What We Saw: New Orleans Saints 17, Atlanta Falcons 13

image via NFL.com

As is the case so often with games between divisional rivals, this was a close fought game, but New Orleans came out on top, securing a seasonal sweep of the Atlanta Falcons.

It also guarantees a losing record for Atlanta, the first since head coach Mike Smith took over. It will also be the lowest the team has placed in the division since Smith arrived—in the previous five years they have never finished lower than second in the NFC South.

Here are a few more things we saw for you to chew over.

  • Despite the losing record and atrocious season, Smith isn’t going anywhere. According to NFL.com’s Mike Silver, owner Arthur Blank has assured both Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff as well. Now, we all know what the promises of owners can mean—absolutely nothing—but given the success the pair have had overall, this decision makes sense. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, but just last year the team was in the NFC Championship game. So horrific season aside, it would seem knee jerk to toss Smith out after one bad season out of six. So it seems Smith isn’t going anywhere. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t drive fans nuts with calls like going for a field goal when you should go on 4th down rather than hand the ball back to Drew Brees.
  • A month ago, Mark Ingram was a bust. Two weeks ago, he ran for 145 yards on just 14 carries against the Dallas Cowboys. Now for two weeks in a row he has had less than 10 carries for less than 35 yards. Which is the real Ingram? It’s hard to say. He certainly looks slower and less powerful than he did in college. There was a moment early in the game when he ran into an Atlanta defender, someone he would have run over when he was at Alabama. Thursday night he stopped cold and couldn’t budge the player. We saw it on at least two more runs as well. Sometimes a player just isn’t a fit for a system and that certainly is a factor here—they rarely use him for more than a handful of carries and he doesn’t quite seem to fit into their offensive scheme. However, some of it is on him as well—perhaps not on purpose or due to anything he does or doesn’t do, but perhaps he just came out of Alabama more used up than expected. It’s hard to imagine that he might stick with the Saints when his contract is up, and he may find a better fit elsewhere.
  • One pregame question we had was whether Harry Douglas was going to be taking over as the “new Roddy White” and it seems clear now that he is. Heck, his nine catches for 79 yards included some key grabs and helped quarterback Matt Ryan to one of his best weeks this season. He, like everyone else in the passing game, never saw the end zone and the Falcons continue to die in the red zone. They were able to get Steven Jackson in the end zone once, but that was it. Jackson looked better this week, but overall isn’t providing the pop Atlanta was looking for when they dumped Mike Turner for Jackson. Still, he and Douglas kept things moving and the defense kept the game close. All that was for nothing when rookie wide receiver Darius Johnson fumbled in the fourth quarter, killing a drive. Well, at least they found Douglas, who will be a fine addition across from Julio Jones when White calls it quits.

What’d you see Thursday night? Let me know down in the comments.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons

image via NFL.com

This game was supposed to mean more.

Of course, every game in the NFL means a lot to the guys playing it, but we expected the Atlanta Falcons to be good and vying for—if not owning outright—first place in the NFC South.

That’s not how things worked out though, due to injuries and so this game has lost a bit of its luster.

That’s not to say we won’t be watching and that there isn’t a lot worth watching.

It’s just not the things we thought would be things we needed to watch.

image via Washington Post

  • What’s really going on with Matt Ryan? Sure, the Falcons lost a lot of their offensive weapons for stretches this season but Ryan himself has looked off. If you don’t watch a lot of Falcons football, you might be struck by how…un-Ryan-like he looks compared to the playoffs last year. Roddy White is starting to look better, as is Steven Jackson and Tony Gonzalez hasn’t lost any steam (statistics aside). Can Ryan start to look like he did in 2012?

13-12-NO-Brees-Neck

  • Aside from wondering whether Drew Brees’ neck is stretched like a giraffes’ after the hit from Ahmad Brooks* last week, the Saints themselves have been pretty consistent. The defense has been outstanding and the offense—even with Jimmy Graham’s injury issues—has been solid, albeit not as high-flying as in years past. Their only blemishes have taken place on the road—a loss to the New England Patriots and one to the New York Jets. This is the first of two road games. Can they keep focused?

image via CBS Atlanta

  • Are we watching a changing of the guard in Atlanta’s receiving corps? Roddy White has definitely been slowed by age while Harry Douglas has routinely performed at a high level despite little help against opposing secondaries. This will be another tough test but a good game and we may have witnessed a baton being passed.

*Special note of thanks to Footballguys boss Joe Bryant for the Brees gif—he had it in his “Random Shots” column this week.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Dallas Cowboys 2 Minute Drill vs New Orleans Saints

romo

I nearly called this, “How to Telegraph Every Play in a Panic.”

Because the more you look at the Dallas Cowboys’ 1st half 2-minute drill last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the more you wonder how it a team with so much time on the clock can sabotage themselves.

Near the end of the first quarter, Dallas was trailing New Orleans 21-10. The Saints had just scored a touchdown but there was plenty of ballgame left and the Cowboys had 1st and 10 at their own 20 yard line after the ensuing kickoff.

In order to fully set the stage, you need to know a few other details.

At this point in the half, quarterback Tony Romo had thrown for 12 yards on six attempts. Running back DeMarco Murray had been much more effective with 11 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Also, the Cowboys would get the ball back at the start of the second half.

