The All-22: Saints Review & Seahawks Preview

Jonathan Ferrey

Some notes on the Saints victory over the Eagles, and what they might mean for the matchup against the Seahawks.

A few things reviewing the Saints' victory over the Eagles...

The Saints spent a lot of time on enabling their running game. Even when they didn't go 12/21 personnel (two tight end or two back), one or two receivers were split pretty close to the tackle box, giving them plenty of bodies to work with. Robert Meachem was motioned into an H-Back position strongside on one play, taking a C-gap assignment while two TEs kicked outward.

Sean Payton's long favored power running out of passing personnel & formations. This was no exception, but the Saints seemed more intent on running, rather than setting up a pick-your-poison situation for the defense, where they're ready to do the opposite of what your defense cheats for.

I don't know how much the running game contributed to the Saints' victory. People have made a deal out of that. Forbearance on Saturday's game? Not much. Seattle has often had fading run defense performances late in the season, so the running game could well factor. But that would remain true regardless of what they did vs. Philadelphia. I suspect the preoccupation with the ground game stemmed from the large focus on home-road splits and the gametime temperatures.

Drew Brees' first interception had nice play design even if it didn't work out.

Saints coerce Eagles into a Cover-3 shell. They've been committing heavily to the run out of personnel like this, and it's 1st & 10. The Eagles are looking to stop the run, and elect to go with three deep vs. Marques Colston & Kenny Stills. They don't want the Saints to dictate to them, pushing them to commit a 4th defender to deep coverage when they've been running like this.

Colston is the chief passing threat here, and he's split just outside the tackle box, strongside. The Saints had been running out of similar, tightly-bound 21-personnel formations earlier, and they'd demonstrated tendencies during the season to coerce safeties off of the top of slotted Colston formations. It looks like Philadelphia saw what Danny Kelly had seen, and are determined not to get fooled.

Kenny Stills, a capable receiver but not a commanding presence, makes the first wide split for New Orleans in motion right before the snap. He's so wide, and all else so tight, for the the single-high safety to adjust would be to take him out of any other play. As the play unfolds, the safety stays clamped down over Colston, leaving Fletcher one-on-one with Stills.

The ball sailed a little wide left. Stills played it very poorly, and it's a pick. Brees almost always throws more accurately than that, but lost in the turnover was a nice play design well executed otherwise. The Eagles' front were preoccupied with gap shifts to account for the running threat out of the formation and rather clumsily put a Cover-3 shell over the top. One corner gets man-on-island for half-the-field responsibilities, from the flat to the end zone, while ultimately 3 defenders cover Graham.

I know I'd throw that play in vs. Seattle if I were New Orleans. On the one hand, Seattle's corners play sides, only, and also have contingency assignments should no eligible receiver pose a thread on their side (see Brandon Browner's famous single-handed defeat of the Panthers' triple-option in 2011; Carolina split the iso receiver out, then motioned him away, trying to lure the extra body out of the way (the absence of which would have made that a very big gain)).

When no one's there, they angle in, still owning the flat & edge, so we'd not likely see three defenders end up trailing one Saints receiver. Also, all of Seattle's corners are pretty good one-on-one. Also, with such a large & physical front, and Chancellor in the box, a 1st & 10 running threat wouldn't likely coerce Earl Thomas out of position to stay on top of the only vertical route.

On the other hand, the Saints had a real scoring shot, here. Fletcher played the ball well to catch the pick, but the Saints got exactly what they wanted out of the Eagles until the ball sailed. Even if Seattle's corners figure to win their individual matchups in the aggregate, one play can generate 7 points. I expect this one, and I expect it early.

After bunching everyone tightly and running out of pretty much every look, Saints spread out across the field in the 2nd quarter. The commitment to run continued until the 2-minute drill. When the Saints scored in the 2nd half, the Eagles' zone defense was a mess. I really have no idea what they were trying to do, there must be an assignment error and/or busted coverage, but there's too many things wrong with this to even diagnose intent.

The Eagles were bit by poor safety play on most of the Saints' chunk plays.

They seemed to throw out a lot of disguise attempts and kept eyes on the ground game, either wary of pulling bodies away from run defense or throwing out really sloppy 7-man zones that seemed to defend almost no one. Canal Street Chronicles are sure to appreciate my continued arrogance here, in assessing that Seattle should be able to handle New Orleans' success because Seattle's just better, but Seattle doesn't play like this. I expect Sean Payton to manufacture some success moving the ball, and scoring some points, to some extent, in ways that I can't conceive of right now. But they way the Saints beat the Eagles on offense don't translate well vs. Seattle.

Defensively, the thing that stood out to me is New Orleans primarily stuck to 7-man boxes, tightly coupled to the tackle box, whether they rushed three, five, and even in some sub packages. They backed off their second-level more in the 2nd half, in most of the right situations, and that gave the Eagles trouble. Lot of 4-deep assignments, and they were all really deep. Given how easy it is for Chip Kelly to fool you, this seemed like a pretty good approach. Keeping the top on big plays, keeping bodies in place for lane-specific tomfoolery from read-option and the like.

I think that translates fairly well in how New Orleans defends Seattle, too. Not that it's a shutdown approach, but without some impressive execution on Seattle's part, and unless Seattle keeps enough restraint to not chase chunk plays unduly, it's an approach that could well keep New Orleans in the game, on the road. The Saints pressure pretty darn well, and they're bound to give Seattle's offensive line more trouble than they gave Philly's.

A low-scoring game? From what I'm watching right now, it counter-intuitively seems to make the most sense. Obviously Percy Harvin's impact may change things substantially, and constraint plays would be just the recipe against a high-pressure defense that commits bodies to run defense.

I really don't know how to forecast that, but I wouldn't put too much trust in Bevell's recent comments about focusing on what "we do;" doesn't seem too truthy. Not that there's a particular exploit in the Saints' defense to attack, but it's incumbent on the coaches to consider how the Saints figure to defend them, and I don't expect a lot of Outside Zone and then Inside Zone and then play action to open up chunk plays all that much. I do expect the movable chess pieces to make a difference, though, and hopefully Luke Willson will continue to be ready to go, because he's viable to benefit more from Harvin's presence than Tate & Baldwin figure to.

But then, football makes the fool out of wiser men than me on a regular basis. This is the best prognosticating I can muster. Let's get to the alea iacta est part already.

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