2009 NFL Season: Diggin’ In the Crates on the New Orleans Saints

The biggest topic of conversation in the NFC over the Christmas holiday will be, “How do we beat the New Orleans Saints?”  The answer won’t come easily — but it can be done.  On any given playoff Saturday or Sunday, any team can lose.  Just as surely as the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings (1998) fell to the Atlanta Falcons in the confines of the cozy Metrodome, the Saints can lose this season.

I’ll be revisiting this topic over the next few days, but I wanted to illustrate a point that may not be understood by fans in places like Arizona, Minnesota and Philadelphia.  Drew Brees is an athletic football player.  He makes plays with his feet and his eyes and his arm.  If you underestimate any of those aspects of his game, you will probably lose — and never fully understand why you lost.  Just because he looks like “an average dude” does not entitle you to get it twisted.  At 6’0″, he came within a stones throw of toppling Dan Marino’s single-season passing record.

A little respect will go a long way.

Here is Exhibit A:

Raymond James Stadium in the Elements

2008 NFL Season: Week 13 on the road vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Prior to the start of this game, the Bucs defense had allowed only 11 points per game at home all season long.  The Bucs won the game 23-20 to get to 9-3.  It was the team’s final win of the season.  Tampa lost its next four games.  John Gruden was fired.  Jeff Garcia was cut.  Derrick Brooks was released.  Gaines Adams was traded.  Raheem Morris was hired.  Josh Freeman was drafted.   Monte Kiffin went to college.  In a word, things changed.

Drew Brees Surveys the Buccaneer Defense

Notice in this formation, Reggie Bush is lined up to the outside of the formation to the left.  Lance Moore (WR) is inside of Bush.  Marques Colston is in the slot.  Devery Henderson is off the image to the right.  The Bucs, against an empty backfield, have 8 men within five to seven yards of the line of scrimmage — and they’re going to send Derrick Brooks from the left.  Tight end Billy Miller (#83) is standing at Brees’ right and is facing DE Gaines Adams.

Gaines Adams is Unblocked and Pressuring Brees

The Buccaneers are not in what is known as the “Tampa 2” coverage.  There is one deep safety.  Monte Kiffin sent Derrick Brooks on a blitz and the DB’s are all in man coverage.  The only receiver facing Drew Brees is tight end Billy Miller and he is being shadowed by a linebacker.  Gaines Adams is breathing down his neck…and Brees’ roll to the right is part of a well-designed play by Sean Payton.

Marques Colston Breaks Away from Ronde Barber

Brees’ arm is down.  Still, Miller is the only receiver looking his way — but he’s not open.  Many QB’s in the league would simply throw this ball away.  Even a very fast QB would have to outrun Gaines Adams, the linebacker directly in front of Brees AND the linebacker covering Billy Miller.  Brees is actually standing about 10 yards BEHIND the original line of scrimmage…so running would be out of the question for all but the best players.

The Release to Marques Colston

Brees (obscured by the goal post) has kept enough distance between himself and Gaines Adams that he can rip a quick pass on the run to Marques Colston who now has a step on Ronde Barber.  Notice that Brees has moved from the left hashmark to the right hashmark on this play.  The only question is whether or not the throw is accurate and on time.

Coltson for 22 yards -- First Down.

Close enough.

The Saints didn’t win this game.  They were 8-8 last year.  Nonetheless, it should not be lost on the casual observer that this offense has been ranked first in yards and scoring for the past two seasons.  The 2009 Saints have had so much success because the defense is led by one of two men who have had considerable success against Sean Payton offenses over the past ten years: Gregg Williams.

If you can’t beat him, hire him.

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