While the Cowboys trailed by 11 points, there was ample time to get going.

You wouldn’t have known it by what happened on this drive.

1-10-DAL 20

(1:32) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to J.Witten to DAL 28 for 8 yards (C.Lofton).
1stdwn_1 copy
Now, as announcer Chris Collinsworth mentioned in the broadcast, the formation Dallas is in here is the one they used to beat the Minnesota Vikings the previous week.
The thing is, the Saints’ defense is much better than the Vikings this season and more than likely they’d watched the tape of that drive. Also, there should be a different mindset driving 80 or 90 yards with 2 minutes to go in the game versus less than 2 minutes to go in the first half.
Still, the play is a good start. The receivers on the right run vertical routes, which clears out the underneath for Jason  Witten, who cuts outside and away from his defender for a nice 8-yard gain (highlighted in green again).
1stdwn_2Now the flipside to this—and the staff should have seen this—is that every receiver is well covered. With an empty backfield, the Saints can just lay back and wait for the inevitable throw and what’s more, the safeties can hover and wait to see where Romo is looking. They don’t have to worry about the running back eating up yards.
This will come up again shortly.
2-2-DAL 28 

(1:09) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short middle to T.Williams (C.White).
The Cowboys set up for second down in the exact same formation, including the empty backfield.
2stdwn_1Now, with the time left, you can understand not using Murray out of the backfield on a run.  Dallas has no time outs and can’t burn much clock.
By the same token, not having Murray back there at all once again opens things up for the secondary, especially the safeties.
Dez Bryant is up top and runs a “go” route, while Witten is lined up off the left tackle and runs a “post.” In the slot between them is Cole Beasley who just runs a short hook.
On the right side of the line, receiver Dwayne Harris also runs a short hook.
The green highlighted route is rookie Terrance Williams, who is lined up on the far right outside. Williams had been targeted twice to this point, but had no catches.
Unlike the first play, which utilized the outside receivers to clear traffic away for the underneath route, Williams’ route takes him right into the middle of the defense.
There are no receivers clearing out the area and because there is zero run threat, the safety is just hanging out there waiting on the pass.
2stdwn_2
The above screen grab has the defenders general area of coverage in red, with the relative area of effect for the receivers in yellow.
Romo has a great option—two in fact—but either has predetermined Williams is the guy to go to or completely misses both Witten (wide open just past the 40 yard line) and Beasley (open short).
It’s possible he saw Beasley and opted to not go short, which given the time is understandable to a point.
How he missed Witten is a mystery—until you look at the All-22, particularly the end zone angle.
Romo2ndDown3At most, Romo throws a cursory glance towards his left, more of an attempt to look the safety off than a check to see if anyone was open.
Going back to the previous screen grab, you can see that Bryant is perfectly covered up top (with one safety in place to help) and Harris is equally covered on his short hook.
Williams is not open either and is bracketed by cornerback Corey White low and a safety over the top.
That doesn’t stop Romo who is lucky he isn’t picked off by White or the safety, Rafael Bush.
Even if Williams had made the catch, he’s in the middle of the field with no time outs.
Witten is open along the side and could have easily made the catch and continued out of bounds. Or you might as well have run the ball, picked up the first and hurried up to the line. Just like you would have if Williams had caught this ball.
3-2-DAL 28 

(1:04) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short middle to C.Beasley (C.White).
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
An empty backfield, five wide receiver set. The defense is once again able to allow their safeties to hang back and allow the play to form before needing to react.
3rddwn_1
Keep in mind that at this point, not even thirty seconds has elapsed. The Cowboys have no timeouts, sure, but the Saints do and the Cowboys are not managing the clock.
An efficient offense could move the ball, including runs and short passes, without timeouts. We see guys like Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers do it all the time and sometimes they even run the ball.

There is no efficiency in this drive, no working the sidelines, no moving the chains. So here they are on 3rd and 2, and in this situation they chose to just try to get the first down on a short slant to Beasley.
As they were clearly not trying to hit a home run, why not have Murray in the backfield to give Romo more options, give the defense more to think about it or perhaps even give the ball to your running back, who has been averaging 7.3 yards-per-carry.The play itself features three deep routes, Witten on an “in” route and Beasley on his slant.Once again though, the routes of the other receivers don’t help clear the way for Beasley and, in point of fact, Witten’s route brings up a defender into the area Beasley is going into.Theoretically, the idea might have been that Witten pulls coverage with him in the opposite direction Beasley is going in while the vertical routes open up the sideline.Witten doesn’t run his pattern quick enough or Romo hurries the play. He certainly had time to let Beasley get a bit further on his route, enough time for Witten to pull his defender away.3rddwn_2Either way, the pass is deflected by White again and the Cowboys are forced to punt.Not even 30 seconds have elapsed. The Saints get the ball back on their own 31 yard line with 53 seconds left and then show the Cowboys how to run an efficient offense.Sure, they have timeouts to burn, but they attack the inside, don’t get cute and concentrate on picking up yards.If you give Brees a minute and three timeouts, you get this.SprolesTD4If you want to know what the tipping point for this game was, folks you’re looking at it.Although there is a strong argument to be made that poor playcalling and obvious formations by the Cowboys in the plays leading up to the Saints’ last first half possession played their part.Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.