The Saints, like every other team, and known to find inspiration from other teams’ playbooks.
It is suspected the team used a borrowed play during a 2016 game against the Los Angeles Rams.
It probably isn’t a coincidence the Saints employed the same tackle-over look against the Rams that the Bills used against them in Week 5. Buffalo gained 53 yards on a LeSean McCoy run. New Orleans running back Mark Ingram picked up 61 yards on his turn.
On both plays, the teams took advantage of the defensive end moving to a Wide-9 alignment to get outside of the extra offensive lineman. The most surprising thing about the play was that New Orleans used it multiple times and former Rams defensive coordinator Greg Williams, who now holds the same role with the Cleveland Browns, never adjusted to it.
It stood out when New Orleans used the same look last week against Tampa Bay on an Alvin Kamara run that lost a yard. The look was inversed but almost identical to what the Saints showed against the Rams two years ago.
Terron Armstead moved out to the right and lined up like a tight end, with right tackle Ryan Ramczyk at his usual spot. Tight end Josh Hill took Armstead’s place at left tackle. Against the Rams, right tackle Zach Strief, who has since retired, came to the other side of the line to flank Armstead.
Everything else worked about the same. The play blew up when fullback Zach Line failed to block defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who dropped Kamara in the backfield. It would have tough to get much going anyways since Tampa Bay slid its line toward the strength of the formation, unlike the Rams.
Perhaps last week’s play was deliberately put on film as a reminder. Maybe it was nothing. But the timing seems notable, especially since the Saints came out in the look again during the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns and used it to set up a play-action pass.
It was a little bit different than the last two times. New Orleans started out with two-tight end personnel, but Hill lined up like a fullback, though he wasn’t offset like the original play. Ramczyk moved to the left side of the line and posted up outside of Armstead. Tight end Ben Watson lined up like the right tackle.
The Browns initially lined up the same way as the Rams. The defensive end kicked out wide beyond Ramczyk’s outside shoulder, leaving a massive gap between him and the defensive tackle, who lined up over the inside shoulder of left guard Andrus Peat.
Cleveland’s linebackers recognized what was happening and signaled for adjustments. The defensive line shifted over to close the gaps, at which point Hill motioned out and lined up next to Watson.
The Browns had eight players in the box, and a safety shaded toward the tight ends. On the other side of the field, Tre’Quan Smith stood in the slot, and Michael Thomas split out wide. They were alone on a pair of cornerbacks.
At the snap, Brees faked a handoff to Kamara and dropped back to pass. He had his pick of either route against one-on-one coverage.
If he had decided to stand in the pocket a little longer, he could have targeted Smith, who streaked up the field and eventually gained a step on the defensive back. But Brees instead decided to connect with Thomas who got open on an in route for a 25-yard gain.
This look showing up two weeks in a row could all be a coincidence. Maybe New Orleans decided to use the same action because there was something they liked about how both teams defended against it.
But it is fair to wonder if the Saints showed it against Tampa Bay to ensure it would get one-on-one coverage a week later on a play against the Browns. That would be a brilliant move by the coaching staff.
Even if not, the formation showing up two weeks in a row helped the Saints gain 25 yards on Sunday.
Note: This post will be updated throughout the day on Tuesday with more observations from Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns.
Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.
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