Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Film study: Reviewing Saints defense
By Mike Triplett
Some observations on the New Orleans Saints' defense after reviewing the tape of the team's 35-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Week 8:
Galette everywhere: Outside linebacker Junior Galette had an outstanding performance -- one that was much more appreciated from watching the tape than from reading the stat sheet. His biggest play of the day was a sack and forced fumble in the second quarter when he beat tight end Scott Chandler with a speed move during a blitz (the Bills recovered, though). But Galette did much more that may have gone unnoticed.
He forced a critical holding penalty against Chandler to nullify a 55-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. And he pressured quarterback Thad Lewis into at least one other incomplete pass. Galette was equally impressive against the run, helping to stop tailback Fred Jackson for a 3-yard loss and a zero-yard gain. And at least twice, Galette helped set up his teammates for big plays.
On the game's first play, the Bills ran the read-option with Lewis faking a handoff to Jackson. Lewis looked as though he might run to the right, but Galette did a great job of staying home and blocking his path. So Lewis ran left instead and got clobbered by linebacker David Hawthorne, who forced a fumble with a vicious hit. Later in the fourth quarter, Galette helped flush Lewis out of the pocket to set up teammate Glenn Foster for a 1-yard sack.
Hawthorne's hot start: Hawthorne also sacked Lewis on the Bills' third play of the game when the Saints sent seven men on a blitz. Hawthorne has continued to play well this season now that he's healthy.
Bringing blitzes: This was probably the most the Saints blitzed all season. They were officially credited with 15 blitzes on passing plays by ESPN Stats & Information -- one fewer than their previous season-high against New England. But they also blitzed on several run plays and on at least three other pass plays that were nullified by penalty.
The Saints blitzed a lot on that second drive to make sure Lewis didn't get comfortable inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. They got caught over-pursuing on a 15-yard run by Jackson but eventually forced Buffalo to settle for a missed 50-yard field goal. They sprinkled several more blitzes throughout the game -- including a few more with seven rushers.
Jordan un-tucked: Defensive end Cameron Jordan's sack and forced fumble in the first quarter came on a four-man rush. It was all him. He beat right tackle Erick Pears with a power move to the inside, popped the ball loose from Lewis with a big hit and recovered the ball himself.
Jordan was lucky that the NFL changed its "tuck rule" before this season, though. Lewis was in the act of trying to tuck the ball down when he got hit.
Run D highs, lows: The Saints' run defense was a little shaky early, with the 15-yard gain by Jackson and a 20-yard gain by Tashard Choice, which also caught the Saints over-pursuing on a blitz. But the Saints did a good job of shutting down the run for most of the game. They held Buffalo to 53 rushing yards on 23 other runs and a total of 13 yards on nine carries in the second half. Galette, defensive end Akiem Hicks and safety Kenny Vaccaro all had standout days against the run. Vaccaro had two tackles for loss.
Greer bailed out: If not for the holding call mentioned above, Saints cornerback Jabari Greer would have been burned for the 55-yard TD pass to receiver T.J. Graham. Greer tried to jump the route but misjudged the ball by several yards. It was a rare gamble by Greer, who is usually solid in deep coverage.
Overall, the Saints' pass defense was good. Fellow cornerback Keenan Lewis intercepted a pass by Lewis in the fourth quarter that was so off-target that it was hard to tell who was the intended receiver. Cornerback Chris Carr also prevented a touchdown with blanket coverage on Chandler in the second quarter (that flirted with being pass interference).
Chandler did get too wide open a couple times on a field goal drive, though. And Vaccaro got burned by receiver Stevie Johnson on a 13-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter when Vaccaro failed to jam him off the line.
White's penalties: Cornerback Corey White was flagged twice for roughing the passer with head shots on Lewis while blitzing. The first one looked like a tough break. White appeared to be aiming for Lewis' midsection, but Lewis lowered his head as he crouched to absorb the hit. The second time, White went too high, almost bear-hugging Lewis as their heads hit. Afterward, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was seen on the sideline offering pointers to White.
White's aggressive play did pay off a couple of times, though. He snuffed out a quick out-pass to Johnson for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter. And he shot down the field to force a fumble on a punt return by Leodis McKelvin in the fourth (though Buffalo recovered).