Drew Brees bounced back in a big way in Sunday's victory over Tampa Bay. 26-of-39 passing, four touchdowns and zero interceptions is merely a statistical measure to describe Brees' utter dismantling of Tampa Bay's defense.
Watching the game live and/or the All-22 coaches film, one thing is clear: Brees was in the zone on Sunday. It was atypical if compared to the future Hall of Famer's past three efforts. But it was very much typical of the Brees the Saints' franchise has known and loved since 2006.
Three factors especially typified how Brees and the Saints' passing offense bounced back to tear up Tampa Bay's less than stellar secondary.
First and foremost, Brees threw from a clean pocket on nearly every dropback. Second, the Saints employed a number of quick throws to simply get the ball out of Brees' hands. Third, the use of shotgun and empty formations was quantifiably gigantic.
It all worked together to create easy throws that forced Brees to think less and throw more. In other words, it was as if Pete Carmichael came out for a mound visit and just told his pitcher (or in this case quarterback), "Just throw the ball. Don't worry about anything at all."
We all know the game of football isn't quite that simple. But Carmichael and the Saints' offensive staff employed a game plan which simplified things for Brees so that he could essentially just play backyard ball. At least that's how things looked on the majority of Brees' throws.
Looking at three of Brees' four touchdown passes with stills taken from the coaches film will show each of the three factors and illuminate some other factors that caused Brees and the Saints to experience such great success in the passing game.
Opening Drive TD Pass to David Thomas
The Saints started this play in what amounts to a bunch alignment. As the drawing here shows, they use the bunch to free tight end David Thomas one-on-one in what is a common bunch pass concept.
Marques Colston, as the receiver on the line of scrimmage, releases first. It is helpful that he is running the deepest route, a clear out corner route. Devery Henderson is going to run a shallow crossing route to occupy the linebacker.
That leaves David Thomas one-on-one with the Bucs' corner, which is a mismatch from a physicality standpoint.
Lance Moore and Colston each command double coverage as they run clear-out routes. Thus, Henderson, Pierre Thomas and David Thomas each have one-on-one coverage. The tight end does a wonderful job of running straight at the Tampa corner.
That causes the defender to pause and get trapped in his backpedal. As a result he is unable to click and drive on David Thomas as he breaks back into the middle of the field. It's an easy throw and catch from Brees to his tight end.
One thing an observer notices time and again in football is that good blocking—be it pass-protection or run-blocking—can be measured by the unit forming a visible wall. Generally the line actually creates two separate walls which creates a huge lane between the two.
End of First Half Touchdown Pass to Lance Moore
As you can see from the pre-snap photo, this is almost precisely the same formation the Saints used on their opening touchdown throw of the game. Jimmy Graham takes Colston's spot as the man on the line of scrimmage, while Colston takes David Thomas' spot next to the right tackle. Otherwise it's the same look.
While Lance Moore was a glorified decoy on the previous scoring pass, he is the ideal target this time around. The right side is window dressing to get what Brees really wants based on this alignment.
Moore is going to run essentially the same route as he did on that play and once again get the bracket coverage with the outside corner flying to the pylon and the safety playing inside of Moore.
Everyone else, though, is running occupy routes.
Though Lance Moore again is facing double coverage, he is an eligible target due to the separation he has between both defenders.
By pushing his route towards the back pylon he causes both Tampa defenders to turn their hips towards the pylon. That is all the separation the ultra-quick Moore needs to simply pivot back into the middle of the field.
Because the Bucs' defensive backs are NFL-caliber players, they quickly recover. But it doesn't matter since Brees made a quick decision to begin his throw by the time Moore is making his break.
Brees' Final Touchdown on Go Route to Joseph Morgan
By lining up in a 2x2 formation, the Saints force the Bucs to show their hand on their coverage plan pre-snap. Brees is able to identify that he has one-man coverage.
Simply put, then, he knows that if Joe Morgan can beat E.J. Biggers off the line of scrimmage, that is where he's going.
Because of the presence of Marques Colston, the Tampa safety has to decide on whether he should help on Colston's intermediate out route or Morgan going deep up the sideline.
That hesitation works to the advantage of Brees and Morgan. Of course, it is of little concern after Morgan humiliated Biggers with a quick hesitation move off the initial press coverage.
From there, Morgan can use his blazing speed to run away from both Biggers and the Tampa safety. All Brees had to do was get the ball to him in a quick manner.
Though Ingram comes over to pick up the delayed blitz, it is of no worry as that is really Brees' man to account for anyway. By throwing quickly, the blitzer is not even a concern.
The Saints called just over 40 pass plays (officially Brees attempted 39 passes, but some called pass plays were negated by penalty, while one was negated by an 11-yard run by Brees). Of those passes, 31 initiated from a shotgun formation.
Many of those came from four-receiver sets, while others came from empty sets. In other words, the Saints spread the Bucs out and threw quickly to take advantage of the Bucs' relatively basic coverage schemes.
It was a simply brilliant offensive game plan from Pete Carmichael and Co. As a result, Brees played his finest game in at least four weeks.
In reality, it was one of Brees' finest performances of the entire season.
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