In the 12 years that Sean Payton and Drew Brees have been a part of the Saints 3rd down conversions have lingered around 50%. However, in 2017 the Saints only successfully converted 38%. I decided to take a look at some of the successful 3rd down plays from last season to help pass time until the season starts.
I started with the Detroit game because that was the Saints worst performance of the year when it came to 3rd downs. They went 2 for 12 for a 17% conversion rate. One of the two successful conversions went for a touchdown and that’s where we will start.
The first successful 3rd down conversion came with 5:06 remaining in the first quarter and 6 yards to the marker. The Saints lined up with 11 personnel in shotgun formation with trips bunch lined up to the right. Snead is the inside receiver, Thomas is at point, and Ginn is lined up to the outside. The standup tight end Fleener is lined up to the left side on the line. The defense shows two deep and are lined up in man.
The Saints call a “drive concept” where Snead will run a ten yard dig route. Thomas runs a corner route but chips or “gets in the way” of the cornerback covering Ginn.
Because the Lions are playing man, the corner is unable to stay in position on Ginn who runs a shallow crossing route and gets open.
Fleener takes the MLB and safety with him on his out route and opens up the middle of the field for Ginn to use his speed to get to the sideline. With a nice block from Fleener, Ginn is able to score the diving TD.
The only other successful 3rd down conversion came in the 2nd quarter on a 3rd and 4. The Saints line up in shotgun formation with one running back and one tight end. Fleener is lined up tight while Kamara is split out wide to the field side.
The Lions are playing cover 2 zone and the Saints call a good play to challenge this defense. Thomas runs a go route and gets to the outside of the cornerback, who has his eyes on the quarterback. Brees uses his eyes to make the cornerback travel with Thomas’s go route in an attempt to prevent a completion in the open area between the cornerback’s zone and the safety to his side (blue). This will open up space in the cornerbacks vacated zone (red) for Snead on his out route.
Brees throws the ball as Snead is making his break towards the sideline and is able to pick up yards after the catch as well as the first down.
The Saints were unable to convert anymore third downs in this game, although they did successfully convert on one 4th down. The Lions were able to consistently bring pressure in the second half and did a better job at disguising their coverages. Brees was forced to hurry many of his throws due to the pressure and had to throw to his checkdown receivers who were tackled short of the first down marker. Ingram had a chance to pick up one first down in the second half, but had the ball poked out as he was attempting to break a tackle and the Lions recovered the fumble. Missed blocks also contributed to the lack of success. Fleener was unable to block a linebacker that prevented Kamara from picking up all the yards he needed on screen pass for the first down and an unblocked safety tackled Ingram for a loss on a toss play late in he game. They did a much better job the next week at Green Bay converting over 50% of their 3rd downs, but remained inconsistent throughout the rest of the season.
This year I believe the Saints will get back to the status-quo that is the Sean Payton Offense. With more weapons brings more chances to create mismatches and confusion to take advantage of how the defense lines up, and that’s one thing that Payton has always brought to the Saints.