After the Dirty Birds led 10-0 not even six minutes into the NFC South showdown, the New Orleans Saints outscored Atlanta 31-17 to pull off a miraculous upset. And once again, the 1972 Miami Dolphins can rejoice as the lone inhabitants of "perfectville."
In a rather fast-paced game featuring two explosive offenses, the Saints' advantage was running the football. They bulldozed the Falcons for 148 yards on 29 carries, and that impact led to a balanced attack.
Atlanta's defense was kept off balance, and it showed with just one sack of Brees, and the Saints' quarterback completing 65.6 percent of his throws. Here, we look at the New Orleans ground game and its effectiveness, which ultimately cost the Falcons a shot at perfection.
Traditional Ground Game Sets Up Play-Action
There's nothing fancy regarding what the Saints did against the Falcons. Run the ball and set up the pass, period.
And for as surprising as that may be since New Orleans is a pass-strong offense, every team needs a rushing attack. No matter how sparingly it is utilized, possessing the ability to run the rock with an at-will success rate pays extreme dividends.
This play we see the Saints present a one-back set with Mark Ingram after the tight end motions to the right wing of the formation. Atlanta is showing seven in the box, so basics on each side all around.
Upon receiving the handoff, Ingram has two options with his vision:
1. Slam it up inside and get around four or five yards, or
2. Keep the flow going outside and try to stretch around the edge.
The former Heisman Trophy winner trusts his line and the play design, bounces outward and faces another two options. He could dart between the blocks or burst toward the outside and try to make a move.
Well, this is where the Saints have the Falcons. Ingram goes between the blocks and gains eight yards. It's this type of patience and downhill running that gave New Orleans an edge, because Atlanta had honored Brees' passing threat.
As a result, what we see next is what kept the Dirty Birds off balance throughout.
Balanced Attack Opens Defense Downfield
Essentially the same formation from New Orleans, only this time Pierre Thomas resides as the lone running back. Regardless, Atlanta had no choice but to respect the ground attack in a short-yard situation.
Not to mention, Thomas' presence is capable of move the chains as well. And although he didn't produce like Ingram or Chris Ivory, New Orleans' triple-back set is dynamic enough to force an extra defender in the box.
For one, the bunch formation also has Atlanta showing eight with one deep safety. Courtesy of the previous play—as these did come in succession—Brees turns around to find a nice pocket after the play-action.
Lance Moore ends up running past his man coverage, and Brees drops an easy pass down the middle in wide open space. Moore makes a great catch, and New Orleans finishes the drive with seven points.
This possession put the Saints up 28-17 and really got Atlanta on its heels.
Balance is just how it's done because the Falcons are opportunistic defensively and can score at will offensively. The Saints exposed the Dirty Birds by refusing to abandon the ground game, and the 5.1 yards per carry average was a bonus impact in assisting the passing game.
For as much as pro football has evolved into a passing league, running the ball will significantly help win games, period.
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