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From the Coach’s Office: Saints-Panthers Analysis

The NFL is the most competitive league in the world. It has the best players and coaches in the world, and that pool is not diluted by international involvement. Football is America's game played by American players.

The difference between success and failure is so minute that even slow motion instant replay cannot always tell you what happened. There is no question that it take talent to be successful in the league. Every team has good players. It is the responsibility of management and leadership to build and improve the talent base, then coordinate their efforts to play effectively.

Anything short of perfection puts you at a disadvantage. You must be perfect in the things you can control in a game where so much of the game is not under your control.

At 0 – 2, the Saints and their fans are looking for answers. Let us be clear on this, there is room for finger pointing. I would sum it up this way: "No excuses, only reasons."

And as difficult as it is, remember this: no matter how frustrated we may be as fans, it cannot duplicate the feeling that the players and coaches have.

As always, the final result is a team effort. If the defense gives up 35, the offense has to score 36. If the offense scores 17, the defense needs to give up 16.

After the first two games, the Steve Spagnuolo led defense has taken most of the blame. With a week 1 yardage of 459 and a week 2 yardage of 463, the Saints have allowed a total of 922 yards and 75 points in games against athletic quarterbacks Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III.

Yet, as poorly as the defense played, the offense contributed by giving up a pick 6 and dropping two potential touchdown passes in back-to-back plays by the usually reliable Lance Moore and Jimmy Graham. New Orleans settled for a field goal instead of a touchdown. These two plays cost the Black & Gold eleven points.

And in both cases, Carolina received a needed shot in the arm from both offensive failures.

After viewing the coaches video where you get to see all 22 players from the sideline then a tight end zone shot, I have these observations:

The Saints made sure they engaged their running game by utilizing it extensively on first down. In fact out of 36 first down plays, the Saints ran the ball 22 times or 61% of the time. This is a change from Sean Payton's modus operandi (MO) where he would throw it on first down and run it on second regardless of the distance to make.

The Saints did little with the running game on second and third down, as there were on five runs on those downs as opposed to 37 passes. Overall, the Saints had a better per carry average than the Panthers: Saints 6.0 yards to the Panthers 5.3 yards.

There are two ways to defend the New Orleans offense: emphasize coverage schemes or attack the pass protection scheme. The Panthers chose to drop and force the check downs while the Redskins chose to scheme the pass protection to make the ball come out quickly. I was surprised that the Panthers did not utilize more of the Redskins' tactics. Carolina must have believed that the Saints would have a pass protection adjustment in place.

New Orleans used Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas together several times. Thomas stayed in the backfield while Sproles lined up outside. This combination plays havoc with the defensive personnel grouping. Do you play it like two-back personnel (20) or one-back personnel (10)? That decision determines how many defensive backs are in the game; four, five or six.

Expect to see plenty more of that going forward.

Defensively, the Saints are trying to play the Zone Read with the front seven defenders. This is difficult if not impossible to do. The first time the Panthers ran it, they used two tight ends leaving New Orleans one gap short. When two of the three linebackers fit toward Newton, DeAngelo Hall got an easy eight yards.

The Panthers chose to make rookie Corey White a target from their very first play when they ran three vertical routes versus cover three. That should be easily covered, but Corey White came too far inside and left the sideline area uncovered when Cam Newton pump faked to his right.

Corey White did not appear to be the victim of Steve Smith's 66 yard reception in the fourth quarter. The Saints were in their nickel personnel with White as the nickel safety and Patrick Robinson as the corner in a cover 2 shell. When Carolina wide receiver Louis Murphy turned in, Robinson collapsed in on him and left Smith uncovered on a "wheel" route.

Really? Jump on Louis Murphy and leave Steve Smith alone. That shows a huge lack of awareness. However, great hustle by White, Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper kept Smith out of the end zone.

The play that will get the most review was the Carolina pick 6 on the Saints second possession. It was one of the worst plays in Drew Brees's career, and certainly one of his worst decisions. This was a classic example of trying too hard to make something out of nothing.

The Saints lined up in a wing trips formation to the left with tight ends Jimmy Graham on the line of scrimmage and David Thomas as the wing. Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson aligned with width opposite, while Charles Godfrey from his safety position came down to cover the TE combination with nickel back Captain Munnerlyn.

Graham releases up the field and was double covered by Munnerlyn and linebacker Jon Beason underneath. Thomas works behind the line of scrimmage, attempting to get to the opposite flat, Godfrey in pursuit on the defensive side of the ball.

Brees fakes a run to Pierre Thomas to the left and bootlegs opposite. Johnson squeezes with the play fake, and then does a great job keeping Brees in front of him, cutting off his boot path.

While he does have a three receiver pattern in front of him, there is nothing there. What was not evident in the TV video was that Brees could not see Godfrey, who was directly behind Thomas. He did not appear until the ball was released leading Thomas to the outside. The faster Godfrey beat him to the ball.

We also did not originally see that left guard Ben Grubbs allowed penetration that bumped Thomas slowing his route across the formation. This gave Godfrey time to eventually catch up and pass Thomas to the ball.

The key to progress going forward: no blame or excuses, just solid reasoning and correction. How effectively the Saints do this will determine their immediate future.


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