Take 1: Where the Game was won
They did finish strong, but the Saints won this game with their red-hot start. They outscored Atlanta 14-0 and never trailed in a game.
In the quarter, the Saints scored a touchdown on their opening drive, forced a turnover on downs and a turnover in the red zone. They also blocked a punt for a touchdown and converted 3/4 on third downs to the Falcons' 0/2.
While it doesn't work out all the time, when it comes to the circumstances of last Thursday (home, night, primetime, rival) a fast start is usually the key to success.
Take 2: The Play
What a play. What a play. What a play.
But after I broke it down, the biggest takeaway from Michael Mauti's blocked punt for a touchdown is that I'm convinced the play was designed for David Hawthorne to make the block.
On the play, Hawthorne and Mauti were lined up side-by-side. Hawthorne runs a twist behind Mauti. The long snapper didn't read the twist and lunged forward to block Hawthorne and essentially whiffed on his attempt. His lunge forward allowed Mauti to get his hands behind the long snapper and get in the backfield. At the same time, Hawthorne is shooting through the gap created behind Mauti which left upback Eric Weems in a two-on-one situation. Weems, for some reason, chose to block the trailing Hawthorne which left a clear path for Mauti to basically beat the punter to the ball and snatch it out of the air before Matt Bosher's foot touched it. Actually, if you watch the tape closely, Bosher kicked Mauti in the facemask because Mauti arrived so quickly.
I ran this play side-by-side with Steve Gleason's legendary blocked punt in 2006. And in Gleason's version, he is actually playing the role of Hawthorne, and shoots through the gap past the upback who doesn't see him. That's why I'm convinced the play was designed for Hawthorne to block it. But kudos to Mauti for getting in the backfield so quickly after getting behind the long snapper.
Either way, it was an incredible play and really set the tone for the rest of the game.
Take 3: Pass Rush Progress
Where did that come from? One week after not coming close to any pressure against Sam Bradford, the Saints crushed Matt Ryan for five sacks Thursday night.
The answer is easy: they were playing with a lead.
Four of their sacks came in the fourth quarter, three of those came when they were up 17. The fourth came when they were up ten. Basically, Atlanta was in obvious passing situations, thus the Saints could pin their ears back and go after the quarterback with a raucous crowd behind them. Their only other sack came in the first quarter by Kasim Edebali.
In Cam Jordan's case, he truly played his heart out. Not only did he have three sacks, he also had several disruptive plays against the run. He finished with three sacks, one fumble recovery, and three tackles for loss. He also played every spot along the defensive line, including defensive tackle in the Saints' NASCAR package. This is truly where he can be a disruptive pass rusher. He registered all three of his sacks from the three-technique between the guard and tackle and manhandled Chris Chester. I've always believed that Jordan is not a true speed edge guy, more of a collapse-the-pocket type. At tackle, this skill really comes to light. The problem is the Saints defense has to be in these type of game-leading scenarios for them to fully utilize them.
Take 4: Importance of 1st downs
Thursday night vs. Atlanta was a lesson in the importance of gaining first downs and consistently moving the sticks.
Take 5: The Call
Maybe it was the Falcons. Maybe it was the coaching rumors. Maybe it was primetime. Whatever the reason, Sean Payton found his mojo against Atlanta. Nowhere was that more evident than his third quarter call to go for it on fourth-and -goal up ten.
First off, Payton messed with the Falcons' heads when he baited them into the 'no brainer freeze' that didn't result in a first down. Only Payton would think of something like that.
The touchdown came out of the rarely used '23' personnel with a running back, fullback and three tight ends. The play action was actually to Austin Johnson, not Khiry Robinson, which certainly fooled the Falcons defense. Brees also looked off Robinson which left Watson wind open for the touchdown.
The whole scenario was vintage Payton. And showed that he still has the killer instinct. We just haven't seen it much this year, if at all.
On a side note, I've always felt Brees' biggest flaw was his ball-handling. For years, he just went through the motions on play-action. Not on Thursday. On Thursday, he sold the play-fake with intensity and the results spoke for themselves.
- What a night for Ben Watson. Watson was the biggest benefactor of the unusually high number of bootlegs run by Drew Brees. Watson was able to pop open on several occasions. The bootleg was likely used as a way to throw off the Falcons who know the Saints more than any other opponent. It also was a way to help out a banged up offensive line that had Tony Hills playing left tackle.
- What else can I say about Delvin Breaux? The guys isn’t just playing well. He is playing like an All-Pro. In fact, Breaux has been the best thing about this season so far. What he did to shut down Julio Jones was amazing. What’s even better is that he figuring out what he can and can’t get away with from a penalty standpoint.
- The same cannot be said for Brandon Browner, who has become the weak link in the Saints’ improving secondary. We know he isn’t a space guy. He has to be on receivers to be effective. But what I saw Thursday night was a player that was lining up close but neglecting to jam the receiver. The perfect example came on Matt Ryan’s touchdown to Roddy White. White ran a crossing route from the slot. Browner didn’t jam him to disrupt his route. What’s worse is White was able to cross the entire field untouched with Browner trailing. Ryan dropped in and the Falcons scored a touchdown.
- While the Saints’ ground attack wasn’t great, it played well when it had to. The best example came when Atlanta cut the Saints’ lead to 24-14 in the fourth quarter. The Saints responded with an 11-play 80-yard touchdown drive. That drive consisted of six runs for 25 yards, culminating with a Mark Ingram touchdown that was sheer effort. Don’t get me wrong, this unit has to perform better. However, it was encouraging that they were able to run the ball effectively when they had too.
- The Saints tweaked the number of plays run from certain personnel packages.
11 (3 WR's, RB)- 25 plays
12 (RB, 2 TE's, 2 WR's)- 11 plays
13 (WR, 3 TE's)- 11 plays *most all season
22 (2 RB's, 2 TE's, WR)- 9 plays
21(2 RB's, 2 WR's, TE)- 6 plays- *fewest all season
23 (2 RB's, 3 TE's) – 2 plays *first time used this season
1 (TE, 4 WR's)- 1 play