Performance Review: Patriots-Saints –

 In Sports
A film breakdown of New England’s Week 2 road win in New Orleans. Read

1st Quarter

…Fantastic move by RB James White on the game’s opening drive, on 3rd-and-5, to separate from a pair of Saints defenders and get open for QB Tom Brady. White darted to the inside, from the far left flanker position, before planting hard and spinning back to the sideline. This gave him enough space so that Brady could hit him with the pass. White then turned upfield and easily picked up the first down to avoid a three-and-out.

…White then showed a good awareness in the backfield a few plays later when it appeared he would be stuffed for a significant loss of yards. But he read his blockers and patiently waited for an opening that allowed him to squeeze through and actually pick up a 2-yard gain. White has really emerged as a superb, reliable pass-catching back for New England, and these two plays were a great example of his abilities.

… The next third down on the opening drive saw the Saints blitz Brady (they only rushed three on the earlier one) with six players. The o-line, along with RB Rex Burkhead, did a good job of picking up the blitz. A seventh rusher had to back off when White, also in the backfield with Brady and Burkhead, raced out of the area with the intent of being a safety valve for Brady to unload the ball.

Meanwhile, the four remaining Saints were left to cover New England’s other eligible receivers, including TE Rob Gronkowski. New Orleans elected to put safety Kenny Vaccaro on Gronk 1-on-1, the way the Chiefs did a week earlier with Eric Berry. Vaccaro, however, was overmatched, and Gronkowski shrugged off the defender on a deep crossing route to collect Brady’s pass and pick up another first down.

…The drive ended with New England’s first touchdown of the day, a beautiful lob from Brady to Burkhead. The play began with Burkhead in the shotgun backfield next to Brady. WRs Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan were to the short left of formation, with FB James Develin split wide right and Gronk tight to the o-line a step behind RT Marcus Cannon. Pre-snap, Burkhead motioned out of the backfield to the right slot and a Saints defender shadowed him, which declared New Orleans as being in man-to-man coverage.

That defender, rookie LB Alex Anzalone, was too slow to react when Burkhead put a quick out-and-up move on him. Burkhead had Anzalone beaten by a couple of steps when Brady floated the ball over the rookie’s head. Burkhead made a nice, almost fingertip catch in the middle of the end zone to complete the scoring play.

Once again, the Saints decided to blitz Brady with five rushers, and two of them nearly got to Brady before he unloaded the football. But by that point, Burkhead was running free and Brady was able to find him.

This was a good job by OC Josh McDaniels of finding a way to replace slot receivers Julian Edelman (out for the season) and Danny Amendola (inactive with a concussion), at least temporarily, with Burkhead, while at the same time abusing a rookie defender.

…CB Stephon Gilmore appeared to have another miscommunication with a teammate, as he did in Week 1 on a 75-yard Chiefs touchdown, when he and fellow CB Eric Rowe covered the same Saints receiver. That left another Saints receiver wide open for a 16-yard gain to move the chains for New Orleans. Wasn’t nearly as disastrous a result as last week, but another example of the new player on defense working out some kinks in the early going of the season. Looked like Gilmore should have taken the open player, but it’s difficult to say with 100-percent certainty.

…New England didn’t blitz at all on the Saints’ opening possession, but did a fantastic job of stuffing the few running plays New Orleans called. When the Saints were in an obvious passing situation on 3rd-and-7 from the NE 28, the Patriot’s 4-man rush got some heat on Brees while the back seven clogged up his passing lanes. Brees threw the ball away and New Orleans had to settle for a field goal.

…LT Nate Solder struggled early, particularly against Saints DE Cam Jordan. While Jordan didn’t manage to sack Brady, he came close on a few 1st quarter occasions.

…Brady’s second touchdown was one of those times that Jordan nearly got to Brady. Instead, the QB took advantage of rookie Anzalone yet again. Gronk was in the slot left this time, beside WR Phillip Dorsett. Cooks was wide right with Hogan in the slot, but Hogan motioned to the left to expose the Saints in a man coverage look. White was in the backfield to Brady’s right.

At the snap. Gronk ran a slant. Brady was nearly taken down by a pincer rush from the right and left, but Solder and Cannon managed to keep their guys just barely off him. However, Brady was getting pressured up the middle, too, as LG Joe Thuney was being driven backward into him. Brady spotted Gronk alone with Anzalone on the right side and nothing but green turf ahead of him because Cooks, running a deep in pattern, drew his man, plus a safety.

Off his back foot, Brady delivered another brilliant strike over the head of Anzalone, and Gronk recognized the danger his QB was in, so, he adjusted his route to turn up-field. Anzalone made the mistake of looking too much into the backfield at Brady and took his eyes off Gronk for just a moment. It was enough for Gronk to speed by him, haul in the pass, avoid another defender, and out-race two other Saints to the end zone.

…Brady-to-Gronk beat another Saints blitz on 3rd down on the third drive to keep the eventual scoring possession alive. Nice job by the line to protect Brady from the blitz. Vaccaro again manning solo on Gronkowski proved ill-equipped to handle the job, despite relatively good, tight coverage.

…There’s a rule in the NFL that you can’t make contact by setting a pick on an opponent – like in basketball – on a pass play… unless you do so within a yard of the line of scrimmage. McDaniels obviously understands this rule and called for it on Brady’s third TD, on the third series.

Cooks and Hogan were in the slot left, with Dorsett the flanker to that side in a trips left formation. At the snap, Cooks, in the middle of the trio, darted diagonally to his right, while Hogan intentionally stutter-stepped at the line of scrimmage to keep his defender tight to the line. Cooks’ defender was a few yards off the line, and when Cooks bumped Hogan’s defender, Hogan raced to the left, catching Cooks’ former defender flat-footed.

Dorsett, meanwhile, ran a post to draw his defender away from the area beyond the numbers, giving Hogan a clear path to the end zone. Brady lofted an easy pass to Hogan for the score.

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