The New Orleans Saints, like every other team in the NFL, are 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 had used against the Rams in Week 5 of that year. Buffalo gained 53 yards on a LeSean McCoy run.
Saints 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 then-Rams defensive coordinator Gregg 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 been tough to get much going anyway, because Tampa Bay slid its line toward the strength of the formation, unlike the Rams.
This wrinkle is notable because the Saints came out in the look again during the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns, and they used it to set up a play-action pass.
It was a bit different than the previous two times the Saints used it. On this play, they 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 Brees 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 be a coincidence. Maybe the Saints decided to use the wrinkle in both games to gain an advantage or because of 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.
The touchdown: Ken Crawley ended up in a tough spot on Antonio Callaway’s 47-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Saints were playing a disguised Tampa 2 coverage that started out looking like Cover 3. At the snap, Crawley dropped back to serve as the other safety, and linebacker A.J. Klein had to get back to cover a deep middle zone. Everyone else covered underneath zones with just three men rushing.
The play left Crawley with a tough decision. Klein was able to catch up with wide receiver Jarvis Landry and cover him up the slot, but Crawley understandably kept an eye on the play while Callaway streaked up the sideline. The outside player was his responsibility as well, and by the time he focused solely on Callaway, it was too late.
New Orleans used the same coverage twice earlier in the game, and they mix it in quite often. The first one resutled in a Sheldon Rankins sack on a third-and-5 play. That one resulted in a sack, but the outside route was defended much the same way. The other one resulted in an incompletion during the fourth quarter.
The play Crawley made that will likely upset the coaching staff more came on Cleveland’s final offensive snap of the game. The cornerback allowed Callaway to beat him on an out route and get out of bounds when his responsiblity was to make a tackle.
Another rough moment on the final drive came when P.J. Williams bit on a Tyrod Taylor pump-fake and surrendered a 25-yard gain to Landry.
Front seven plays better: The Saints looked more organized at linebacker against Cleveland. The team continued to use a rotation, with Klein (48), Demario Davis (42), Manti Te’o (35) and Alex Anzalone (23) all playing snaps there, but everyone seemed to execute within their roles.
The difference this week is that those players were part of the soltuion after struggling against Tampa Bay last week. Klein, in particular, played really well. He held up in pass coverage and stuffed five runs. Davis also played well. He had one big play in the fourth quarter where he dropped a reverse for a loss of yards and flashed a few times as a blitzer.
The Saints defensive line, meanwhile, generated a decent amount of pressure despite blitzing less than 10 times — which was likely a strategy to help keep Taylor in the pocket.
Rankins (two), Marcus Davenport (two), Alex Okafor (three), Cam Jordan (four) all generated pressures. Davenport was also very impressive in the running game, where he stuffed a handful of runs.
Coverage: The Saints cornerbacks weren’t really challenged directly by Taylor for most of the game. Part of this was due to playing a lot of zone coverage, which was done to help keep the quarterback confined to the pocket.
Lattimore surrendered a pair of catches, one on a shallow crossing route and another pass that was a little deeper down the field, though the second play might not have been his responsibility. The cornerback was also called for a ticky-tacky pass-interference infraction. It wasn’t altogether a bad call, but cornerbacks often get away with more. Overall, he looked much better than he did a week ago.
Crawley also held his own until the late coverage break. Patrick Robinson was also solid outside of his own pass-interference infraction.
Safety Marcus Williams might have been the best performer in the group. He broke up a pass intended for Landry earlier in the game and then made an interception by reading an in-break route and jumping the pass.
Inspiration: It was interesting to see the Saints use the same action as the the Chiefs used last week on a shovel pass near the goal line.
The Saints’ version of the play came back on a holding penalty, but these two plays are very similiar.
Kansas City last week pic.twitter.com/2UnlF4CzHN
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) September 18, 2018
Saints this week pic.twitter.com/fdnhWlCa7F
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) September 18, 2018
Offensive line notes: Center Max Unger had a tough time with Cleveland defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who beat Unger on a pair of sacks. He would have had a third if not for penalty on another player.
Otherwise, the offensive line performed fairly well on passing plays. This was an encouraging game for left tackle Terron Armstead, who more than held his own against Cleveland pass rusher Myles Garrett. Ryan Ramczyk also held strong on the other side of the line.
The Saints had a lot of issues blocking on runs, though not all of it fell on the offensivel ine.
Overall, the group wasn’t bad. They’ve been better, but it wasn’t poor.
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