AFR: Five takes from the tape: Saints vs. Bears - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

AFR: Five takes from the tape: Saints vs. Bears


New Orleans, La. -  - In one of their most complete and complementary performances of the season, the Saints used a different approach to attack the Bears. It was one that featured a lot of one steady veteran.

Here are my five takes from the tape:

1.) Safety First

As I noted in my post-game column Sunday, Sean Payton went against his own DNA in game-planning for the Bears. Instead of his usual fast explosive attack, he went with a patient, efficient approach - and it worked.

The tape backed up just how safe the game plan was.

The Saints ran 65 plays Sunday; 37 of them came out of base personnel/run heavy looks. I can't remember a game where nearly 60 percent of their plays came out of this package. Most of those 37 were traditional I-formations, but they also mixed in some looks with the fullback and tailback off-centered and an inverted wishbone look with essentially two fullbacks and a tailback. In most cases, the extra fullback was Ben Watson.

Drew Brees was 29/35 but 27 of those passes were thrown within ten yards of the line of scrimmage. He completed 25 of those passes.

You know it's a conservative game plan when Jed Collins had the third most touches in the game with seven.

2.) Productive Pierre Thomas

When your head coach calls for a safe, ball-control, mistake-free game plan, it should come as no surprise that Pierre Thomas was going to be the player with the ball in his hands the most.

Thomas had 28 touches and gave the Saints exactly what they wanted. In all, he accounted for 91 yards at 3.25 yards per touch. He also added two touchdowns and, most importantly, took care of the ball. Even on his near-fumble, he was the first to jump on it when it hit the ground.

His best play came in the second quarter. On fourth and one, the Saints put the ball in his hands. He responded with a tough two-yard gain. The play was nearly blown up at the point of attack when Corey Wooton beat Ben Grubbs, but Thomas was able to shake the tackle and slip through the line for the necessary yardage.

Two plays later, Thomas caught a perfectly executed screen for his second score of the game right before halftime.

When it comes to trust in a certain player, I don't know if there's a more trusted guy in the Saints locker room than Pierre Thomas.

He showed why Sunday.

3.) Defensive Diversity

He didn't go crazy with his blitzing, but every time Rob Ryan dialed one up it seemed to work, especially in the first half.

For the game, Ryan blitzed nine times. Those nine resulted in three sacks and one fumble. Cutler was 4/5 for 37 yards on the plays he was not sacked and ran once for 12 yards off the read option.

The Saints most effective blitz package came with Vaccaro at the "jack" and Malcolm Jenkins at the nickel. On the snap, both players blitzed, Vaccaro right off the line while Jenkins peeled right behind him. On the first Jenkins got to Cutler. On the second, Vaccaro got to him. Jenkins nearly got to him a second time but Cutler was able to escape.

For the offensive game plan to work, the defense had to do their part in getting off the field. They did so with their ability to create timely blitzes and only allowed 4/10 on third downs.

4.) Different view on Saints run game:

Sunday was more proof that the need for more production out of the ground game is a myth.

In a game where the Saints purposely went conservative and ran the ball 28 times, they only gained 66 yards and still dominated.

When it comes to the pure rushing attack, I've always believed they need to eliminate negative runs and convert in short yardage situations. They did half of that against the Bears.

They still struggled with four negative runs but were able to convert five first downs by rush, four those came with a yard to go.

This team will never be a dominant traditional run team, and once again it didn't matter.

If you read my tape review last week, I came up with a new way of looking at the Saints production in the run game. I called it the "adjusted run stat" or ARS. In it we add up all the runs and all the catches by a back within three yards of the line of scrimmage and subtract any kneel downs. This number usually tells a different story and in my opinion gives a more accurate picture of the productivity of the running backs within the offense.

Last week, for example, the final rushing numbers were 24 attempts, 68 yards, 2.8 yards per rush. But their ARS was 29 touches, 136 yards and 4.7 yards per touch.

This week the Saints officially rushed 28 times for 66 yards at 2.4 yards per rush. Their ARS equated to 43 touches, 162 yards, two touchdowns for 3.76 yards per touch. It also produced seven of the team's 17 first downs.

While 3.76 yards a touch may not look like much, on a day where they didn't need the big play, it was clearly effective.

5.) Other Observations:

-         Charles Brown played his best game of the season. Aside from one holding call, he was flawless and made Julius Peppers a non-factor all game.

-         Chicago blew a small chance to really get back in the game in the second half. Their first drive got inside the Saints ten-yard line but they had to settle for a field goal. Then in the fourth they marched 71 yards in 13 plays and seven minutes, only to not convert on fourth down when Earl Bennett dropped a pass. Both drives lasted a total of 10:08 and only produced three points. In a game like Sunday that's just too much time spent on three points.

-         In a game where the efficiency is called for, the Saints couldn't afford to hurt themselves with penalties. They had just two all game.

-         What else can we say about Jimmy Graham? Ten catches for 135 yards and according to Jim Henderson, he had six different guys covering throughout the game.

-         When I stepped on the field at Soldier Field Sunday to do our pre game show I couldn't believe how high the grass was. Some Chicago media members told me even Bears players complain about the field conditions.

-         Kudos to the specialists once again. Thomas Morstead continued his stellar punting while Garrett Hartley went 4/4. On a bad footing surface, that was an outstanding effort. His last field goal sailed 48 yards, had he missed that, the Bears would have regained the ball down just 13 in good field position.

-         I have no idea what Lance Briggs was thinking trying to time the cadence of Drew Brees. He was essentially trying to time the snap so he could blew up the line once the ball was snapped. The only problem is the ball was NEVER going to be snapped. Everyone in the stadium knew that, except Briggs.


Two of the game's best head coaches and quarterbacks will be on display in New England. But the Saints are truly the better team, and I say they win.

Saints 30

Patriots 23

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