It’s tough to go back and watch losses from your favorite team’s season. When your team wins, it’s a lot easier to go back and dissect every detail from what went right in a happy-go-lucky film study session.
Re-hashing everything that went wrong in your team’s losses is a different story.
That’s where I come in.
I dug into the ugly stuff from Sunday’s Wild Card game so you didn’t have to, and found some key missed opportunities offensively that led to a frustrating afternoon.
This was an odd performance from the Saints offense. Despite posting a higher estimated points added (EPA) per play and averaging over a yard higher per play than the Vikings offense, they scored only 20 points in a highly disappointing way to end the season.
The offense simply could not get a rhythm going early in this game, posting a success rate of just 41.9 percent in the first three quarters, with Drew Brees under center. This was partially due to Brees just having an off game by his standards, as well as the offensive line not holding up in pass protection in a few inopportune times.
There weren’t quite as many mistakes offensively as you might think, as the Vikings defense really did do a masterful job in coverage and rushing the passer.
The few mistakes that did occur, however, seemed to come at the worst possible times.
Missed opportunity #1
This was on the first offensive drive of the game, following the fumble recovery by Vonn Bell. On third and goal, the Saints try to get Ted Ginn Jr. running a deep-ish crosser to the corner of the end zone.
The Vikings are in a goal-line Cover 3 look, and the weak-side deep corner (Trae Waynes) bites down hard on an in-route by Jared Cook. This frees up plenty of space behind Cook for Brees to hit in the corner of the end zone.
Unfortunately, both of the Saints tackles get beaten quickly and badly, leading to a sack on Brees before he could find Ginn.
This easily could’ve been six points, but instead they settle for a field goal.
Missed opportunity #2
On a third and six late in the first quarter, Brees has Taysom Hill running wide open on a drag route, but doesn’t have time to get it there. He snaps the ball quickly, and it looks like the Vikings defense wasn’t quite ready.
The only problem is, it might’ve caught Andrus Peat off guard as well. Peat gets annihilated on an inside spin move by Everson Griffen, and Brees is forced to throw the ball away before he can get it to Hill for what would’ve probably been a first down.
This is just an awful decision and throw by Brees. It’s a third and six, nearing the two-minute warning at the end of the first half, and he forces one.
Ginn is running a deep post against Cover 3 with one-high safety, and I’m just not sure what Brees sees. There’s no one open, necessarily, although he maybe could’ve forced one to Thomas on the dig route past the sticks.
But if nothing else, this should just be a throwaway.
Nothing about this look says throw it here. The safety and corner are in front of Ginn and closing in, with the safety almost to the hash as Brees releases.
Even if Brees had an absolute cannon arm, this isn’t a good decision with the safety so close, and having his hips open to Ginn.
Missed opportunity #3
This missed-block by Terron Armstead probably costs the Saints a 25+ yard play on a drive that ended in a punt late in the third quarter.
The Saints run Michael Thomas on a deep crossing route off of play action against Cover 4, with Ginn doing a great job of clearing out the corner and safety on the short side of the field.
This opens up a ton of space for Thomas.
Brees is already getting pressured as Thomas breaks inside. He ends up somehow getting out of it and throwing the ball away.
This is a strange one to analyze, because Brees clarified after the game that he held the ball too long due to a miscommunication between he and either Thomas or Ginn.
“The fumble was really frustrating because there was a miscommunication as to what we were doing and the ball should’ve been out of my hands and all of a sudden that wasn’t the route that was run and so now I’m just trying to throw the ball into the dirt to avoid a sack, right?” Brees said. “And right as my hand’s going back, he just kind of gets a piece of my arm and that ball comes out. So, I’m really disappointed in that. That never should have happened.”
Whether it was Ginn or Thomas running the wrong route, we might not find out soon. But this was arguably the biggest play in the game. They’re down three with over four minutes left at this point, with a first and 10 and a chance to take the lead.
It’s such a shame, because Brees and the offense had really started to move the ball effectively in the fourth quarter. A touchdown on this drive could’ve capped off a nice comeback.
Instead, Ryan Ramzcyk gets beat pretty badly on an inside move by Danielle Hunter and swipes the ball away from Brees, resulting in another key turnover.
This play wasn’t really disastrous, but it’s an example of Brees missing an open guy on a big drive, and throwing a short checkdown instead.
On the first play of the Saints game-tying drive at the end of regulation, they run a simple back-side “Drive” or “Hi/Lo” concept against Cover 4. They’re Hi/Lo-ing the weak-side flat defender with a 12-yard dig route by Tre-Quan Smith and a 5-yard in route by Thomas.
They get what they want, as the flat defender bites down on the in route, leaving Smith wide open behind him for a potential 10-15 yard gain.
Brees starts off his read to that weak-side, but comes off of it before Smith comes open, with no pressure on him, and throws to Kamara in the flat.
At the end of the day, this game came down to turnovers, missed opportunities and the offense taking too long to warm up.
The offense waited until the fourth quarter to show life, and when they did that, they gave themselves no room for error in that quarter. Therefore, when Brees fumbled, they couldn’t recover in time to take the lead in regulation.
Despite Taysom Hill making his presence felt and the offense posting successful plays on 16 of their 18 fourth quarter plays, it wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of the hole they put themselves in by not showing up earlier.
Instead, they left it up to a coin toss and yet another referee’s call, and they have no one but themselves to blame.