwin get seriously injured on this play, but as far as the execution, it could not have been done better.

In this next example, the Bucs run a play with deep crossing routes against Cover 1 with Marcus Williams back deep and Demario Davis now in the robber role.

Here, Rob Gronkowski is targeted on a deep crosser going towards the right side of the field.

Davis first opens to the strong side of the field and then reads the eyes of Brady and gets in the passing lane for a tip on the throw to Gronk. Brady was also under pressure, which caused him to maybe let it rip a tick early.

This would’ve even been a tough catch for Gronk if it wasn’t tipped by Davis, as Marcus Williams was on his way to thump the big tight end after a potential grab.

Yet again, this is perfect usage of defender keys and a clinic on forcing QBs into tight-window throws. This is how you get Tom Brady to barely complete half of his passes in a game – during a season where he’s completing about 67% of them.

Pressure by Mixing it up

None of the stuff I wrote about above matters if there isn’t pressure on the quarterback. And by golly, did the Saints get plenty of that on TB12 Sunday.

The Saints defense totaled 19 QB pressures, 12 hurries and four sacks on Tommy Boy in the shutout victory. And it was interesting to see how they did it.

On a number of snaps, Tampa’s offensive line just got beat in simple situations to create havoc, incompletions and turnovers.

However, Dennis Allen threw a wrinkle into his gameplan by placing two of his best pass-rushers – Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport – on the same side of the line to overload the Bucs O line in some third-and-long situations.

As you can see below, on a 3rd-and-8, Cam and Dav are both to Brady’s right in two-point stances.

Davenport is able to use his quickness and explosiveness to swim outside of the slower guard Alex Cappa and force Brady out of the pocket. He tries to run, and Cam does the rest.

Cam had four pressures, two sacks and a forced fumble in the game, while Marcus had five pressures, four hurries and a sack.

This next one is maybe my favorite play of the night.

Once again, Cam and Dav are lined up to Brady’s right, this time, Davenport is in the five-tech spot, while Cam is in a two-point stance way off to the side.

Cam being so wide causes the right tackle Tristan Wirfs to slide way outside. Meanwhile, Davenport and David Onyemata run a stunt that results in Davenport taking out two blockers and leaving an open alley for Onyemata to annihilate Brady.

This is such a great use of talent by getting Davenport to create havoc on the stunt and creating space for it to be executed by having Cam so far outside.

Onyemata led the team with seven pressures and added four hurries and a sack.

A defensive effort like this took such an impressive level of execution and talent at all levels of the defense. And to do it against one of the game’s all-time greats just made it that much sweeter.

This defense is a force to be reckoned with. And if the Saints somehow make the playoffs despite an absurd amount of injuries and misfortune this year, the defense will probably be the primary reason why.


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