Long before the Saints-Eagles game got so out of hand that we started wondering why [insert high-profile individual here] was still playing in garbage time, New Orleans was wearing their opponent down in ways that will seldom get discussed.
On the Eagles’ first offensive play of the game, a stretch run to the left side, Philadelphia had seven run blockers to the six Saints defenders in the box. Just after the snap, defensive end Cam Jordan jammed himself between both of the tight ends playing to his side, soaking up two. Then Tyeler Davison heaved himself in between guard Brandon Brooks and tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, taking up another two. Sheldon Rankins stood up guard Isaac Seumalo and Alex Okafor held his ground against Jason Peters.
The stalemates on the left side of the Eagles’ offensive line created a pileup. The double teams gobbled up by a pair of defensive linemen on the right side created holes, and before Brooks had a chance to work to the second level, Saints linebacker Demario Davis shot the gap and sideswiped running back Josh Adams, leading him straight into Rankins.
The Saints have been great this year because they are so sound at positions that don’t show up in fantasy football scores. Beyond their rolodex of stars, New Orleans boasts a deep roster of stout run defenders, smart pass rushers, heady tight ends and one of the most underrated offensive lines in football. It’s easy to watch these games from highlight to highlight, but slow it down and see what is really causing fits for opposing coaches week in and week out.
Take, for example, a second-and-seven from the Saints’ own 19-yard line. They had the ball up 10, looking to deliver a kill shot just before the half. The Eagles are rushing just three defensive linemen and dropped two linebackers and six defensive backs into coverage to minimize damage. Tight end Dan Arnold released from the left side and ran straight at Malcolm Jenkins. As he established inside leverage, he swerved his route just enough to legally redirect Jenkins into the path of fellow defensive back Rasul Douglas. There wasn’t even a collision—more like an uncontested pickup basketball screen. In the space created from that small, man-made hiccup, Saints wideout Tre’Quan Smith looped into the vacant area and caught a five-yard pass that he took an additional 17 yards downfield. New Orleans scored about a minute and a half later.
Pick any play in any quarter, especially in a game like this, and there is hidden beauty.
9:56 to go, third quarter, 31–7: 2017 first-round pick Ryan Ramczyk was head up on Fletcher Cox on a run play that was going to cut back off his outside hip. He barely gets a hand from guard Larry Warford, who is working to the next level, and drives Cox five yards upfield. Alvin Kamara gained eight yards on the play. The Saints scored four minutes later.
4:13 to go, second quarter, 17–7: After calling a timeout, the Eagles come out for a critical third-and-three with two tight ends, two wide receivers and a running back. By the time Wentz finishes play action, the Saints are rushing seven. Wentz has time to pick up his head and look at one read, which seemed to be Zach Ertz. But Ertz was met by P.J. Williams five yards off the line and took a hard shot. Wentz couldn’t throw, as the other two routes appeared to be longer deep balls that required room to set up. Williams’s hit gave the blitz enough time to get home, and before Wentz knew it, he was being alligator-rolled into the turf by Rankins.
4:33 to go, first quarter, 3–0: Drew Brees drops back to pass in the shotgun and is met with heavy pressure. The Eagles are bringing five, which eventually turns into seven. Max Unger snaps the ball and is immediately hit by Ty McGill who lined up right over his nose. After sensing help from Andrus Peat, he catches the right side of the line getting over-flooded. Unger pulls back, sprints right and helps catch Cox as he’s approaching the grasp of Brees. Brees completes the pass to Keith Kirkwood, which set up a first-and-goal.
On the instant replay, you can’t even see Unger as Brees zips the pass into relatively clear skies. Maybe he prefers it that way. But the more people keep studying this Saints team, they’ll realize all the little things they’re doing right, too.