There’s little question that the defense doesn’t share the full brunt of the blame for New Orleans’ loss at New York Sunday.
That falls on the offense, which scored just 20 points, went just 3 of 11 on third down and failed to convert a fourth down that could turn into one of the critical plays of the season.
But the defense does share some of the blame.
New Orleans knew the Jets were going to run the ball. New Orleans knew what running back Chris Ivory could do if given even the tiniest of holes. And New Orleans knew that if it could stop both, the game would be placed in inconsistent hands of wildly inconsistent rookie Geno Smith.
Despite this, New Orleans couldn’t contain Ivory or the Jets’ ground game until it was too late.
In his first game against the team that signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010 only to trade him in April for a draft pick, Ivory did exactly what his fans in New Orleans remember.
He ran 18 times for 139 yards and a touchdown. His runs turned into five first downs. He had 13 first-down carries, two second-down totes and three third-down rushes.
When asked after the game about Ivory running well, Saints Coach Sean Payton simply said, “Absolutely, yes. I saw it, too.”
Then there was the answer Jets Coach Rex Ryan delivered, being maybe more honest than anybody in talking about Ivory playing his old team.
“To say that there’s nothing special about going against your old team – yeah right,” Ryan said. “There always is no matter who it is, whether it’s high school, college or pro. It makes no difference. You want to play your former team and have a good showing and clearly he did.”
It’s hard to forget the Tecmo Super Bowl-style run he went on a season ago against Atlanta. Though not as physically pulverizing or athletically entertaining as that play, the three runs that totaled 109 yards were the kind of momentum-grabbing, emotion-lifting dashes that changes a game.
What makes it hard to swallow if you’re the Saints is that you knew he was capable of outrunning most of a defense in the open field if given the opportunity.
“What went wrong was – I’d say it was a couple of things (such as) misalignment, not being lined up, not having people in the right spots, and just missing tackles too which led to big plays and getting gashed,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “That’s something we haven’t done in the previous games and it reared its head this game.”
It was the last of a trio – coming on the final play of the third quarter – that was a gut punch for the defense.
And it could have been prevented (I’ll break it down a little more later) if there was one less hesitation and one fewer bad angle taken.
Instead of forcing a second-straight three-and-out, the Saints allowed Ivory’s 30-yard run on third-and-two to keep the Jets on the field. Three minutes later, New York’s Nick Folk kicked his fourth field goal of the game and, in doing so, kept the pressure on the Saints’ offense.
We know how that turned out.
“The thing that is disappointing about yesterday was that we knew getting off the bus that this was a team that was going to run the football and they knew they were going to run the football,” Payton said Monday. “I think everyone at MetLife Stadium knew they were going to run the football and we weren’t able to stop them.”
The following is this week’s “Five Plays from Sunday,” our weekly look back at some of the plays that stood out the most. We’ll look at Ivory’s three runs, the failed third-down pass to Jed Collins, and ill-fated fourth down tight end around to Josh Hill.
Ivory’s Tower(ing runs)
Jets ball, third-and-two at the New York 27, 0:17 to play in the Third Quarter
With Chris Ivory in the game standing to the right of Geno Smith, most knew where the ball was going. Heck, I turned to ESPN.com reporter Mike Triplett in the press box at MetLife Stadium and said something to the tune of, “Guess we know where this ball is going.”
New Orleans lined up in a five-man front with two linebackers. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was close to the line and the corners – Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis – were locked near the line in man coverage.
The Jets countered with six men on the line and an up-back in addition to Ivory and Smith.
The play was no different than most New York ran on Sunday. Just a simple counter trap in which Ivory steps to his right, then follows a pulling guard.
New Orleans’ first issue is that Ivory’s step to the right helps keep both inside linebackers Curtis Lofton and Davis Hawthorne from selling out immediately to stop the run. This gives guard Willie Colon, the pulling right guard, time to get to Lofton and tie him up for maybe a millisecond.
It’s enough to break the play open to the outside.
Meanwhile, safety Rafael Bush takes a poor angle to the line, running too much towards the line of scrimmage. Bush might not have gotten to Ivory in time, but he would have made it close, getting to Ivory at or near the line instead of having to chase him down 30 yards later.
Pro Football Focus, in its weekly gradebook, singled out Bush for several plays in which Bush took poor angles, including this 30-yard run and the 52-yard dash.
Instead of forcing a punt, the Jets earned a first down and eventually a field goal that pushed the Saints’ deficit to nine.
Jets ball, First-and-10 at the New Orleans 48, 7:34 to go in the First Quarter
New York’s second possession began following an interception that gave it the ball in New Orleans territory. And the Jets show up in what appears to be a run formation – two receivers split outside the numbers, five offensive linemen plus a tight end. Ivory and Bilal Powell were in the backfield with Smith.
