Saints Film Study: The Need For Snead


How many in the NFL had heard of Willie Snead before this season? For that matter, how many in Who Dat Nation were familiar with who he was before this season? Snead is the latest undrafted free agent to be plucked from what many consider a talent-less pool.

The 22 year old from Ball State currently leads the Saints in receiving yards, first downs and yards per reception among receivers. His crisp route running, success at forming separation and his ability to find the holes in soft zones have have paid off as his NFL experience grows. With every game Snead’s reception total have gone up.

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Watching his film as the year has gone on it’s easy to see his development into a more complete wide receiver. While he still is very rough around the edges there are a lot of positives from this most recent display.

I’d still like to see a higher master of the full route tree, but it was only his 4th start in the NFL. He has plenty of time to continue growing.

We’re going to take a look at a few of Snead’s receptions this past week against the Dallas Cowboys. Snead finished the game a perfect 6 for 6. That is, he caught 6 passes on 6 targets. We watched as Sean Payton used a lot of his famous offensive magic to draw up some of these pass plays.

In the Saints offense, stats usually don’t tell the entire story. Several of Snead’s plays were called beautifully by Coach Payton using guys like C.J. Spiller, Ben Watson, and even at times Brandin Cooks to put the defense in bad positions and force poor matchups.

The first play is Snead’s first catch of the game. It comes on the second drive and is a perfect example of how a guy like Spiller is the “X-Factor”, filling the role that Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush did for the Saints for many years.

Man Coverage by the Cowboys leaves Snead with the opportunity to turn his shoulders and block his man out. This gives Drew a perfect throwing lane.

With man coverage being employed by the Cowboys, the Saints place Spiller in motion and it had the desired effect. You’ll see as the corner covering Spiller, the middle linebacker and the strong safety all focus their attention on Spiller. While they don’t necessarily over-commit, a large area of the field is now opened up for Snead to body out his man and catch the quick pass from Drew Brees.

Great playcalling by Payton and a perfect pass by Drew leads to an 11 yard completion. It isn’t a flashy play, and it certainly isn’t one you’ll see on many highlight reels, but these are the plays that truly win and lose a game. The Saints have struggled to “spread the field” with their offensive pieces. Snead’s ability Sunday to dominate the short to intermediate parts of the route tree helped the team in more ways than just first downs.

Previously, we looked at at Snead being able to beat man to man coverage up close to the line. On this next play Snead shows the ability to find the empty space in zone defense as he hauls in a 19 yard pass on a smooth out route.

Dallas lines up close to the line of scrimmage, but they will actually drop back into a variant of the Cover 6. This works out perfectly for New Orleans as Snead’s out route will put him right on the edge of the field for Drew to throw to. While it might not yield many yards after the catch, these plays are pivotal in sustaining drives.

Short out route finding the open spot between two zones. This was a staple of

Lance Moore

‘s abilities in his prime with New Orleans.

As you can see in the above graphic, Snead is able to slip in behind the first layer of zone coverage, but still leaves Brees enough room to throw the pass without having to worry about the over the top defender. This precision route running is why Snead’s snaps have increased since the beginning of the year.

As I mentioned before, Snead has seen his touches go up as he has improved his on field play.  Week 1 in Arizona saw Snead in on just 24% of the team’s offensive plays. Fast forward to this past Sunday and that number had jumped to 66%

The final play we’ll look at allow Snead to show off his ability to separate from defenders against Dallas’ starting No. 2 corner Brandon Carr. This is during the Saints final drive of the 4th quarter that would eventually lead to a missed field goal by Zach Hocker.

Snead will run an in route and create separation on a crisp move leading to a 17 yard gain.

At the time of this catch, many thought the Saints would win a couple of plays after. It didn’t go that way, (though thankfully for all Who Dats they were able to prevail), but it wasn’t for lack of effort on the Saints receivers.

Dallas is back in man coverage with one deep safety and another that will drop in close. The Saints are running douple ins with Colston and Snead on the strong side while Cooks will climb the later about three yards higher and cross the field from the opposite direction.

After a sharp cut Snead is about to create a 2-3 yard separation between himself and the defensiveback.

You’ll be able to see it more clearly in the below video, but the cut that Snead makes is sharp and direct. It quick enough to allow him to separate, but not so drastic as to cause him to lose his footing and balance. This catch, and the one by Coleman that follows, set the team up for a potential game winner.

If you compare the cut that Snead runs against the one Colston uses it’s easy to ascertain as to why he had such a great game against Dallas. Colston might have lost the quickness and strength to make the sharp pivots needed to separate, but the younger receiver to his right seems to just be finding his.

Impressive as it was, there is still room for improvement for not only Snead, but the entire Saints offense. The only critique I might add to Snead’s performance this past Sunday was he wasn’t able to get into the end zone. That’s just being nitpicky.

A strong game for Snead. Saints fans should hope that this upward trend continues. I hope you enjoyed the film study, and as always, I welcome your comments, critiques and all around banter. God bless and Who Dat!

Next: Saints Film Study: Offense The Driving Force