Call me Capt. Obvious, but the Saints finally put together that elusive full game, the one that has been missing since the end of the 2009 season.
They were close to perfection for one quarter of the Arizona game (the first) but then the wheels came off the track and disaster occurred. Against the Buccaneers, the offense had great tempo and balance – 32 runs and 32 passes – and the defense was dialed in, holding the Bucs to a meager 2.3 yards per carry.
After missing the long play for much of the season, the Saints recorded four plays of 20-plus yards and 10 plays of 15-plus yards.
Chris Ivory appeared to be the guy the team has been missing at running back this season, running for 158 yards on 15 carries and averaging an eye-popping 10.5 yards per carry. But the offensive line really deserves the credit for opening up huge holes that Jim Henderson could plow through.
Here are five observations/thoughts after watching the Saints’ 31-6 win over Tampa Bay for a second time in what I like to call Video Review.
1.) People have been decrying the Saints’ pass rush, or the lack of, throughout the early part of this season. But one thing that stood out from the outset of this game was that the defensive line came to play. The action was taking place mostly on the Bucs’ side of the line and gaps were continually closed. You saw it on the second play when defensive tackle Remi Ayodele (who has had an outstanding season thus far) stuffed the line at the snap forcing Carnell Williams to bounce his run for only two yards.
While the Saints sacked Josh Freeman only once, they consistently were in his face, closing down the pocket and forcing him into quick throws off his back foot. Late in the game, this was apparent when several times Freeman overthrew receivers.
2.) Chris Ivory’s 10.5 yard per carry average is not a mirage. He’s for real as long as he can hold onto the football. On the Saints’ second touchdown drive, we got to see the brilliance of Ivory as well as a notice that he’s still young.
On first-and-10, Ivory followed fullback Heath Evans into the hole and darted right through it, flying past the first-level of defenders. It was only a six-yard gain (and I’ll have more on the play itself later), but it showed just how good he can be between the tackles.
Yet, on the following play, we saw how much he has to learn about patience. Getting the handoff, Ivory immediately settled on going behind Carl Nicks at left guard. If he had been patient a tick or two later, he would have seen a nice hole open up on the right side set up by right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, tight end Jeremy Shockey and right guard Jahri Evans.
But by and large, it was a heck of a game by Ivory and his speed is a big difference. On first-and-10 from the 24, he gained the edge, sped right by Tampa Bay cornerback E.J. Biggers. He broke safety Cody Grimm’s tackle and gained 33 yards. That run doesn’t happen, though, if tight end David Thomas doesn’t block down the edge. It also helped that receiver Marques Colston’s release towards the interior took the outside defender with him, opening up the area for a big run.
3.) Not all was perfect for the Saints’ defense. On the Bucs’ third series, the Saints were in place twice to stop third down and force a punt. On third-and-one at the Tampa 31, defensive end Jeff Charleston read a reverse pitch to Carnell Williams perfectly. Williams cut back in underneath the end, but no one was there to stop Williams from gaining three yards and a first down.
Three plays later, again on third-and-one at the Tampa 43, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis dove under the block to get into the backfield. But he couldn’t get the right leverage to stop Williams from gaining one-yard and the first down.
4.) Cornerback Patrick Robinson wasn’t exactly supposed to get extended playing time this early in his career, what with Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter set as the Saints’ corners. But injuries have forced him onto the field and against Tampa, he showed why the coaches like his upside. Two plays stand out that show he can be player for this team now and in the future.
On the final play of the third quarter, Bucs receiver Michael Spurlock stepped back for a wide receiver screen left. Spurlock, you might recall from last season’s loss in the Superdome, has speed to burn and normally, that’d be a great play. But Robinson diagnosed the play perfectly, storming through Sammie Stroughter to bust Spurlock for a two-yard loss. Stroughter had no chance as Robinson sped right by the receiver, knocking him to the ground before knocking Spurlock down.
The other play was the two-point conversion. Freeman motioned receiver Mike Williams out left and got single coverage on the rookie cornerback. Williams ended the day with four catches for 45 yards and was targeted nine times by Freeman. But 6-foot-2, 212-pound receiver was played perfectly by Robinson and his 5-11, 191-pound frame. Robinson played the inside and once the ball was thrown, broke to Williams and knocked the ball away at the highest point he could reach it.
5.) Jahri Evans isn’t the type to get rich and get lazy. So, I don’t believe that’s the problem he is having this season. But we saw again his limitations on the Saints’ only three-and-out of the day.
On second-and-10, rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy beat Evans on a similar play that helped the Saints gain explosive yards on the ground throughout the day. McCoy hit running back Julius Jones at the one for a one-yard loss.
A play later, Drew Brees threw a screen pass to running back Ladell Betts, who rumbled six yards. But it would have gained more than that if Evans had been able to get a block on Tampa linebacker Barrett Ruud. He whiffed on the attempt and Ruud ended up with the tackle forcing the punt.
Generally a Hammer goes to a defensive player who lays out a player. But this one goes to running back Chris Ivory, who ran right over Tampa safety Ronde Barber.
On first-and-10 at the 30, Ivory put the Saints ahead of the chains with a six-yard gain.
Here’s the diagram of the play:
Fullback Heath Evans picked up the player (linebacker Geno Hayes) and opened one side of the hole. Left guard Carl Nicks and right guard Jahri Evans held their end of the bargain, too.
Ivory blasted through the opening, dipped his shoulder and ran right over Barber, sending the safety onto his behind. The blow was powerful enough to send Ivory three more yards down the field.