this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; New Orleans Saints film study: Replaying the 'Meachem Miracle' By Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune December 08, 2009, 2:21PM New Orleans Saints receiver Robert Meachem's - insert your adjective here: lucky, timely, heady, etc. - 44-yard fumble return for a touchdown, ...
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New Orleans Saints film study: Replaying the 'Meachem Miracle'
By Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune
December 08, 2009, 2:21PM
New Orleans Saints receiver Robert Meachem's - insert your adjective here: lucky, timely, heady, etc. - 44-yard fumble return for a touchdown, heretofore known as the Meachem Miracle, contained so many fortuitous breaks for the Saints it bears a complete breakdown to fully understand and appreciate its uniqueness.
By my count, no less than six things had to happen in the Saints' favor for it to play out the way it did. If any one of the fortunate sequence of events goes the other way, the Saints enter halftime with a 17-10 deficit rather than tied at 17 and who knows what happens in the second half.
Break No. 1: The Saints never get a chance at Meachem's play if not for an extremely fortunate bounce five plays earlier when Thomas Morstead shanked a 29-yard punt right into the back of Redskins cornerback Kevin Barnes. Barnes and Byron Westbrook were blocking gunner Usama Young along the Saints sideline when the seeing-eye duck drilled Barnes in the back. The alert Young pounced on the loose ball and the Saints, who were stopped on third-and-1 on the previous play, were gift-wrapped a 29-yard gain and free set of downs.
If the ball didn't hit Barnes or the ricochet bounced out of bounds or a Redskins player recovered it, the Redskins would have had first-and-10 at the 43 with 1:31 left. There would have been no time for the Meachem miracle to occur.
On the play at hand, the Saints faced a desperate situation, third-and-26 at the Redskins 44 with 39 seconds remaining and no timeouts.
The Saints lined up in their regular two-minute offensive personnel: three receivers, Meachem, Marques Colston and Devery Henderson; tight end Jeremy Shockey; and running back Pierre Thomas, who, in this case, had replaced Reggie Bush because of either (a.) Payton's frustration with his lackluster play; or (b.) playing-time limitations related to his return from a knee injury.
The Saints aligned Meachem wide left, with Colston and Shockey in the slot to his inside. Henderson was aligned alone wide right. Thomas was in the backfield, offset to Brees' left.
The Redskins rushed just four linemen. End Andre Carter and tackle Cornelius Griffin stunted on the rush from right side, but the Saints line picked it up well and fanned both rushers wide. Brees quickly scanned the field to his left, then took a quick glance right to see the coverage on Henderson. He double-pumped, first in the direction of Colston, then toward Meachem who was running a crossing pattern underneath the Redskins zone coverage.
Break No. 2: Andre Carter had a clean shot at Brees but the backpedaling quarterback somehow stiff-armed Carter in the helmet with his left hand to avoid the sack. If Carter sacks Brees, the play is over and the Saints are forced to punt. Instead, Brees keeps his balance and has just enough time before being snowed under by Redskins defenders to set and unload a desperation pass downfield in the direction of Shockey.
Redskins safeties Laron Landry and Kareem Moore had Shockey covered well in their deep zone responsibility, which leads us to Break No. 3. Moore beat both Shockey and Landry to the ball and made an incredibly difficult diving interception at the Saints' 30. It seems almost humanly impossible to catch a football at that speed in the position but replays could not conclusively show the ball hitting the ground. Instead, it appears Moore was somehow able to cradle his arms under the ball before smashing into the turf while riding Shockey's back. If Shockey got a hand on Moore as he hits the ground the play is dead and the Redskins would take over on downs. Instead, it appears Moore's left leg disengaged from Shockey a split-second before his elbows hit the ground.
Break No. 4 (and perhaps the most amazing: As Moore returned the interception toward the Saints sideline he had an army of blockers in front of him, including Reed Doughty, Carlos Rogers and Fred Smoot, yet somehow NONE of them blocked Meachem, the first player they encountered in this hectic fire drill. Meachem knifed between Doughty and Rogers to engage Moore, who - Break No. 5 - carried the ball in his right - or in this instance, wrong - arm. Meachem took advantage of Moore's inexperience and stripped the ball free.
Break No. 6: The loose ball popped right into Meachem's arms, who returned it 44 yards for the touchdown. If the ball caroms to the ground or Meachem fumbles it - which he almost did - the Redskins swarm him and the Saints likely have to settle for a field goal.
Instead, like seemingly everything in this wild, mad-cap play, the ball fortuitously bounced in the Saints' favor.
And the rest is history.
