Photo by USA Today
Over the last few weeks the Saints offensive line has seen some incredible talent from across the line of scrimmage. Terrell Suggs, Brandon Williams, and Brent Urban of Balitmore, Danielle Hunter, Emerson Griffen, and Linval Joseph of Minnesota, Michael Brockers, Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald, and Dante Fowler of LA, and yesterday Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap of Cincinnati. Through those four games the Saints have only allowed a single sack. In the meanwhile, Drew Brees has compiled 943 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, and 1 interception. But it’s not all about the success of the passing game that puts on display the domination of the Saints offensive line. you can look to the running game as well.
Over that same four-game stretch the Saints are averaging 156.2 yards per game on the ground. The league high for the season is 152.2 for the Seahawks. Yesterday’s game alone yielded 244 total rushing yards for New Orleans. The Saints offensive line played an outstanding game against Cincy despite losing starting left tackle Terron Armstead early in the contest. Here are a couple of plays that help tell the story of what the Saints were able to do up front to create such a lopsided affair on on the ground.
Mark Ingram’s 18-yard run in the 2nd Quarter
This is actually the play that Armstead ended up getting hurt on, but before that, it was a perfect depiction of what the Cincy defense was showing the Saints O-Line early in the game. The linebackers, who were young without vets Burfict and Vigil on the field, played very aggressively to try and fill holes in the run game. This play was on a 1st and 10 from the Saints 24, an obvious running situation.
At the very beginning of the play, pre-snap, you can see the linebackers expecting a run at the hole in the defensive line, on the offense’s right. Sure enough, the Saints playcall takes Mark Ingram to the offensive right side, off the left hip of Brees. Zach Line even plunges into that lane as a lead blocker.
All three linebackers (yellow dots) on the second level of Bengals defense collapse to that hole. Ingram, noticing this, bounces the run out to the left where the O-line has sealed the edge, along with TE Josh Hill and scoots for 18 yards. You’ll also notice a nice leading blocker in number 13 Michael Thomas. This is a theme.
This same aggressive linebacker play for the Bengals led later to a 33-yard run by Mark Ingram later in the 3rd quarter on a similar cutback. The Saints kept attacking this tendency and then changed course when the linebackers became more conservative.
Alvin Kamara’s 13-yard run in the 3rd Quarter
That very same drive, Alvin Kamara got loose in the redzone and took off for 13 yards to get down to the 2 yard line. This play eventually led to Drew Brees’s leaping touchdown over the top of the linemen. This time, the linebackers stayed home too long to catch Kamara as he broke through the lane created by the offensive line and TE Ben Watson. In fact, they hesitated so long that it allowed the play design to work perfectly. In this play, you’ll see six hats on six hats. Perfect execution of the play.
This is why it’s great to have Ben Watson back, by the way as he lines up one-on-one with Rookie DE Sam Hubbard to help make this play happen. Now because each down lineman is accounted for, watch Guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford get quickly to the second level to neutralize the linebackers.
Kamara patiently follows Warford into the hole and again, here comes Michael Thomas to help spring for more yards. AK breaks an ankle tackle by Darius Phillips and gets a couple extra yards on his own before being dragged down by the Safety.
This is a departure from the aggressive play of the Bengals second level that we looked at in the first example and illustrates beautifully how the Saints offensive line has been able to control the pace of their competition. This is a huge part of what has made New Orleans such a fearsome team this year and the fact that they were able to do it against Cincinnati without Terron Armstead just goes to show you how much of this is ingrained into the successful execution of play calling and play design. That comes from coaching and every player buying into the philosophy and doing their job. There’s certainly no shortage of that in the Big Easy right now as the Saints have marched their way to an eight-game win streak with no signs of slowing down.
Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC