AFR: Five takes from the tape, Saints vs. Cardinals

AFR: Five takes from the tape, Saints vs. Cardinals

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - I have to be honest. I didn't expect to feel as encouraged as I did after watching the tape of the Saints loss to the Cardinals. They really did a lot of things well on both sides of the ball and could have won this game against a better team. But also, there were concerns.

Take 1: Red Zone. Dead Zone

The stat of the game was simple. The Cardinals were 3-3 in the red zone. The Saints were 1-4.

The Saints ran ten plays total in their four trips down there. Eight of those plays were passes, two were runs. What's even more interesting is of those ten plays inside the 20-yard line, none of them had a goal to go down and distance. That would explain why there was only one pass attempt even into the end zone. They really didn't get all that close to the end zone.

Another aspect that showed up on tape was the Cardinals were clearly playing coverage in these situations. On every one of their pass plays, they d ropped at least seven and in some cases eight defenders. The Cardinals simply had more defenders than the Saints had receivers.

After the game, Sean Payton acknowledged he could have done a better job at play-calling in that area of the field. I agree. With the Cardinals d ropping that many players in coverage, the most effective plays may have been runs out of passing formations where the middle of the field would have been softened up with the amount defenders in coverage and less in the box.

Take 2:  By design or by necessity

I posed the question on Jim Henderson's Black & Gold Review of how much of the Saints underneath passing game against the Cardinals was by design and how much was because wide receivers couldn't get any separation down the field. It was certainly obvious that 'small ball' was part of the plan and it was very effective all game. But it was also obvious that wide receivers downfield were blanketed all game long. As usual the tape gave me the answer I was looking for.

Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Austin Johnson combined for 15 receptions for 148 yards.

Nine of those 15 were designed screen passes. Those plays resulted in 133 yards.

Six of those 15 were check-downs. Those six resulted in 15 yards.

So while the game plan was indeed the correct one, the numbers also showed Saints didn't intend to be that much of the passing game as they were.

Take 3: Breaking down the punt debate

To be honest, I'm surprised that this is even a debate. But somehow it is. Payton elected to punt the ball on 4th & 6 with 1:58 at his own 7-yard line instead of going for it. His rationale was they could get a quick three-and-out, burn the timeouts and get the ball back in better field position.

I crunched some numbers and came up with what the Saints could have realistically expected had Payton's plan worked.

After Thomas Morstead's punt, the Cardinals took over at their own 43-yard line. With two timeouts, Arizona could have realistically burned about 55 seconds off the clock. If the Cardinals don't gain a single yard (which is unlikely) they would have punted from the 43. Their punter Drew Butler averaged 39.5 yards per punt on the day. If he punts that ball for his average, the Saints would have regained possession at their own 18-yard line with about 55 seconds left on the clock.

That's a net gain of 11 yards.

So instead of trying to gain six yards with a future Hall of Famer at quarterback, Payton elected to punt the ball away, burn two timeouts and lost nearly a minute of time -- for 11 yards of field position.

Debate over. Bad call.

Take 4: Missed Opportunities

The Saints were even in the takeaway/giveaway ratio. But the tape showed they should have had four more and it could have led to points.

At 2:05 in the first quarter, when Kenny Vaccaro blitzed, Carson Palmer hurried a pass to Larry Fitzgerald. The ball came out incredibly fast and close but it hit Brandon Browner right in the hands. A pick there and the Saints are in Cardinals territory.

At 1:07 in the second quarter, Cam Jordan made a great play to bat down Palmer's pass at the line of scrimmage. However, the replay showed Jordan got both hands on the pass. Had he picked it off, the Saints could have closed out the half with points.

At 0:27 in the second quarter, Palmer threw a bad pass to JJ Nelson who was well covered. Browner went over the top of Nelson and should have had the pick. Fortunately, no points were scored.

At 0:14 in the  quarter, Palmer threw a pass to Darren Fells who was blanketed by Stephone Anthony. The replay showed the ball actually hit Anthony in his chest. The next play the Cardinals kicked a field goal.

Take 5: Other Observations

  • Brandin Cooks may or may not officially be the number one receiver for the Saints. But the Cardinals certainly treated him like one. It was obvious Arizona was going to force the Saints to make someone other than Cooks beat them. Patrick Peterson guarded him all game long and clearly won that battle. Plus, in the red zone there were several plays where Cardinal defenders were double-teaming him.
  • Sunday had to be the highest snap count for Ben Watson here in New Orleans.
  • I thought Kevin Williams and John Jenkins both played well in spurts along the defensive line.
  • Kenny Vaccaro is such a unique hybrid. He can cover slot receivers and tight ends. He just can't cover them in space. He has to play them right at the line of scrimmage. He did that on Sunday and was very effective. He played well with two pass breakups and a blitz that nearly caused the Brandon Browner interception. It does neither the Saints nor Vaccaro any good to have him playing the deep half in the Cover 2.
  • The  Saints' most effective personnel package was the 11 personnel of three wide receivers, one tight end and a running  back. Drew Brees passed for 296 of his 355 yards out of this formation. Brandon Coleman's touchdown was out of this as well. The Saints ran 36 of their 70 offensive plays out of this look.
  • By the way 'LSU West' have certainly made a name for themselves in the desert. Peterson and Tyran Mathieu were the two best defenders on the field for Arizona. Kevin Minter is a solid starter.

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