PRESSURE REPORT: Gregg Williams dialed up his usual array of blitzed but the Redskins were well-prepared for them. The Saints recorded only one sack and three quarterback hits in the game. Williams blitzed Campbell in almost every passing situation early one but the fifth-year quarterback stayed poised in the pocket and made good decisions with the ball. Williams blitzed Campbell seven of his first 11 pass attempts and 11 times total in the first half. He backed off of the pressure a little in the second half, in part becaue the Redskins ran the ball more often. Most of the time, Williams blitzed two linebackers but he also sent safeties Darren Sharper, Roman Harper and Pierson Prioleau. He sent cornerback Malcolm Jenkins on one blitz in each half. On the second occasion, it resulted in a hurried throw by Campbell, which Jin Vilma intercepted in the final minute of regulation. The Saints line failed to get pressure on Campbell when they were left to their own devices. The only lineman who was effective at all was end Will Smith, who had two quarterback hits and forced a holding call against Levi Jones late in the game. Otherwise the Redskins handily won this aspect of the game.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: It'd be easy to give it to Meachem, but I'm going with kicker Garrett Hartley, who drilled four out of five field-goal attempts including the game-winning 18-yarder. Considering the stakes and pressure, Hartley could not have performed much better. His only miss was a desperation 58-yarder, which fell well short of its mark. Hartley might have won the place-kicking job for the rest of the season with his strong performance.
SCOUTING REPORT: Mike McKenzie came out of the game late in the third quarter. Chris McAlister replaced him at left corner. Saints officials did not give a reason for his absence but some players said McKenzie's knee was bothering him. He was clearly struggling in the game. For all the optimism the Saints had after his spectacular debut there must be concerns after the way he performed on Sunday. He struggled to keep up with the Redskins' speedy receivers and tackled poorly in space. McKenzie has a bad habit of lowering his head and diving at ball carriers in open space and the Redskins took advantage of his poor form several times by throwing quick screens to receivers in the flat and forcing McKenzie to make a tackle. The veteran corner struggled mightily and will continue to see these plays from opponents until he proves he can handle them.
DIDYA NOTICE?: Reggie Bush played in his first game since missing the previous two with a bone bruise in his right knee. Sean Payton told Fox broadcasters he wanted to limit Bush to 20 snaps in the game, but Payton clearly grew frustrated with Bush near the end of the first half. First, Bush took a screen pass and nonchalantly stepped out of bounds short of the first down after a nine-yard gain. The Saints subsequently failed to convert the first down when Bush was tackled for a loss on third-and-1. Later, Bush was blown up and knocked off his feet by Brian Orapko as he attempted to run a route on a screen pass in the right flat, resulting in an incomplete pass. The play prompted Payton to demonstratively motion to Thomas to go into the game and replace Bush. Fox cameras caught Payton addressing an emotional Bush on the sidelines after the play. It was the 10th snap of the half for Bush but it looked like substitution was rooted in Payton's dissatisfaction with Bush's performance rather than his concern over snap counts. In fact, Bush did not play again until the final 30 seconds of the game, when Payton inserted him in the two-minute offense. Thomas replaced Bush in the two-minute offense on the previous series, which resulted in a game-tying touchdown catch by Robert Meachem. Bush finished with 16 total reps, including one punt return for a loss of 2 yards.
NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:
FIRST QUARTER: Reggie Bush beat Fred Smoot deep on a broken play on the Saints' first series but Brees underthrew him and was lucky to avoid an interception. Interesting that the Redskins chose to use a cornerback to cover Bush. ... Excellent work by the punt coverage team to down Thomas Morstead's first punt at the Redskins 6. Snapper Jason Kyle and gunners Usama Young and Courtney Roby combined to make the play. ... The Saints drafted Malcolm Jenkins because he was one of the most physical defenders in the draft but he struggled in press coverage against Devin Thomas on the Redskins' first drive. First, he allowed Thomas to make an easy outside release and was beaten deep for a 32-yard pass interference penalty. Then, he failed to jam Thomas at the line and allowed a 10-yard catch on a crossing route to convert a critical third-and-7. ... The Saints went to their Bear front when the Redskins reached the red zone on their first drive. It's become Gregg Williams' staple in short-yardage and goal-line situations. ... Jo-Lonn Dunbar appeared to strain his right hamstring on the first drive. He did not return to the game. Troy Evans replaced him in the lineup. ... Kedric Gholston and Albert Haynesworth beat Saints guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans to stuff a third-and-1 run by Mike Bell. ... The Saints used the Bear front a couple of more times on the Redskins' second drive and successfully pressured Campbell into a hurried incompletion. ... Reggie Bush did not make much of a cut before being upended by cornerback Kevin Barnes on a swing pass on the final play of the quarter. The old Bush would have made Barnes miss. It was noticeable how Bush took a handful of little stutter steps before impact. He didn't look comfortable trying to plant and cut decisively on his injured knee.
