Over at New Orleans Football, the website owned and operated by Saints Beat Reporter Nick Underhill and his wife, I wrote a comment on his post called “The Saints ran into more adversity than they could overcome in loss to Panthers” that was more involved than I initially intended.
The trouble is, I was so pissed off with the Saints game plans in the wake of their 26 to 7 loss to the Carolina Panthers, I found myself becoming a gusher of opinions on what the team should have done, on offense. (Not that I don’t have a view about their defensive game plan, but I believe my approach would have helped it overcome the Panthers.)
Consider that the loss came on the heels of the Saints win versus the Green Bay Packers, and one that was so complete, NFL.com ran this headline: “Jameis Winston grateful to be with Saints: ‘This is a better team than I’d ever been with'”
My vlog is above, and what I wrote on Nick’s site, is below, but I expanded on the number of offensive options, here.
Hello. I have to push back on your analysis because it does not include the one factor that governs football as much as communication: physics. As in time / motion.
You wrote “The Panthers attacked Jameis Winston and exposed some vulnerabilities in New Orleans’ ability to set its protections.” But you did not explain what the “vulnerabilities” were – let me help.
The main problem was that the Saints called running plays as if to be inconsiderate of the 1970s style of defense thrown at them. In other words, linebackers, safeties, and defensive backs close to the line-of-scrimmage, and at times hugging it. If you call a pitch to your running back who is 7 – yards deep in the backfield, you’re asking for him to be downed for a loss. That’s what happened.
Then, if you base your play action on the same formation and running action, but with a play fake rather than a fake pitch, the same result happens. Again, because its against that same pesky defense. This was the theme the entire day and it was annoying, It’s as if the Saints did not really prepare for the game.
The first play of the contest communicated that this disaster borne of a lack of attention to physics was unfolding. The formation was a full-house pistol, and the call was a screen to the running back. A slow-developing affair that added suspense from the word go. Why? The Prowling Cats on the edge were able to turn around and nearly pick off a screen pass that Tony Jones dropped. Moreover, they were tipped off by Winston’s fake to one side, then turning back. That kind of approach worked in the early first and second decades of the 21st Century, but today, that’s just an invitation for the super-fast defenses of today to play in your backfield.
Ok, so what should have been done? Easy:
First, wide receiver quick screens – which we never saw even one of. Not one.
Second, quick passes to the tight end running a flat pattern out of play action from a single-back set. Not done.
Third, “glance passes” after a read-option-look run fake – all the better to annoy the defensive ends. Not done.
Fourth, passes from unbalanced line sets, where the declared tackle is the only pass-catcher on the weakside, and can fool the heck out of a defense. Not done.
Fifth, passes to the fullback in the flat out of I-formation – Winston’s first pass as a Saints player in 2020. Not done.
Sixth, “shovel pass” that was done against the Packers and gave Winston his first TD pass. Not done.
Seventh, “shake route” passes to the flanker that are just five-yards – the kind Panthers Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady called and Bill Walsh invented at Stanford in 1978, then brought to the 49ers in 1980. Not called. (And here’s the expanded list.)
Eighth, “zero” passes (where the wide-receiver just turns around and catches the pass to him because the defender is more than seven yards off of him). Not done.
Ninth, “texas” routes by the running back, and called by the Panthers Joe Brady for former Stanford Running Back Christian McCaffrey (who ran a ton of them down on The Farm) and also popularized by Bill Walsh. Not done.
Tenth, running the “fifth” pass out of “sister” formations to the I-formation, like the Offset-I, Red Formation and Green Formation (both split-back sets).
That’s ten different kinds of passes and runs (and actually 13 if you consider the “Tenth” example) – all short and designed to hurt the wide-tackles-six zone-blitz defense. And all not called.
Considering that each play can be ran from the left or the right, that’s really 26 new plays. That would have made for a vastly different game plan and outcome.
The simple rule is this, and should NEVER BE FORGOTTEN: when faced with a pressure defense, attack the flats and the edges, and quickly – don’t bother attacking the middle. To put it bluntly, it’s stupid. Don’t go to the defense, let the defense chase you. Moreover, everything you design and call must have a life of less than a second-and-a-half – otherwise, you’re dead. Just facts, as they say.
As I said in my vlog, the Saints left Jameis Winston with a bad game plan. The real question is, why?
The reason why is the Saints did not have time to prepare, and when they did, they really did not stop to investigate if it would work. Coach Peyton did point to the issues at hand as being the factor – like COVID-19 – but then tried to dismiss them.
It’s not that easy.
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