Chargers vs. Saints: Sketching out a Game Plan for San Diego

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystOctober 5, 2012

Atari Bigby will play an important role in slowing down the Saints.
Atari Bigby will play an important role in slowing down the Saints.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints are desperate for a victory and will lean on former San Diego Chargers Drew Brees and Darren Sproles to try and score more points than Philip Rivers and the 3-1 Chargers.  Few expected the Saints to be 0-4 at this stage of the season and another loss would probably end their season.

A team with their back against the wall is a dangerous team and the Saints can still score points. The problem for the Saints has been the defense, which has given up 20 big plays in four games. The Chargers would be wise to exploit the weakness of New Orleans' pass and run defense.

The Saints have given up 14 big plays through the air and six on the ground, which is about a 70-30 split. The Chargers have been a much more balanced attack this season, but would be wise to have a pass-heavy plan with runs that attempt to get Ryan Mathews around the corner.

Brees, Sproles and tight end Jimmy Graham should be the Chargers' main concerns on defense. The good news is there is a blueprint for slowing down the Saints offense that the Kansas City Chiefs used in Week 3.


Back-Shoulder Throws

The New Orleans Saints do not have a very good defense. The pass defense is susceptible to big plays and the run defense has trouble setting the edge and getting off blocks. It’s a recipe for a high-scoring day by the Chargers.

The big plays will probably be there for the Chargers, but they can also use the pass to move the chains and put themselves in scoring position. One thing that the Saints didn’t defend well was the back-shoulder throw.

This back-shoulder throw is a staple of the Green Bay Packers and something the Chargers have also used. When executed properly it’s very difficult to defend, and the Saints haven’t defended it well.

Aaron Rodgers executes the back-shoulder throw better than anyone. Rodgers throws the ball as the wide receiver plants and turns to the sideline. Rodgers tries to put the ball on the receiver's “back shoulder” as you would expect.

Jabrari Greer is completely out of position and can't even contest the throw. Jones grabs the pass and keeps his feet in bounds for a sizable gain.

Now, let’s look at virtually the same play run to the other side by the Chargers in Week 1 vs. the Oakland Raiders. Rivers trusts Malcom Floyd to break toward the sideline and make the catch.

The throw by Rivers was a little high, but Floyd pulls it in and gets both his feet down for a good gain and first down. The Chargers can run this play repeatedly against the Saints and pick up first downs and chunks of yardage when they need it, even if the Saints do a better job taking away the big plays.


Sweep or Toss Plays

The Saints have given up big plays on the ground in three games this season, including a 91-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles. The Chargers should use Ryan Mathews and try to get him to the edge where opponents have been successful picking up big gains.

The Chargers can come out pass-heavy and in three-receiver sets and still be successful. The approach puts the Saints on their heels, which can actually setup the run. The Carolina Panthers executed such a play against the Saints in Week 2.

The Panthers pulls the left guard and the center picks up the linebacker. Cam Newton hands the ball of to DeAngelo Williams, who heads around the left edge with the left guard as a lead blocker.

The center easily engages the linebacker and the defensive end doesn't get penetration to turn Williams back inside. Williams has the edge and the wide receivers do a good job blocking down field.

Williams uses his blockers to pick up a good chunk of yardage, but Michael Jenkins keeps the guard from engaging him and makes the tackle after a big gain. A faster, more dynamic running back like Mathews might have been able to get even more yardage by blocking past the lineman and the safety.

Mathews should figure heavily into the Chargers’ game plan with plays like this one that will get him around the edge and into the secondary.


Stopping Graham and Sproles

Graham and Sproles are two of the most dangerous offensive weapons on the Saints. The Chiefs effectively slowed down Graham and Sproles in route to a comeback victory in Week 3 by putting a safety on Sproles and bracketing Graham with a linebacker and safety.

The strategy requires the cornerbacks to cover the Saints' other options man-to-man with little help over the top. With a good pass rush, Brees was not able to get the ball to his outside receivers.

Playing good defense doesn't always mean Brees can’t make a play, but it does put him and his receivers into more difficult situations. The Chiefs also played a little game with Brees, such as faking a blitz and having the linebacker drop into coverage on Graham.

On this play, Brees actually changes the protection or play pre-snap and was trying to take advantage of a big gap in the middle of the field. Eric Berry shadows Sproles as he comes out as a receiver. The Chargers can mimic this schematically with Eric Weddle, Atari Bigby and Donald Butler.

Brees' first read was Graham and although the Chiefs bracketed him in coverage, he wanted to try to hit him between the coverage.

Brees put the ball in the perfect spot and Graham split the coverage. It should have been a completion, but Graham dropped the pass as he heard the footsteps of the safety. The coverage was effective for most of the day, as Graham caught four passes and Sproles had none.

The Chargers have the players to execute a similar game plan, and they should be able to slow down the Saints enough to get the victory with proper execution.