New Orleans says we’ll see your run formation and counter with three linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs. As the play was getting set to run, New Orleans had six players on the line of scrimmage and two linebackers two yards behind them.
Curtis Lofton walks up at the last second to blitz and is picked up at the line. Parys Haralson twists around from the left edge and fills the hole. But he takes a bad angle and overruns Ivory.
Akiem Hicks and Lofton are both blocked cleanly to the right by Colon and Austin Howard. Nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley, meanwhile, is stood straight up at the snap by center Nick Mangold. The hole is huge.
Hawthorne, the Saints linebacker, hesitates to read the play before stepping up to the line. He, too, takes a bad angle and it’s almost like he forgot in a year how quick Ivory can hit a wide open hole.
The saving grace on the play? Cornerback Keenan Lewis, who has quietly had a quality season, makes a great open-field tackle on Ivory, bringing him down as the last defender before the goal line.
Jets ball, Second-and-12 at the New York 2, 14:57 left in the Second Quarter
While the 30-yard gain was a back-breaker, Ivory’s biggest run of the day might just be the toughest to swallow for the Saints’ defense.
After a penalty and incomplete pass pinned the Jets at their own 2, New Orleans lined up with three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. Eight men were “in the box” at the snap.
The first thing that goes wrong is nickel defensive back Corey White, is no match for Jets fullback Tommy Bohanon, and is turned to the outside.
Then, Hicks – the Saints’ left defensive end – is pinned inside by tight end Zac Sudfeld and D’Brickashaw Ferguson. This does a few things – it keeps Hicks out of the play, it ties up the interior of the Saints’ line and it opens up a gaping hole.
The only person who can keep Ivory at this point from making a big play in what would be an advantageous position on the field for the Saints is Lofton.
He’s nudged by pulling left guard Brian Winters. Still, he gets his helmet and hands on Ivory as he explodes through the hole. Lofton misses the tackle and is brought to the ground by Winters and Ivory is free.
But what makes matters worse is the angle taken by Bush. He’s too flat to the line and instead of being able to get to Ivory at the first-down marker or two yards beyond, he runs into defensive end Junior Galette, who is tracking Ivory down from the other side of the field.
The Saints’ defense is saved only by rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, who sprints back to knock Ivory out of bounds.
The Third- and Fourth-Down Failures
Saints ball, third-and-inches at the New York 36, 7:58 to go in the Fourth Quarter
Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not. Sunday, on this series, the Saints were unlucky. They had called a brilliant fullback give that earned a first down on third-and-inches.
But the Jets had called a timeout due to having only 10 men on the field. Instead of a first down, Coach Sean Payton had used one of the few run plays that worked. He couldn’t use it again.
This time, he sends out a receiver, two tight ends and two running backs. Robert Meachem is lined up tight right and Josh Hill is at the left tight end position behind Benjamin Watson. Jed Collins is at fullback and Mark Ingram is behind him.
Hill motions to the right, pulling a defender – linebacker Quinton Coples – with him to the left side of the Jets’ defense.
The Saints fake a handoff to Ingram, with Collins appearing to be a lead fullback. Ingram picks up Coples, giving Brees the time he needs.
Meachem runs a slant and Hill runs what looks like a corner route. This clears out the entire right side of the field for Collins, who is running an out route, to work with.
It’s a beautifully designed play called at the perfect time. Only, Collins turns his head before securing the football two yards behind the line of scrimmage. If he catches the ball, he has the first down by a good two yards and the drive to cut the deficit from nine stays alive.
Saints ball, fourth-and-inches at the New York 36, 7:54 to go in the Fourth Quarter
The play that will be questioned from here until the end of the season. A tight end around with an undrafted rookie third on the depth chart. If Payton believed in his ground offense, this is where he would have shown it. Instead, he gets fancy, outthinks himself and ends a promising drive midway through the fourth quarter.
Collins once against lines up in front of Ingram in an I-formation. Hill is set up with a slightly wide split to the right of right tackle Zach Strief. Watson begins the play on the left side of the line. Meachem is between the numbers and sideline to the left.
Watson motions to the right and Hill steps back off the line. This brings linebacker Garrett McIntyre from the right side of the Jets’ line to the left. New York, by the snap, has nine players in the box.
Hill, after lifting his hand from the ground, turns and runs to where Ingram is faking a handoff to take the ball from Brees.
Coples stays home on the right side of the Jets’ line and is untouched into the Saints’ backfield, where he drops Hill for an eight-yard loss.
The play gets bogged down from the outset. Center Brian de la Puente, right guard Jahri Evans and right tackle Zach Strief all block to their left. Left guard Ben Grubbs pulls to try and go to his right, but runs into de la Puente. Left tackle Charles Brown blocks down and he, Evans and de la Puente all wall off a lane to the outside.
But no one accounted for Coples. Hill never had a chance. It was good defense by the Jets and a head-scratching call by the Saints.