How the Saints Became Unstoppable in the Second Half

On the Monday Morning NFL Podcast, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling analyzed the Saints’ second-half dominance of the Eagles…

GARY: This was like a reverse Nick Foles game. The Eagles ended it shaky and they started it with a flourish. It wasn’t enough on the road. As well as this early game went for them and as impressive as this run has been for them over the last couple years, it’s over. They were just not the better team.

ANDY: They weren’t. The early lead got your attention if you’re a Saints fan, no question about that, but once the Saints got rolling, they got a real feel for Philadelphia’s Cover 3. As we suspected Gary, the Eagles stayed in Cover 3 all game. They did not go to the man-to-man stuff that they did in Week 11 at New Orleans. Once the Saints got a feel for that, they were in such command of the game, it almost felt like they were blowing out the Eagles in the second half. When Philly was driving down six, it was a little bit like an out-of-body experience, thinking, “Man, there’s no way the Eagles can win this game.” Even though this one was close, this felt like the fourth blowout to me. I thought the Saints were clearly the best team and it was evident on both sides of the ball.

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GARY: Well look, they had that 18-play, 92-yard drive that took up 11-and-a-half minutes in the third quarter. The pattern for a lot of that was put Taysom Hill on the field, pick up a holding penalty and get backed up, and then just pick up the first down. If the field was 300 yards long, that was going to be a touchdown drive.

ANDY: They were just in total command. You know, the only thing that was real negative that stood out, and what contributed to how that drive unfolded, is Drew Brees does not have much juice on vertical throws anymore. That’s why we thought the Eagles might keep their free safety down shallow to make the Saints beat them over the top. We saw right away Brees can’t beat you over the top. Le’Blanc, who had an excellent night, had that interception to open the game, but they still got the feel for what Philadelphia was doing and they were glad to work the underneath and intermediate games. They’re real lucky they have Michael Thomas too, aren’t they Gary? That guy can move the chains as well as any receiver I’ve seen.

GARY: When you think about it, yes Alvin Kamara is very talented as a receiver, Michael Thomas—the way they scheme him open and the way he gets open constantly—is pretty exceptional considering they don’t have anyone else you would even consider devoting a second defender to.

ANDY: He’s really good at what they call “stemming” your route. The initial steps in your route, that’s your stem, that’s a big deal for how you set up defenders. That third-and-16 near the end of that drive when he caught a 20-yard pass, that in-breaking route, which he killed them on all night long, was really illustrative of what Thomas brings to the table and why he’s so good. He sets up his defenders exceptionally well. And the other thing the Saints do is they leverage the underneath defenders with Thomas and Kamara at times. So Thomas’s route will impact the linebackers and then Kamara runs underneath them, or sometimes it works vice-versa. They’re very good at doing that and obviously Brees is good at reading that, and if you’re going to be predictable like Philadelphia was, then your pass rush has to get home and change the make-up and the landscape of the game in that way. The Eagles’ pass rush, aside from a few flashes tonight, really didn’t do that. That’s a good Saints offensive line.

GARY: And of course the last time they met, the Eagles played a little bit of man. They doubled Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara and Tre’Quan Smith had a 10-catch, 157-yard game in that one. This one was closer so I guess the Eagles’ adjustments were correct from a global standpoint on that.

I don’t know what the Eagles’ offensive personnel splits ended up being, but I thought this was a Golden Tate type of a game. I think P.J. Williams is the guy you go after in that Saints secondary, you want him on the field—and they got him on that Jordan Matthews touchdown to start the game. But the Eagles had no semblance of an offense between their opening two touchdown drives and that final drive that, of course, ended with the ball slipping through Alshon Jeffery’s hands and into Marshon Lattimore’s stomach.

ANDY: This is what we were talking about when we said that the Eagles do not match up as well to the Saints as they did to the Bears even though the Bears were the better defense. The Bears are a zone defense and the Saints, it felt like there were a lot of matchup elements. A lot of man-to-man or coverages that played out like man-to-man. Lattimore traveled with Jeffery all night long, it wasn’t just the second half. He traveled with him in the first half as well. There was a real active energy and assertiveness to the way the Saints were playing coverage on the back-end and Foles, quite frankly, who I have come to really admire with how good he is at throwing with bodies around him, he was not very accurate in the second half. He was not the same thrower in Quarters 3 and 4.

GARY: Foles looked disjointed overall. Charles Davis made the point a couple times on the telecast: The Saints were getting up and disrupting these routes early.

ANDY: Which they did not do early in the game, by the way. Eli Apple got caught playing off on one of those Golden Tate catches early in the game. That press coverage is a big deal. Philly’s not very fast, you can press those wide receivers, you’re not going to get beat over the top by them.

GARY: It was fun to imagine what was going to happen there. Second-and-10, they have the ball on the Saints 27 with two minutes to go, but that’s it. I mean, hey, a break goes against Nick Foles and the Saints move on.

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