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Saints film room: Defense impressive after making adjustments against Vikings

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Old 10-30-2018, 10:48 PM   #1
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Old 10-30-2018, 10:49 PM   #2
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Re: Saints film room: Defense impressive after making adjustments against Vikings

BY NICK UNDERHILL | nunderhill@theadvocate.com Oct 30, 2018 - 2:35 pm

Start in the middle.

If you start there, or even just a little before it, you’ll see a defense that looks menacing and (mostly) organized. You’ll see a group that seems primed to make a run in the playoffs, and doesn’t have much reason for concern. That’s how good the New Orleans Saints were during the second half of Sunday night’s 30-20 win over the Vikings.

With the benefit of time and distance, perhaps the beginning should only be viewed to see how it ends. This was the first game with cornerback Eli Apple, so there were bound to be some issues, especially early on. Maybe the adjustments are what matters more than the initial plan and execution — even if it didn't feel that way when Minnesota was marching down the field early in the first half Sunday night.

The Vikings started with a plan to go after P.J. Williams, who was covering the slot. Minnesota targeted him several times during the first half and often had success by moving Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs into the slot. It felt helpless for a while, but the Saints were able to mitigate the damage in the second half.

New Orleans incorporated some more zone coverages and also paid a little more attention to Thielen, which aided Williams on a handful of plays. The Saints bracketed the slot receiver in the third quarter with Williams and Vonn Bell on a play that resulted in a 14-yard gain to Diggs. They also did it with Bell and Apple on a play in which Williams intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass. There was a third example in the fourth quarter in the red zone.

Williams mostly showed up for the right reasons during the second half, which is a testament to the adjustments the Saints made after Minnesota took advantage of their defense during the first half.

The Saints also got a lot out of their pass rush. Third-year defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins probably played the best game of his career. He created pressure on at least seven plays, including two sacks. He blew by guard Danny Isidora on one of them, and then bull-rushed center Pat Elflein back to Cousins on another. The 2016 first-round pick has come into his own this season.

The Vikings game was also another strong performance for rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport, who had two sacks. One of them was a coverage sack, which came in the third quarter after New Orleans used a disguised zone coverage. On the other, Davenport simply came off the edge from a standing position, used defensive tackle David Onyemata as a pick, and quickly dropped Cousins.

Overall, it felt like the Saints were consistently in the backfield creating pressure on Cousins. New Orleans was more aggressive in the pass rush than it was the week before, when it only rushed two or three players on about 25 percent of the snaps against the Ravens. Against the Vikings, the defense blitzed on more than 10 plays. The more aggressive approach also helped protect the secondary, because it often forced Cousins into quicker decisions.

Overall, it was a fine performance for Apple. He played smart and didn’t give up much in coverage. One of his more positive plays was his defensive pass-interference penalty in the fourth quarter, when he tackled Diggs after colliding with safety Kurt Coleman.

Diggs would have scored if he hadn’t been brought to the ground. The play forced Minnesota to run more than another minute off the clock before scoring — its first points since the second drive of the game. It was a smart decision.

Apple's lowest point in coverage came on the flea flicker that led to a 28-yard gain by Thielen early in the second quarter. Cousins also had Laquon Treadwell up the middle, and Treadwell actually looked more open after just about everyone in the secondary bit on the fake — especially Apple, who got caught watching an inside route instead of covering Thielen.

The only person who covered the play well was Lattimore, and it was likely because he was lined up over top of his man at the line of scrimmage, which allowed him to see the toss back the quarterback quicker than everyone else. It was simply a great play design by Minnesota.

Given some time and distance, the Saints can take a lot of positives from this game. There are also some negatives. If New Orleans doesn’t keep things settled, the Rams and Eagles — who just acquired Golden Tate on Tuesday — have the receivers and creative play designers to exploit whatever weaknesses exist within the defense.

But viewing the game through the perspective of the defensive bounceback, the Saints have some reasons for optimism.

Taysom file: I was expecting the defense to look a little more broken on Taysom Hill’s 44-yard pass to Michael Thomas during the opening drive. But after some initial sorting out before the snap, Minnesota covered the play well. Cornerback George Iloka simply got run by, and safety Harrison Smith was right there when the ball arrived. Hill just threw it by them, and Thomas was there to catch the pass.

The Saints had three quarterbacks on the field on the play, and the thing that stood out the most is that Minnesota didn't pay much attention to Drew Brees on the outside. If teams keep sagging off on him, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Saints take advantage of the apathy at some point. Much like Hill taking a shot down the field, the moments from these packages build up over the time.
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Old 10-31-2018, 12:02 AM   #3
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Re: Saints film room: Defense impressive after making adjustments against Vikings

Good read.
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Old 10-31-2018, 06:15 AM   #4
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Re: Saints film room: Defense impressive after making adjustments against Vikings

Brees could have scored easily with the 3 QB set. I think that was the point, see how the D reacted. It looked silly but if they are going to ignore him Peyton will absolutely have Brees as option 1 if there is a next time.

Probably won't see it again until the potential playoffs. By that time defensive coordinators will have completely forgotten about it.
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Old 10-31-2018, 06:52 AM   #5
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Re: Saints film room: Defense impressive after making adjustments against Vikings

In the Sean Payton era Saints' defenses have typically made good 2nd half adjustments. I'm pretty sure that's a philosophy of strategy where the Saints defense purposely allows some weaknesses in their formations & coverages in the 1st half that lures opposing offenses to go back to running plays in the 2nd half based on their prior successes only to find that the defense slams the door on them. I've seen this happen too many times for it not to be a 2 tiered defensive strategy. Lure/bait then exploit.
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Old 10-31-2018, 01:15 PM   #6
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Re: Saints film room: Defense impressive after making adjustments against Vikings

I didn't see much film break down........the story was accurate but I expected to actually learn something.

Edit: Although I did learn that we ran more zone and blitzed more.
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Old 10-31-2018, 02:55 PM   #7
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Re: Saints film room: Defense impressive after making adjustments against Vikings

Kind of a head scratcher - D.A. has all week to game-plan for a team, defense comes out and gets smoked...

Goes in for a twelve minute halftime - comes out the second half with marked improvement, nearly a shut-down effort...

Get the opponent may come out of the gate with something new to open the game, something the preparation didn't cover...

So how come adjustments can't be made by the end of the first half which is fifteen minutes per quarter, thirty minutes?
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Old 10-31-2018, 04:10 PM   #8
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Re: Saints film room: Defense impressive after making adjustments against Vikings

Originally Posted by jeanpierre View Post
Kind of a head scratcher - D.A. has all week to game-plan for a team, defense comes out and gets smoked...

Goes in for a twelve minute halftime - comes out the second half with marked improvement, nearly a shut-down effort...

Get the opponent may come out of the gate with something new to open the game, something the preparation didn't cover...

So how come adjustments can't be made by the end of the first half which is fifteen minutes per quarter, thirty minutes?
The did the same thing against the Vikes in last year's playoff game. Gave up 17 by halftime but only 6 over the next 29 minutes and 35 seconds.
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