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papz 10-23-2012 05:48 AM

ReFo: Saints @ Buccaneers, Week 7
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New Orleans — Three Performances of Note

Drew Brees, M.D.

Coming out of a bye week, Drew Brees (+6.4) put his early-season slump behind him for good with a performance, particularly in the first half, that can best be described as surgical. Even without the injured Jimmy Graham, Brees dissected the Tampa Bay defense, completing 27 passes for 377 yards and four touchdowns, with a season best 10.2 YPA and a 79.4% adjusted completion percentage. He was especially effective on the deep ball, and masterfully manipulated the Buccaneer secondary with pump fakes on multiple occasions. He completed 11 of 13 passes further than 10 yards in the air, including three of four on balls over 20 yards in the air — among them a spectacular 47-yard touchdown to Joe Morgan, though he made his receiver unnecessarily come back to the under-thrown ball.

It’s scary to think that, despite how well Brees played, he could have been even sharper. Along with the touchdown, he under-threw an additional pass when Morgan again got behind the defense and could have walked into the end zone.

Third and Moore

As good as Brees was passing the ball, he wouldn’t have done it without the stellar play of his receivers — none of whom were better, or came up bigger, than Lance Moore (+4.6). He was one of the few Saint receivers to not end up with a touchdown, but he did everything else, and led the team with nine catches for 121 yards. When the Saints needed a big play to keep a drive alive, Moore was the player to deliver with eight of his receptions producing first downs and six such plays coming on third-down. One of his biggest came on a third-and-10 at 12:38 in the second quarter, when he wasn’t initially open but adeptly found a hole in the coverage and moved into position for his QB to get him the ball, which of course Brees did.

His best work on the day came when he lined up in the slot. Running 9 of his 27 pass routes from inside, Moore gained an impressive 9.22 yards per route run, caught all five balls thrown his way and took advantage of the less-than-stellar play of slot CB Brandon McDonald. McDonald wasn’t the only defender to get beaten though, as the Saint caught at least two passes against three different Tampa Bay DBs on the day.

Vilma’s Return

If Roger Goodell has his way, the Saints’ defensive captain won’t be back for long, but he certainly had a solid debut after missing the entire offseason and spending the first six weeks on PUP. Limited to the Saints’ nickel packages, Jonathan Vilma played just 19 snaps, but made enough of an impact to receive one of the few positive grades on the defense, coming in at +1.0. One of those impact plays came on his second snap of the game at 8:41 of the first quarter, when his pressure forced a poor throw from Freeman that resulted in an interception by safety Roman Harper, though the play was inexplicably upheld as an incompletion.

And while we haven’t been enthralled with Vilma’s play in the run game in recent years — whether it’s his inability to shed blocks, his penchant for getting dragged for extra yards by the ball carrier or flat out missing tackles (this was on display as he whiffed on an attempted tackle of Doug Martin) — he’s been respectable in coverage and almost came away with an interception on an excellent read and pass deflection early in the game. His play was also key in the momentous third-quarter goal-line stand by the Saints.

Vilma won’t single-handedly turn around a defense whose problems go much, much deeper than linebacker, but if he is able to overturn his year-long suspension he brings a presence and intensity that can drive a team to make just enough plays to win — plays like that game-changing goal-line stand.

Profootball Focus

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