SECOND QUARTER: Redskins safety Laron Landry can expect a fine for his helmet-to-helmet hit against former LSU teammate Devery Henderson on the first play of the quarter. The hit rocked Henderson but he still held on for the clutch catch and 10-yard gain. Henderson left the game and was replaced by Courtney Roby in three-receiver sets for a few plays before returning later in the series... Bush reverted to his old ways on his first and only punt return. He could have easily picked up 8 to 10 yards but instead tried to reverse his field and lost 2 yards. ... The Saints used their favorite short-yardage play a belly play behind pulling guard Carl Nicks to convert for the first time in the game. ... Jeremy Shockey did a nice job of stoning Andre Carter on an edge rush to give Brees time to find Colston on a deep, double-move route for the Saints' first touchdown. The play doesn't happen if Shockey and Jon Stinchcomb don't give Brees time for the play to develop downfield. ... The Saints went after Redskins strong safety Reed Doughty a couple of times in coverage, isolating him on Bush and Shockey. The first resulted in an 8-yard gain. The second was incomplete. ... Laron Landry sacked Brees on a nice delayed blitz from the blind side. The blitz fooled Pierre Thomas, who abandoned his pass protection responsibility and slipped out in the flat on a pass pattern. ... Saints cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Malcolm Jenkins really struggled in man-to-man coverage against Redskins receivers Santana Moss and Devin Thomas. The Redskins chose to go aggressively go after the Saints corners. It's the way I expected the Patriots to attack the Saints last Monday night but they never did. The Redskins' fourth series reflected their strategy. They did not attempt a run in the drive, throwing nine passes. They went at McKenzie on three of the plays, using quick, short passes underneath McKenzie's coverage and forcing him to make a tackle in space against the quicker Moss or Thomas. Jenkins was burned in single coverage by Moss on an out-and-up move for a 38-yard gain to convert a third-and-1.
THIRD QUARTER: The Saints received another fortunate break on Courtney Roby's 37-yard kickoff return. On the return, Roby forgot to switch the ball to his left or outside arm and was stripped by Thomas. But the ball fortuitously caromed out of bounds off the arm of Lendy Holmes who was hustling on the play to tackle Roby. When the ball came out, four Redskins and three Saints were in the vicinity. ... The Saints tried to execute a hurry-up snap on the Redskins on third-and-1 on their first drive but officials were late to spot the ball. Sean Payton clearly was not happy with the sequence of events. ... Kedric Golston and Albert Haynesworth blew up the Saints' fourth-and-1 run attempt and tackled Mike Bell for a 1-yard loss. Golston got leverage on center Jon Goodwin and knocked him into the backfield to disrupt the play. ... Malcolm Jenkins dropped a sure interception in the red zone after Will Smith hit Campbell in the backfield and forced a wild pass that hit Jenkins right in the arms in the left flat. ... Really poor tackling and pursuit angles by McKenzie and Sharper allowed Thomas to score on a short crossing route. Both had the angle to tackle Thomas near the sideline but let him slide past for the score. They'll hear about that one in film review on Wednesday. ... Shockey left the game temporarily after being shaken up by a tackle at the end of a short reception. Darnell Dinkins replaced him for a handful of snaps. ... After being stuffed in short yardage all afternoon, the Saints took advantage of the Redskins' overloaded front and hit fullback/H-back David Thomas for a 21-yard gain off play action to convert a third-and-2. Thomas was lined up in the backfield and beat linebacker Rocky McIntosh in solo coverage. ... The Saints received another break when officials did not see Devery Henderson drop a 15-yard pass on the final drive of the quarter and ruled it a completion. Replays showed the ball hit the ground near Henderson's hip before he hauled it in. ...
