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Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Film study: Reviewing Saints offense

By Mike Triplett

Some observations on the New Orleans Saints' offense after reviewing the tape of the team's 26-20 loss to the New York Jets in Week 9:

Dropping the ball: Without question, this was the No. 1 issue that plagued the Saints' offense. By my count, the Saints dropped at least six catchable balls -- many of which were huge momentum-changers.

When I reviewed the tape, I was actually surprised by how good the Saints' offense looked for the first 40 minutes or so. The pass protection wasn't a problem until late in the third quarter. Quarterback Drew Brees had time to throw, and receivers were getting open down the field. It was understandable why coach Sean Payton elected to keep throwing the ball so often.

But dropped passes repeatedly derailed drives.

Late in the first quarter, a Saints drive stalled near midfield when receivers Lance Moore and Nick Toon each dropped passes. Toon's came on a deep ball that could have resulted in a touchdown.

New Orleans' Nick Toon
Nick Toon could not hold onto this pass against the Jets.
Even more costly was a ball that bounced off Toon's hands in the second quarter and wound up getting intercepted by Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. The ball snuck up on Toon too quickly on a timing route as he turned to make the catch.

In the fourth quarter, fullback Jed Collins dropped a pass on third-and-1 that would have easily resulted in a first down.

Then on the next drive, tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Robert Meachem both dropped passes that weren't perfectly on target but did hit them in the hands. Meachem's came on third-and-7 and forced the Saints to settle for a field goal.

Tip drill: One more pass that derailed the Saints early in the game was Brees' first interception in the first quarter. He threw the ball too far behind tight end Benjamin Watson on a crossing route. The ball got batted up by safety Dawan Landry, then linebacker DeMario Davis made a great effort to dive and catch it.

Successful throws: Despite those two batted interceptions and all those drops, Brees still threw for 230 yards in the first half -- including a 60-yard bomb to Meachem, a 51-yard touchdown to Graham, a 10-yard touchdown to Graham and a 25-yard strike to Moore.

The Jets stole a page from the New England Patriots' playbook a few times, matching cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner up with Graham, but it wasn't nearly as effective. Graham torched single coverage on both of his touchdowns. First, he used a double move to beat safety Jaiquawn Jarrett on the deep ball (and dragged Jarrett the last eight yards into the end zone). Then he used his size mismatch to box out Cromartie for the 10-yarder.

Protection breakdown: The Saints' offensive line definitely deserves its share of the blame for this performance. They started to take a beating over the final 20 minutes. Late in the third quarter, Jets end Muhammad Wilkerson beat guard Ben Grubbs with a swim move and ran between Grubbs and left tackle Charles Brown to sack Brees. And Grubbs, guard Jahri Evans and center Brian de la Puente all got flagged for holding or illegal use of hands when they lost one-on-one battles up front.

But like I said above, the Saints' line wasn't being harassed all day long. Brees was hit or hurried a few times in the first 40 minutes -- but it was often because blitz pressure forced a quick throw or because he held the ball too long searching for an open receiver.

That was the case when Brees took his two hardest shots of the day in the second half. On one of those plays, the Jets blitzed, and linebacker Quinton Coples eventually found a free path to Brees after twisting into the middle of the line. On another, Brees got nailed by safety Josh Bush when Graham let Bush loose to run out for a late pass route.

Brees' other sack also appeared to be a blown assignment by Graham (or maybe tight end Benjamin Watson). They were both lined up on the right side of the Saints' line, but neither one of them attempted to block outside linebacker Calvin Pace, who ran free at Brees.

Fourth-and-1 fail: The Saints' failed trick play on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter looked like a massive failure when tight end Josh Hill was stopped by Coples for an 8-yard loss on an end-around run. However, you could tell by watching the tape how it was supposed to work. Everyone else besides Coples either bit on the play-action fake to running back Pierre Thomas or got blocked out of the way. If Coples hadn't stayed home, the play might have resulted in a big gain. ... But Coples never budged. He kept his eyes on Brees and Hill the whole time and made an easy tackle.

Solid runs: Payton was right. The Saints didn't run the ball often, but their run plays were pretty effective when they did. Evans, Grubbs and Collins each had at least one standout block on some of the Saints' longer gains.

Sproles imitation: Runner/receiver Darren Sproles left the game with a concussion early in the first quarter, and he was certainly missed. But Thomas did a great job filling in for Sproles on at least one play -- making a diving catch for a first down on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter.

Thomas was also effective as usual on screen passes, catching a total of seven passes for 66 yards.