The Los Angeles Rams get another shot at the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game. But the Saints look stronger than ever. Not because they’re putting up massive numbers, but because they’re executing when they have to and taking advantage of nearly everything a defense gives them.
Drew Brees dissected the Eagles’ pass-defense (73 completion percentage) and his receivers found space between the layers of zone coverage. If the Rams defense doesn’t keep New Orleans from executing (especially on third-down), then it’s going to be a long afternoon and a long off-season.
Burn ‘em short
The Eagles ran seven plays in the third quarter because the Saints consumed an overwhelming majority of the block to score their first touchdown. Time and again, the Saints were put in situations that should have killed drives. They had a touchdown and plays called back due to penalties and they faced several long-yard situations.
But the Saints stayed on the field by consistently moving the ball and converting on third down, both of which were accomplished through mostly short passes. Of the Drew Brees 12 throws in the third quarter, only two went for more than 10 yards.
Michael Thomas wasn’t catching bombs from Brees. He was taking the short passes underneath and getting yards after the catch. Of his three catches on this drive, Thomas racked up 27 yards after the catch.
This was a third-and-long situation. The Eagles stopped Kamara from putting a dent on the previous 2-and-20 play. Thomas manages to find space between Philly defenders and probably would have gotten a favorable spot if he was dropped there. But again, Thomas wanted more and got an extra six yards for a 20-yard gain.
About 40 percent of Thomas’ receiving yards came after the catch and he finished the season sixth in the NFL with 383 yards. He’s fifth in the postseason with 55 yards (about 32 percent of his receiving total). He’s third among receivers whose teams are still in the playoffs.
Dig those gaps
Like the Dallas Cowboys did in the second half against the Rams, the Saints passing game took advantage of the gaps in the zone-defense. They did this primarily with dig routes.
The Eagles linebackers played up near the line of scrimmage, even in clear passing situations. When they did drop back in coverage, it was mostly ineffective as the biggest passing targets had already run past them.
Receivers like Thomas and even Ted Ginn Jr. (who is playing/alive and still good) had solid gains between defenders throughout the game.
CB Aqib Talib is most likely going to be responsible for covering Thomas, which means CB Marcus Peters will cover guys like Ginn. While he had just three catches against the Eagles, Ginn was targeted seven times.
This is what Tim Tebow would look like if he wasn’t such a stuck up turd. “Switching positions just wasn’t in my heart,” said a guy who is barely with the New York Mets. Sure, he has a hot fiancee and is rich and actively works for ESPN, but he wouldn’t play H-back, so I hate him.
The last time the Rams played against Hill, he wasn’t much of a factor (two runs for 10 yards). This time around, he could be an active threat in the passing game both as a receiver and a quarterback.
The play above was an incomplete pass, but watch how Hill gains a favorable look against the Philly secondary. He gets ahead of the corner, but has to slow down for an underthrown ball.
The Saints had this called back because of a holding penalty. The Eagles tried to defend the third-down conversion and have their Cover 1 safety drop down for the out route, which left the defensive backfield wide open for Alvin Kamara. This was a beautiful pass by Hill that would have been an easy touchdown for the Saints.
New Orleans was second in the league on fourth-down conversions (13-of-16) and they’re currently batting 1.000 in the postseason (2-of-2). It helps to have Hill on plays like this. The Eagles knew it was coming and was unable to stop it.