FOURTH QUARTER: An overlooked play in all the late mayhem was Sharper's tackle of Marcus Mason for no gain on third-and-1 at the Saints' 3-yard line. Mason had a wall of blockers in front of him and Sharper was the only Saints defender in position to make a play. If Sharper doesn't make the tackle, Moore likely gets the first down or perhaps the touchdown and the Saints would have trailed by two touchdowns rather than 10 points. Instead, Washington settled for a 21-yard field goal. Huge play by Sharper. ... The Redskins confused the Saints' kick return team with a pooch kick after the Suisham field goal. Jeff Charleston signaled for a fair catch but allowed the kick to go over his head toward up-back Lynell Hamilton, who was forced to dive on the loose ball near the field near the 20-yard line. Shaky play. ... Great play by Brees to avoid a sack by Orapko by climbling in the pocket and buying time to find Meachem downfield for a huge 29-yard gain on third-and-11. If Orapko makes the play the Saints are out of field-goal range. Instead, the Saints were able to pull within 30-23 after the big gainer set up a 28-yard field goal by Hartley. ... Albert Haynesworth showed why he's the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league throughout the game. He dominated Goodwin at the point of attack and forced Bell into the waiting arms of London Fletcher for a 1-yard loss to short-circuit a Saints red-zone drive and force them to settle for a field goal. ... Carl Nicks is having a Pro Bowl season but he failed to make a key block on a nice screen play to Pierre Thomas and allowed Landry to drop Thomas for a short gain. If Nicks makes the block Thomas might score. ... Another overlooked factor: The Saints played great red-zone defense to hold the Redskins out of the end zone and force the Suisham field-goal attempt in the final three minutes. The Redskins had first-and-goal at the Saints 4 but excellent run defense by Sedrick Ellis, Will Smith, Roman Harper and Charles Grant held the Redskins to zero yards on three runs, forcing Suisham's fateful kick. Ellis, in fact, was credited with all three tackles on the series. ... The snap on Suisham's miss was high and holder Hunter Smith did a good job of getting the ball down in time for the kick but Suisham just pushed the kick to the right. It was his first miss in 28 attempts from inside 30 yards in his career. ... A brilliant throw by Brees on the second play of the game-tying touchdown drive. The Redskins had him bottled in the pocket and he was forced to unload off one foot but he had the strength and accuracy to deliver an 11-yard strike to Henderson along the left sideline. Only a handful of quarterbacks in the league could make that throw. Former Rams coach Mike Martz marveled at the play during his film study segment on NFL Network on Monday, citing Brees' uncanny footwork in the pocket. ... The 53-yard bomb from Brees to Meachem was set up by a double move. Landry bit on the stick route and cornerback Fred Smoot did not recover to get over the top of Meachem for the deep ball. Colston burned Landry for a 40-yard TD on an identical route in the second quarter. That's a credit to excellent scouting and scheming by the Saints coaching staff. ... Credit Scott Shanle with the quarterback hurry which led to Jon Vilma's big interception near the end of regulation. Shanle blitzed from the left side and Campbell didn't see him because he was so concerned with the pressure by defensive backs Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins from the right side. It might have been the only time all day that the Saints' confused Campbell and forced a mistake and it came at the right time for New Orleans. ... Nice athletic tackle by Jermon Bushrod on Smoot's return attempt of Hartley's missed field goal at the end of regulation.
OVERTIME: Linebackers coach Joe Vitt encouraged Sean Payton to call the timeout before the Redskins were able to run a play following Mike Sellers' fumble. The Saints barely got the attention of officials before the ensuing snap. The Redskins actually snapped the ball but officials called the timeout a split-second before the play was run. Great decision by the Saints coaching staff to buy time on the field and give officials the time to make the review. ... The Saints actually sent Hartley out to attempt a 32-yard field goal on first down but reconsidered the decision and sent the offense back on the field after the Redskins called a timeout. The Saints gained 14 yards in three plays before Payton elected to attempt the game-winning 18-yard field goal.
PERSONNEL PACKAGES: The Saints were limited to only six personnel packages. The continued absence of Lance Moore limits the Saints to mainly three-receiver sets. The restricted "pitch count" with Bush also limits the formations and packages Payton usually dials up on Sundays. On this day, the deficit and injuries kept the Saints from being too exotic and forced them into more traditional personnel packages and offensive formations. Because of the Redskins' early lead, the Saints played most of the day in three-receiver formations. The three-receiver set is the Saints' regular personnel package in their two-minute and four-minute offense and they employed it at the end of both halves and in overtime. This resulted in them running a season-high 43 snaps out of a three-receiver formation. They spent played two-receiver, two-tight end looks on 14 other downs.
Here's the breakdown of the reps at each skill position: WR - Colston 65; Henderson 62; Meachem 58; Roby 3. TE - Shockey 60; D. Thomas 20; Dinkins 5; Zach Strief 4. RB - Thomas 30; Bell 27; Bush 15.
Here's a look at the Saints' personnel packages on their 74 offensive snaps:
3WR/1TE/1RB - 43 out of 74 plays
2WR/2TE/1RB - 14 out of 74
2WR/1TE/1RB/1FB - 11 out of 74
1WR/2TE/1RB/1FB - 4 out of 74
3WR/1RB/1FB - 1 out of 74
2WR/1TE/2RB - 1 out of 74
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