Saints 2021: Stretching The Field With The Big Play

The New Orleans' quarterbacks ability to stretch the field with the 'The Big Play' will open the offense this season.
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The 'Big Play' in an NFL offense can exist when the coaches, quarterback, offensive line, and receivers all work in concert. The offense's success will require attention to the details, a consistent offensive scheme, an accurate and strong-armed quarterback, receivers' dependable route running, and separation ability.

A coach and quarterback must be willing to be aggressive, and a receiver has to fight through defenders and make a play.

Saints Offense:  Pete Carmichael and Sean Payton


Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael's tandem in the fourteen seasons together (minus the Bountygate suspension year) have created one of the best offensive track records of any head coach-offensive coordinator duo in league history. 

Jeff Duncan outlines in his book, "Payton and Brees," how the "Payton-Brees marriage is a textbook example of Henry Ford's motto," of "COMING TOGETHER IS THE BEGINNING. KEEPING TOGETHER IS PROGRESS. WORKING TOGETHER IS SUCCESS.," which is on a placard inside the Saints training facility. He gave credit to Payton-Brees, but the same is true for Payton-Carmichael.

The ability to trust that your vision and message are consistent with the assistant offensive coach is a testament to a respectful and solid relationship. If Payton should become sidelined, the direction of the offense remains intact. 

Carmichael interviewed several times for opened NFL head coaching positions and didn't get hired. He never sought the limelight and the chance to "show-up" Payton, be he remains a trusted advisor and essential cog in the Saints' offensive machinery.

(COPY) Sons of Saints



Saints receivers had a maestro at quarterback with Drew Brees. His 68.8% pinpoint completion accuracy in New Orleans exceeds multiple NFL MVP winners Aaron Rodger's 65.1% in Green Bay and Peyton Manning's 64.9% in Indianapolis. The next gunslinger will not immediately match Brees' targeting ability, but they can add another dimension to the offense — The Big Play.

To have the Big Play, you need a player with a "big arm, big confidence, and big kahunas" as an NFL quarterback. Hill or Winston must complement what Sean Payton demands - follow the Saints' offensive philosophy and become the leader.

This man will successfully take over the team and implement the desired edge missing over the past few seasons. A new element may be enough for New Orleans to resolves their postseason letdowns.

The sampling on Jameis Winston is more extensive. From 2016 to 2018, Winston threw for 4.5 (2016), 4.4 (2017), and 3.4 (2018) deep passes per game while in Tampa Bay. Next Gen Stats unveiled rankings on Winston and called him "one of the most aggressive quarterbacks in the NFL over the last five seasons." 

His intermediate rate, air yards per attempt, and past sticks percentage on third down is the best of any quarterback over that period. The one tendency is problematic for Jameis and contributes to his high interceptions. He rates third in passing into a 'tight window rate' at 19.7%.

Hill and Winston possess strong arms, confidence, and guts. Leadership has been and will remain the question until one demonstrates the consistency at quarterback and gains the trust of their teammates, coach, and fans - like Brees eloquently did in his tenure.

Both have convened workout sessions with their receivers this offseason — Winston more than Hill from publicized via social media. The workouts are more than physical— the reps, sweat, grind, and jawing at one another help form bonds. The quarterback learns his receiver, just as the receiver insight into his quarterback's way of thinking. These gatherings will pay off during the season — especially during crunch time, where both QB and WR need to be on the same page.

Drew Brees was stellar at anticipation. It came from understanding his receivers. Keep a close eye on this factor in 2021.

In the four games that Taysom Hill started for Brees, his chemistry with Michael Thomas was apparent. He had more time with the receiver who created targets for his quarterback. Hill targeted Thomas 37 for 30 receptions and 343 yards in those four contests - only one interception occurred when targeting the All-Pro receiver.

Saints WR Tre'Quan Smith



What made Jerry Rice great was his attention to detail.  From his stance, the way he trained, and to his game preparation, Rice was consistent.

It wasn't an accident that Saints All-Pro wideout Michael Thomas set the NFL single-season receiving record at 149 in 2019.  Thomas is fundamentally sound before the snap.

Josh Hermsmeyer's study of wide receiver separation points out the following:

The elements of savvy route running — footwork, head and body fakes, disguising the intent of the route, changing direction sharply without losing speed — all appear to be more reliable indicators of NFL skill and talent than speed. And the ultimate goal of every route is to create enough separation from a defender to earn a target and make a catch.   Josh Hermsmeyer 

An elite receiver concentrates on his route, decoding a defense, anticipating his quarterback's thought process, and how and where he may deliver the football.

The receiver's stance, using leverage, quickness at the snap all led up to separation.  Don't get me wrong, other nuances affect separation — double moves, timing, acting, hand placement, strength, length, eyes, leaping ability, quarterback's pump fakes, and a receiver's catch radius are a few.

The receiver separation was average at best in the past few years. Michael Thomas' presented a better target in short to intermediate range.  While he was the No. 2 receiver, Ted Ginn was a better downfield target for Brees.

A 2018 study found New Orleans Saints' receivers ranked 22nd in the league in speed at 12.46 miles per hour.  The Los Angeles Rams' wideouts were No. 1 at 13.32 miles per hour.  

The Number 2's Contribution

Last season, Emmanuel Sanders produced an average separation from a defender at 3.1 yards.

Ted Ginn's average separation did not receive a grade by NextGen in 2019. His best season was in 2017 where he had an average of 3.5 yards difference. Defenders were giving him a cushion of 6.9 yards off the line of scrimmage that season.

This season, will Tre'Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, or another receiver don the No. 2 position for the Saints?  Pay close attention to the Winston-Smith connection in Saints Training Camp.  The two have been spending plenty of time together.

Winston mentioned how he learned from Brees the importance of running the New Orleans offensive scheme. Players will be players. Winston's gunslinger mentality will be engaged this season. During offseason workouts with Tre'Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, and Juwan Johnson, he told his receivers, "don't stop running." 

Meaning, the deep ball is coming this fall and winter!

Albeit, don't make any mistake about this one fact; passing efficiency in New Orleans continues to be the focal point, just as it was with Brees.  

Sean Payton's systematic progression of marching down the football down the field will remain at the Saints' core offensive strategy.  Nevertheless, the addition of the Big Play element will be a factor in 2021-22.  It just may help to resolve New Orleans' recent playoff letdowns.

We shall see.