We continue our study and analysis of the Saints’ goal line offense against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With two downs left to punch it in the endzone in Tampa after no success on first or second down, New Orleans failed to get it done:
3rd & 2 at TB2
Pierre Thomas rush to the left for no gain to the TB2. Tackled by Darrelle Revis and Ahmad Black.
With the ball now back at the two yard line, NO brought in their 11 personnel: 1 RB, 1 TE and 3 WRs. TB brought in their coverage people.
Jimmy Graham lined up tight to the left then shifted to a tight slot position to the right. Now there were three potential receivers to the right – Graham, Kenny Stills and Lance Moore. Marques Colston was a single WR to the left. The plan was to run Pierre Thomas now at RB to the left behind the zone blocking of tackle Charles Brown, guard Ben Grubbs and center Brian de la Puente.
The play was doomed from the start. First, it is usually not a good idea to run where you shifted from unless you know the defense will over adjust. The Bucs did not move so the Saints were outnumbered.
Secondly, de la Puente had to reach block the defensive tackle in his left gap without help from Grubbs who had to get up on his defender. The defender penetrated and did not allow Thomas to get his shoulders square. He ran hard to gain a few inches.
We see a recurring theme here: de la Puente has difficulty blocking the playside “A” gap, the space between himself and the guard, by himself. He consistently takes a poor first step, cannot get his head across the defender and allows penetration. De la Puente is a solid center, but so far this season has not gotten this task done.
4th & 1 at TB1
Mark Ingram rush to the left for no gain to the TB1. Tackled by Lavonte David and Mason Foster.
This was the fourth down stop after NO took the field goal off the board. I have no qualm with the decision. A championship caliber team is supposed to gain a yard whenever they want. Payton once again showed confidence in his team to get the job done.
I could write an entire chapter on this play. It is, indeed, an example of what NOT to do on the goal line.
NO went back to their GL personnel with three TEs. Ben Watson was in single tight end to the left alongside Charles Brown. This provides what should be a solid corner. The Bucs cooperate by putting in their goal line defensive unit that only included 10 men. Not only were they a man short, but they were short to the side the Saints ran.
Back at running back, Ingram ran a basic off-tackle play with “G-blocking” meaning that playside guard Ben Grubbs would pull to kick out. Fullback Collins would then lead Ingram through the hole.
The left side of the Saints O-line had a terrible takeoff. Buc defensive end Adrian Clayborn got the jump on them with their late get-off. This penetration constricted the area to run for Ingram, but it would get worse. De la Puente once again could not reach the playside gap, and the defender not only penetrated, but worked down the line knocking both Brown and Watson off their blocks.
This allowed linebacker Mason Foster (we would hear more from him later in the game) to come hard downhill, get his cleats in the ground and square up his shoulders short of the goal line. With Ingram running high once again, Foster got under his pads and stood him up. Lavonte David and Clayborn arrived to pull Ingram backward, preventing him from falling into the end zone.
With all those errors, the Saints were stopped inches short. The effort was there but not the result due to faulty execution.
The Saints have to do several things to improve their GL/SY attack:
Sean Payton has to decide if the running attack will be power or zone in nature. In critical situations, it is difficult to be great at both.
As a unit, they have to improve their team takeoff and get off quickly in unison on the snap of the ball. They cannot afford to let the defensive front get the jump on them.
Brian de la Puente has to improve his technique in reach blocking playside. So far, he has not been able to cut off penetration alone. If he cannot get this done alone, schemes need to be developed to give him help.
If Ingram continues to be the GL/SY back he has to run downhill with more conviction and has to attack with a lower pad level. He cannot allow defenders to get under his pads and stand him up. Pierre Thomas is much better at this and will probably become the back in these situations.
Out of all the problems an offense can have, this is the most correctible. It is the one area of offense that plan, coaching and technique count as much as talent.
Zach Strief summed it up well, as he often does, when discussing the goal line attack: "At the end of the day that play has to get in. Look, it's a team deal. There's no finger pointing around here. We all take accountability for when it's on us.”
That is the stuff of which championship teams are made.
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