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The best and the worst of the New Orleans Saints from Week 2

NFL: SEP 15 Saints at Rams Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

New schedule, new column, same insufferable me: This is a look at the New Orleans Saints best and worst plays on offense and defense from Week Two facing the L.A. Rams. Every week we will look at four plays: The best and worst plays on offense, and the best and worst plays on defense, as determined by expected points added. Play selection includes a small amount of subjectivity. This week I have discounted any play in which Drew Brees was quarterback, and any play in which the Saints win probability was below 10 percent. Here we go!

Saints Offense

The Best

3RD & 7 AT LA 38(12:46)

(12:46) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass short middle to J.Cook to LA 20 for 18 yards (N.Robey) [A.Donald].

EPA: +2.22

It’s a sad day for Saints fans when the best play on offense was an 18-yard completion.

This is what the field looks like at the moment Teddy Bridgewater makes his pass.

In a word: Late. Every receiver is well past their respective break. Taysom Hill, circled, has sat down between the hash marks. This is probably an attempt to help his quarterback out but it creates confusion. Confusion even to whom the pass was targeting.

Hill is heady enough to draw his hands back when he sees the pass is too high.

Also of note, Tre’Quan Smith, who runs a go from the left wide receiver position, never even looks back. He could be a decoy. He is double covered.

Joe Buck calls this pass a “laser,” proving hyperbole, as figurative language, is a frontier town’s loosest prostitute.

In fact the pass does not quite lead Jared Cook enough, allowing Taylor Rapp to get back into the play, if only slightly.

Now let’s look at the Saints’ pass protection.

Hill’s position and his in-breaking route force Dante Fowler, #56, into a wide, havering kind of rush which never amounts to much. It’s a clever way of scheming out a pass rusher. Aaron Donald will target the right A-gap in a clever way. First, he forces the right guard, Larry Warford, to commit to defending the right B-gap.

But, agile as a stoat, he cuts right, targeting rookie center Erik McCoy. McCoy is still figuring out certain details of the National Football League. Like: Don’t throw a second body at Michael Brockers when Aaron Donald looms.

The pass is rushed.

But completed.

The Worst

4TH & 1 AT NO 48(02:47)

(2:47) A.Kamara right tackle to NO 48 for no gain (S.Ebukam, M.Brockers).

EPA: -2.20

Not a thrilling play by any stretch, but the way in which LA sold out to stop the run displays one of many subtle differences between defending Drew Brees versus defending Teddy Bridgewater. Compare the defense in this play to the Rams’ defense of a similar play in a very similar down and distance from 2018.

Last Sunday.

Despite having to defend much more field, the Rams have seven versus five players on the line of scrimmage. In 2018, four defenders are in a fuzzy position just behind the defensive line where they could stuff the run, break into coverage or rush the passer. With Bridgewater under center, only two players are just behind the line and both look to be patrolling interior gaps. It’s a daunting look for a rusher, like waltzing around the event horizon of an ultramassive black hole.

New Orleans’ interior three offensive linemen achieve no push against LA’s interior two. That means, functionally, this has become nine defenders versus seven, uh, offenders.

Shit gets worse yet for Kamara.

Aaron Donald has wiped out the cutback lane.

Samson Ebukam beats back Zach Line.

Spaghettification ensues.

Saints Defense

The Best

3RD & 7 AT NO 11(06:08)

(6:08) (Shotgun) J.Goff pass incomplete short right [D.Onyemata]. New Orleans challenged the incomplete pass ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) J.Goff sacked at NO 19 for -8 yards (T.Hendrickson). FUMBLES (T.Hendrickson) [D.Onyemata], RECOVERED by NO-C.Jordan at NO 13.

EPA: 3.30

This is a coverage sack.

Jared Goff never looks left. The Saints anticipate this. LA’s three rightmost receivers are matched against five defenders. Malcolm Brown runs a curl and is single covered. Gerald Everett runs a fade toward the corner of the end zone, and is single covered. But Goff trains his eyes on his good receivers. He’s rewarded for his steely resolve with late-breaking pressure.

