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Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Film study: Reviewing Saints defense

By Mike Triplett

Some observations on the New Orleans Saints defense after reviewing the tape of their 42-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17:

Major breakdown: For the most part, the Saints pass defense was solid throughout the game. But not on a first-quarter flea flicker that torched them for a 48-yard touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Tiquan Underwood.

Both safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Corey White bit on the play fake -- which allowed Underwood to get a full seven yards behind the closest defender when he caught the pass. I can't be certain of the players' individual responsibilities, but I have to assume that Jenkins needed to stay back since he was a single-high safety on the play. The Saints were in an eight-man front with two nose tackles and four linebackers on the play, so they only had three defensive backs in coverage.

Getting one back: The Saints finished tied in the big-play battle, though, when cornerback Keenan Lewis snagged an interception late in the third quarter. Glennon was hit as he threw by Saints linebacker Parys Haralson (the Saints were only in a four-man rush, but for some reason Haralson came flying in unblocked). Glennon short-armed the pass intended for receiver Vincent Jackson, and Lewis got inside position to pick it off. It was Lewis' fourth of the season but first in two months (maybe that's why he got snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting?)

Lewis played well throughout the game, primarily in coverage against Jackson, who finished with just four catches for 35 yards on 12 targets. Lewis did get flagged for one 6-yard pass interference penalty when the officials felt like his jam was too much near the line of scrimmage. And he got away with an inadvertent grab of Jackson's face mask early in the game. But those were the side effects of Lewis' tight coverage. Most times, he was swatting balls away from the big receiver.

More coverage highlights: The Saints didn't get a ton of pressure on Glennon throughout the day, but he wasn't able to find many open receivers down the field (aside from the flea-flicker). Glennon's other touchdown pass was a 1-yarder to tight end Tim Wright. The Saints actually had decent coverage on the play, but Glennon did a nice job throwing the ball high over linebacker Curtis Lofton into the back of the end zone.

Most of Glennon's longer completions were impressive strikes into tight coverage. And the Saints did a good job of either breaking up his deep balls or shoving receivers out of bounds as they came down with passes. That happened twice (first with safety Rafael Bush on a third-and-5 throw to Jackson, then with Jenkins to prevent a 25-yard touchdown pass to Underwood).

Linebackers Junior Galette and David Hawthorne did a great job in coverage when they recognized a throw-back attempt to running back Brian Leonard on a third-and-6 play in the first quarter that ended in a 5-yard loss.

I thought Lofton had a particularly nice game overall, standing out a few times against the run and the pass. He batted one pass away and broke up another in solo pass coverage.

And the Saints were in complete shut-down mode in the fourth quarter when the Buccaneers started throwing on almost every down. Over Glennon's last 11 dropbacks, he was 1-of-10 passing, and he was sacked once.

Medium pressure: Galette had both of the Saints' sacks -- the first on an assist from a delayed blitz by safety Roman Harper. But that sack ended in a negative play when end Tyrunn Walker was flagged 15 yards for hitting Glennon late (a fair call, but not an egregious one).

End Akiem Hicks also got flagged for roughness when his swinging arm made contact with Glennon's helmet late in the game (also fair, but not egregious).

The Saints got a couple other hits on Glennon during the game -- especially during that fourth quarter. But he had ample time to throw on several plays.

Some of the Saints best "pressures" actually came on run plays. Cameron Jordan, Glenn Foster and Galette each tore through the line to make hits on running back Bobby Rainey for losses of minus-4, minus-2 and minus-1.

Run highs/lows: The Saints eventually started shutting down the run, but they gave up two long runs early -- a 16-yarder to Rainey and a 24-yarder to Leonard. Leonard gained an extra 10 yards or so when he hurdled Jenkins in the open field after Jenkins tried to aim low with his shoulder.

Both runs were mostly the result of great blocking up front, rather than missed tackles or poor angles. Harper chose the wrong direction on the first run, but again, it's hard to know what his assignment was.

The Saints can't afford to give up those big rushing lanes on Saturday night against the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy.