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Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Film study: Reviewing Saints’ defense

By Mike Triplett

Some observations on the New Orleans Saints defense after reviewing the tape of their 26-18 victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 5:

Didn’t see that coming: The Saints’ first three blitzes all resulted in sacks -- a sack/forced fumble by safety Malcolm Jenkins on Chicago’s second drive; a sack by linebacker David Hawthorne on Chicago’s third drive; and a sack by safety Kenny Vaccaro (with an assist from Jenkins) on Chicago’s third drive. On all three plays, the Saints had a free rusher go unblocked.

Jay Cutler
Malcolm Jenkins had one of the Saints' three sacks of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
The Bears admitted they struggled to pick up their assignments. Probably because they hadn’t seen many of those blitzes on tape this year. The Saints have blitzed 52 times this year, which ranks 24th in the NFL according to ESPN Stats & Information. And they’ve rarely shown the look where they sent both Jenkins and Vaccaro on a flooded right side (which led to both of their sacks). They were the Saints’ first two sacks by defensive backs this year. Jenkins should’ve had another one late in the second quarter, but he let quarterback Jay Cutler slip away from him.

On the flip side: The Saints still used their blitzes sparingly Sunday. They blitzed 13 times by my count (once on a run play and once on a play nullified by a penalty). ESPN Stats & Information had a total of 10 on passing plays that counted. One of New Orleans’ most effective defensive series came when they tried a little bit of everything late in the third quarter:

Chicago had a first-and-goal from the Saints’ 4-yard line on that series. But Cutler threw four straight incomplete passes (one that resulted in an ineligible receiver penalty). The Saints blitzed on the first play, sent a four-man rush on the second play, sent a three-man rush on the third play and rushed just two men on the fourth play while all 11 defenders were standing up in an amoeba formation.

Rare breakdowns: The Saints’ secondary has done an outstanding job all season of preventing deep balls. But they let Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery get behind them three times Sunday. First he got behind cornerback Chris Carr for a 31-yard gain in the second quarter (when cornerback Corey White was late getting over to help after jamming receiver Brandon Marshall off the line). Later, Jeffery beat cornerback Jabari Greer in a one-on-one matchup with a sharp cut toward the middle of the field for a 42-yard gain in the third quarter. Last but not least, Jeffery got way too much separation behind Vaccaro for a 58-yard bomb down the left sideline in the fourth quarter.

Greer also was victimized on both of the Bears’ short touchdown passes, though neither was egregious. He got plowed into by Jeffery on a pick play in the second quarter, leaving Jeffery wide open for a 3-yard score. Then Marshall got a good push of Greer and turned to catch a hard, back-shoulder strike from Cutler on a 2-yard score in the fourth quarter.

The secondary still had a pretty good game overall. The Bears had a net total of 37 yards on their first five possessions. The Saints forced a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to a great pass breakup by cornerback Keenan Lewis against receiver Earl Bennett. And Vaccaro and White each had nice pass breakups that could have been interceptions during the game.

Run down: The Saints’ run defense was also strong, especially during the first two-plus quarters. The Bears didn’t run the ball much, but the Saints’ defense did a great job of swarming to the ball. Running back Matt Forte had just 12 rushing yards on five carries midway through the third quarter. He finished with 55 rushing yards on 12 carries after churning out some nice mid-range runs in the fourth quarter.

Jordan, Galette still solid: The Saints’ two breakout players early this season -- end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette -- didn’t make a huge impact Sunday. But they both brought decent pressure at times, and they each wound up with two hits on Cutler. They both brought pressure to force an incomplete pass on a third-and-8 play in the second quarter.

Morstead still outstanding: Punter/kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead was the Saints’ first line of defense Sunday as they made dangerous return man Devin Hester a non-factor and consistently won the field-position battle. Morstead had one of his best punts ever -- a 55-yarder that bounced out of bounds at the 2-yard line late in the third quarter.