Coaches in any sport continually emphasize and try to develop two skills in players: give your best at all times and play every play to the best of your ability. These skills are more difficult to accomplish than they appear, but this is what separates successful teams from unsuccessful ones.
There are many catch-phrases that are often used to highlight these points. "You have to give 110%" (which is impossible since you can only give 100%) and "You have to play every play like it is your last" are two of the most over used.
In every game there is a play that leads to victory or defeat. You never know when that play is coming. You do not know whether that play will be an offensive, defensive or special team's one.
You have to be prepared for the next play to be "the one" because it is impossible to know ahead of time when this play will occur. If you do not play every play to the maximum, you leave you and your team susceptible to failure.
It is not just that a singular play can lead to victory or defeat, but how that play inspires one team or the other to the final result.
This season we have seen several notable examples of this, none more obvious than in the San Francisco 49er game last Sunday. The interception for a touchdown just before the half not only affected the game result at the time, but carried over into the second half to put the Niners in control.
With 31 seconds to go in the second quarter, Drew Brees had the Saints on their own 44 yard line ready to build on a 14-7 lead. New Orleans had taken control of the game and had just intercepted Colin Kaepernick to put themselves in scoring position.
In the next 9-seconds, all of this would change.
New Orleans lined up in an "empty" set with five potential receivers on or near the line of scrimmage, and no one in the backfield with Brees in the shotgun. The 49er coverage started with a 2-deep shell and three down linemen. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks aligned in a blitz position over the left guard and had to be accounted for in pass protection.
While San Francisco aligned in a Cover 2 shell, that did not mean they would play cover 2. They instead played Cover 4 or quarters coverage, with each defensive back covering ¼ of the deep field. This coverage allows the safeties to jump any route underneath them.
What made this coverage different was that the Niners dropped Brooks into coverage, putting four defenders pattern reading underneath the four deep DBs. Brees tried to get the ball to Jummy Graham on a double move against linebacker NaVorro Bowman, first moving to the outside and then breaking back in behind him. Brees had the reasonable assumption that Brooks would rush since defensive tackle Ray McDonald was aligned offset over right guard Jahri Evans and not over the center.
Brees first looked to the outside left to free Graham from Bowman, but his quick pump fake drew the dropping Brooks toward the throwing lane. Brees never saw him until after the ball was released.
What made the throw even more difficult was that Brooks had opened his hips toward Graham on the snap. This narrowed the relative distance of the window since Graham and Brooks were moving toward each other. Brees had no chance of getting the ball through this window.
It would have been bad enough if the Saints could have put that play behind them. They could not. San Francisco scored in six plays after receiving the second half kickoff, and then intercepted Brees again for a score on the ensuing drive. In 4:01 of elapsed game time, the Saints went from being up 14-7 to being down 14-28.
The Saints have trouble "stopping the bleeding" after a bad play. One bad play often leads to another and then to another bad play. In this case it was a bad play leading to a depressed halftime, to two bad series to open the second half.
The Saints organization needs to learn how to forget the last play and then play the next play to the best of their ability.
Has anyone noticed how similar the San Francisco 49ers are to the Baltimore Ravens? The Brothers Harbaugh, John at Baltimore and Jim in San Francisco, have built their teams almost identically. John does not get the credit with the Ravens that Jim gets with the Niners, but he deserves it. The real credit should go to their father, Jack Harbaugh, who as a retired coach has taught his sons well.
Going into week 13, New Orleans now has no wiggle room; they have to win out. It will be difficult for the Saints to get up off the mat for their Thursday night game at Atlanta. But they have to give their best and do it every play. I would expect no less of any high school team still remaining in the playoffs.
It was Sir Andrew Barton (1466-1511) who stated: "I am wounded but not yet slain. I shall lie and bleed awhile, then rise to fight again." (Paraphrased)
.Like Sir Andrew, the Saints have to rise up to fight in Atlanta. Put the last play behind you, play the next play to the best of your ability. This is a very valuable lesson for all of us to follow.
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