NEW ORLEANS -- For as long as Sean Payton has been involved with the New Orleans Saints, one word has consistently been used to describe what he wants the product on the field to ultimately look like – complementary.
He’d like for good defense to be followed by a big play in special teams to be followed by a big play by the offense.
Monday night, the Saints came as close as they have this season to this process, with the defense recording four turnovers, the special teams providing good field position and the offense capitalizing.
Two Saints touchdowns came following turnovers and two came following good punt returns by Darren Sproles.
“I thought the three and out we got defensively to start the second half was important, and then protecting field position and coming up with a score was significant,” Payton said. “It could be something as simple as, they’re backed up punting, we get two decent jams on both gunners, and Darren (Sproles) on a little middle return just gets eight yards.
“When you look at the field position, all of a sudden we’re starting with the ball on their side of the 50 (yard line). Those are the little things.”
Sproles was a difference-maker on Monday, returning three punts for an average of 14.7 yards while catching seven passes for 114 yards and rushing four times for 28 yards.
His two biggest punt returns came early in the second half – and 18-yarder that put the Saints in position at the New Orleans 41 combined with a Miami penalty and a nine-yard return to set the offense up at the Dolphins’ 43.
Combined with a defense that allowed just 107 yards in the second half and sacked Ryan Tannehill four times, there was, indeed, complementary football.
“Coming out of halftime, our defense gets a three-and-out,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We get the ball in good field position, march down the field and score. The defense stops them again. We get good field position and go down and score. Then, you feel like you are operating at a high level and that anything that you call is going to work.”
It’s our 6 Plays from Monday with a complementary sequence included. It’s a un-themed smorgasbord of plays today.
THE Complementary Sequence
Dolphins ball, Third-and-Nine at the Miami 21, 9:05 to play in the third quarter
The Saints defense lined up with four down linemen (Junior Galette at right end, Tyrunn Walker and Glenn Faster at tackle and Cameron Jordan at left end), linebacker Curtis Lofton filling the gap between Galette and Walker and defensive back Chris Carr in the gap between Jordan and Foster. Three defensive backs were in man coverage on Miami receivers with two safeties deep over the top.
But the defensive backs barely had to cover.
Galette sped right by left tackle Johnathan Martin, forcing quarterback Ryan Tannehill to begin running to his right. Galette quickly caught the quarterback for a 12-yard sack. Galette’s athleticism showed as he had a quick stutter before he knocked down Martin’s hands with a quick slap.
Tannehill began the play in the shotgun with running back Daniel Thomas to his left. Thomas doesn’t help Martin with a chip at all and by the time Tannehill gets to the fifth step of his drop, Galette is already on his heels and the quarterback doesn’t have time to find a receiver.
Dolphins ball, Fourth-and-21 at the Miami 9, 8:30 to play in the third quarter
The Saints went with a safe return, choosing to play field position instead of going for the block. Darren Sproles was deep and caught the ball at the New Orleans 48. His nine-yard return was about all he could get on the middle return, but it set up the offense at the Miami 43.
Saints ball, First-and-10 at the Miami 43, 8:20 to play in the third quarter
New Orleans set up in four wide with tight end Benjamin Watson a step behind right tackle Zach Strief’s right hip. Marques Colston was outside the numbers to the left and Darren Sproles was tight to the left end of the line. Jimmy Graham was “on” on the line of scrimmage to the right and Kenny Stills was the receiver split wide right.
Sean Payton had the right play called at the right time. He smelled “blood in the water,” as quarterback Drew Brees said. The Dolphins showed single coverage and had a safety coming back late towards Graham’s side of the field. And a linebacker dropped at the snap into coverage.
But the defense was done from the beginning with the safety coming late. Graham ran what looked like the beginning of a fade, coaxing safety Chris Clemons into a slight hesitation as he tried to jam the tight end. Graham, however, came back inside and had a step on Clemons immediately.
Brees, meanwhile, set the play up by looking towards Colston at the snap. He hitched slightly before coming back to Graham, who by then was nearly three years beyond Clemons. It’s an easy throw for Brees at this point and Graham drags Clemons into the end zone for a touchdown.
Big sack, good return and big play – exactly what Payton is looking for from his team
The Sproles Mismatch Begins
Saints ball, second-and-seven at the New Orleans 21, 14:21 to play in the first quarter
New Orleans set up in four wide with Sproles and Colston basically stacked inside the numbers to the left of the line. Stills was far right and Graham was on the right hash. Watson was lined up to the right of Strief, a step behind him.
But Brees saw something in Miami’s defense, which had seven players set up on the line of scrimmage. He changed a call and Colston moved outside the numbers.
Brees knew exactly what safety Reshad Jones would do, which we knew by seeing just how quickly the quarterback found Sproles.
Jones came crashing down to the line, desperately trying to get to Sproles, who showed that he was running an out route. At the same time, Colston ran an in route, bringing cornerback Nolan Carroll with him. This cleared the sideline of any defenders and Sproles turned his out route to an out-and-up. The Dolphins were beat. The quick running back had at least five yards on the closest defender and Brees hit him in stride for a 48-yard gain.
The Saints see the read option
Dolphins ball, second-and-five at the New Orleans 44, 9:52 to play in the first quarter
New Orleans went with the 4-2-5, with Galette and Jordan playing the ends and Akiem Hicks and John Jenkins in at tackle. David Hawthorne and Lofton were playing at linebacker.
Galette was lined up at right defensive end, situated several feet off the left shoulder of Martin, the Miami left tackle.
Tannehill was in the shotgun with running back Lamar Miller to his left. Tight end Charles Clay is lined up behind the right guard. At the snap, Miami’s line blocks to its right, leaving Galette uncovered. Clay cuts left and runs at Galette. Tannehill puts the ball in Miller’s arms and watches as Galette, whose view is blocked by Clay, cuts back inside to stop Miller, who he thinks has the ball.
Tannehill, however, pulled the ball back and finished the read-option on his own. He followed Clay down the field to the left sideline. Saints cornerback Chris Carr couldn’t shed his block and safety Malcolm Jenkins was sucked near the line, reading run first. He was blocked downfield by Clay.
Only Rafael Bush, who remained unblocked as he started 15 yards off the ball, had an initial shot at Tannehill. Bush was able to bring down the quarterback, but not before Miami gained 26 yards on the first read-option play New Orleans saw all season.
It’s unlikely the Saints were looking for Tannehill to run the play.
John Jenkins makes his presence felt
Dolphins ball, third-and-one at the New Orleans 9, 8;13 to play in the first quarter
Miami was in the red zone for the first time all night and, up to that point, was leading the NFL in red-zone efficiency – 7 of 8 through three weeks.
So, on a play in which they needed just a yard, the Dolphins lined up with six guys situated on the line and a tight end up close. The Saints countered with three defensive linemen and three linebackers on the line. Additionally, Lofton and David Hawthorne were in the middle. In other words, the Saints were in their base 3-4.
Jordan and Hicks flanked John Jenkins, who was lined up directly over center Mike Pouncey. At the snap, the Dolphins’ line immediately attempted to block everyone to their left in zone-blocking action.
And everyone was blocked. Except for Jenkins. He split the block of Pouncey and right guard John Jerry and using his right arm, grabbed the jersey of running back Daniel Thomas two yards behind the line of scrimmage. He tossed Thomas down and instead of a first-and-goal, Miami was set in a fourth-and-three and settled for a field goal.
“Third-and-inches and you run the play to the outside on a zone-blocking play and penetration will kill ya,” said ESPN broadcaster Jon Gruden, who added that short-yardage defense has been much improved this season for New Orleans.