This happens about 3.25 seconds after the snap.

Trey Hendrickson, who has 4.65 speed, does a LEO-style pass rush from the front side. He rushes more or less straight ahead against Rob Havenstein, achieves the slightest of angles, flattens his pursuit, and exploits Havenstein’s weak positioning to rush through and around his outside shoulder. At the same time, David Onyemata swaps blockers with Cam Jordan. Jordan had been lurking but his rush doesn’t amount to much. Onyemata doesn’t achieve a great deal of push on right guard Jamil Demby (Demby was an injury replacement), but at the critical moment, Onyemata separates and completes the pincer attack.

Referee Walt Anderson, perhaps forgetting that Stickum is banned, ruled this an incomplete pass. That was overturned, but thanks to the lawyerly way the NFL writes and interprets rules, the ensuing fumble return for a touchdown was negated.

Saints lose about six EPA and roughly 10-20 percent win probability because of that technicality.

New Orleans features the best pass rushing and the worst run stopping defensive line as measured by Football Outsiders. That very modern approach to football is about to face the brutal, Stone-Age technology of Brian Schottenheimer.

The Worst

3RD & 16 AT LA 32(11:40)

(11:40) (Shotgun) J.Goff pass deep middle to B.Cooks to NO 11 for 57 yards (M.Lattimore).

EPA: -5.40

Coverage gets mighty screwed up here. There’s a lot of gesturing and relaying of messages between the two deep safeties and the right cornerback.

I can only guess strong safety Vonn Bell was telling his teammates that he would inexplicably jump an underneath crossing route at the exact wrong moment.

It really isn’t very common for a quarterback to be in his throwing motion and for the defensive back to react by jumping the wrong route.

This gives Brandin Cooks space inside to work away from Marshon Lattimore. Free safety Marcus Williams is miles away. The pass is impressive. The catch is Say Hey Kid good.

Jordan again attempts to exploit a weakness by lurking prior to the snap, but the pass rush doesn’t factor.

New Orleans is relatively small up front—built to exploit leads. The secondary has been disorganized and porous, but it’s young, healthy and how good it can be is hard to know. The Rams passing offense was worth 9.35 points against New Orleans, meaning that one reception by Cooks, made possible in part by some kind of miscommunication, represents more than half of the team’s net expected points added. Factoring in sacks, Saints’ opponents have only attempted 67 passes. A game of football is made up of few plays a few of which will determine the outcome. Even if Bell continues (?) to make dodgy reads, the Seahawks may not be able to exploit those mistakes.

Sean Payton, Wednesday, in an attempt to not show his hand, showed his hand in another way. His caginess regarding who will be New Orleans’ starting quarterback seems, at the very least, to be a vote of no confidence in Teddy Bridgewater. Naming Bridgewater the starter certainly wouldn’t prevent Payton from mixing in looks to Taysom Hill. Even as rhetorical gambit, it seems too clever by half. Hill is 29 and has eight career passing attempts, a 37.5% completion percentage, and an ANY/A of 2.0. Ryan Leaf’s ANY/A was 2.71.

Backup quarterbacks thrust into action mid-game often struggle. But, if we compare each player through the perspective of their career numbers, Bridgewater throws much shorter passes than Brees. Which are often ill-timed, and he takes far more sacks in part because he struggles to read defenses. This will likely not just hurt him and the passing offense but the run offense too. It’s a very small sample, and a stat which I do not much like, but, for what it is worth, Alvin Kamara averaged 2.4 yards before contact in 2018 but just 1.4 in week Two. He will be keyed on, mercilessly.

The Seahawks have the kind and quality of linebacker to shut down the Saints’ short passing game, and the type of offense which should match very well against the Saints’ light and fast defense. They’re surely favorites. Based on matchups, the Seahawks should be prohibitive favorites.