This past Monday Night, the Atlanta Falcons absolutely decimated the Saints run defense; rushing for over 200 total yards, and averaging right at 7 yards per carry. 155 of those yards actually came BEFORE contact.
It was one of the worst defensive performances from the Saints in the past decade.
At one point, the Falcons had scored a touchdown on five straight possessions and were driving to tie an NFL record for six consecutive touchdowns.
Remarkably, the breakdown didn’t really occur with the Saints young corners.
Sep 26, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) leaps over New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley (46) in the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Falcons All-Pro WR Julio Jones was limited to just one catch, but RB’s Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both had superstar performances against the woeful Saints defense.
Part of this was just poor run fits, but it was also the scheme implemented by Dennis Allen and Sean Payton.
All too often, the Saints lined up in a soft zone coverage, in an effort to protect the young and inexperienced corners. This allowed the Falcons to quite literally run the ball down the Saints throats.
On the surface, it may seem like this is a valid strategy. After all, the Falcons currently have the number one scoring offense, and with a weapon like Julio Jones, Saints CB ‘s Sterling Moore and Ken Crawley needed all of the help they could get, theoretically.
Saints Lack Talent on Front Seven
Unfortunately, the Saints lack the talent among their defensive front seven, to stop runs when implementing this scheme.
Granted, they had several starters missing, including nose tackle Tyeler Davison who would have helped, and strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, arguably the Saints best player on defense.
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However, these issues go deeper than personnel. Even with those two players on the field, the Saints are still currently ranked 32nd overall — which in case you didn’t know is currently dead last in the NFL in run defense.
This cannot be allowed to happen when a team is absolutely gashing you with the run; because it is almost impossible to play any sort of defense.
The Falcons were in 3rd down and manageable situations all night long, and on the rare occasions the Saints did force a fourth down, the Falcons converted easily.
On a fourth and one situation the Saints defense is helpless because they don’t know what is coming. It could be a run up the gut, or a simple bootleg.
Sep 26, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) at the line against the New Orleans Saints during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Why Saints Should Sell-Out to Stop Run
The Saints would be better off selling out to stop the run, putting eight and even nine men in the box if necessary.
Yes, this would expose their young corners, and they would probably give up some big plays in the passing game.
However, this situation is actually preferable for a number of reasons.
First, when a team is dominating another physically and running the ball, it can be demoralizing emotionally.
What the Falcons did to the Saints was the equivalent of ripping their hearts out of their chests, and emasculating them —- despite the Saints impotent struggles to stop them.
Psychologically, this is disastrous to a defense because deep down within their own minds, they know they can’t stop the opponent.
Sep 26, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) carries the ball as New Orleans Saints defensive back Roman Harper (41) tackles during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Secondly, as the old adage goes: more can go wrong when you throw the football.
Whenever a pass is thrown in the NFL, there are three potential outcomes: a completion, an incompletion, or an interception.
Two of those outcomes are “good” for the defense.
Then of course is the physical toll all of this takes, over the course of 60 minutes.
When a team is grinding the ball on the ground, by the time the fourth quarter rolls around the opposing defense is exhausted.
Snap after snap, physical play after play; the New Orleans defense was worn down.
If they gave up big plays in the passing game, at least the opposing offense would score more quickly — giving them a chance to regroup and make a better effort on the next possession.
How This Impacts The Offense
The other factor is the impact that all of this has on the Saints offense.
Sep 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Willie Snead (83) catches a touchdown pass during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Giants defeated the Saints 16-13. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
When teams are dominating in the run game, going on long 10 or 11 play drives; the Saints’ best players are off of the field completely.
This gives them time to think, which is never a good thing.
They see their defense getting blown off the field and psychologically, the pressure begins to mount.
Additionally, the Saints offense is predicated on tempo.
When Drew Brees and company gets into a rhythm, it’s a beautiful thing to watch, and opposing defenses are completely on their heels.
When they are standing on the sideline for half the quarter because the defense is getting run over, it messes with their tempo; and by the time they get back on the field, not only is there more pressure, but they are also out of rhythm.
Sep 26, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) leaves the field after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Falcons won 45-32. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Ultimately, the New Orleans lacks the talent on defense to play straight up.
They must “sell out” one way or the other —- and make the decision to either to stop the pass, or to stop the run.
I’m of the opinion that the Saints defense MUST stop “playing it safe.”
The bend-but-don’t-break philosophy isn’t working.
In their best defensive effort, they still gave up over 400 yards to the Giants offense — but they forced 3 turnovers.
By going ‘all in’ against the run, New Orleans will force the action.
It will allow Crawley and other young players to at least have a chance to make a play.
Sep 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) sacks New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
There will be mistakes, and they will give up some big plays.
But there is also the potential for a game-changing interception or sack — something that is laughably unrealistic when they are conceding seven yards per carry against the run.
At this point, its a given the defense is going to give up points.
However, if the Saints can dictate at least a little just HOW opposing offenses are going to score; then it can help them keep their offense on the field — and maybe force a few critical turnovers in the process……..