New Orleans Saints Wild Card Round Report Card: 5 Reasons the Saints Dominated
This morning when you looked at the box score for the New Orleans Saints' Wild Card victory Saturday night over the Detroit Lions, you were likely astounded—perhaps even speechless or unable to breathe for a moment.
If any of those things happened to you, it’s okay. It was that nuts. The New Orleans Saints set a playoff record for total offense—with 626 total yards. Of those, 459 came through the air, but 167 were gained on the ground.
Perhaps even more astounding was the fact the Lions also managed over 400 yards of total offense—212 of those coming from Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron. But even Johnson’s best efforts, along with Matthew Stafford, weren’t anywhere near enough to overcome the explosive and spicy hot New Orleans Saints.
The Saints will begin preparations today for next Saturday’s divisional playoff game at San Francisco. But first let’s look back to see why the Saints were so dominant Saturday night.
5. Create Pressure and Turnovers
Though the Saints never really got Matthew Stafford out of the pocket—which was one of my three keys to defensive success Saturday night—in the second half they did do a good job of creating pressure and hurrying Stafford into some quick throws.
Late in the game Jabari Greer—the most underrated player in all of football—took advantage with not one, but two interceptions which eliminated any chance of a Lions’ comeback.
Several other times in the second half Stafford had to throw quicker than he wanted and threw inaccurately or had to check down too quickly.
That was absolutely part of the Saints game plan going into this game. And it will always be a part of any successful game plan.
4. Monkey in the Middle Was a Fun Game
Despite gaining a playoff record 626 yards—I can’t stop typing that, it blows my mind every time—the Saints actually did not play a perfect offensive game. But they never punted and in reality were perfect in have-to-have it situations.
The final fourth down play was a kneel down which didn’t matter at all. Because of that the Saints ran 28 more plays than Detroit and held the ball for over 37 minutes.
The Lions were explosive when they had the football, but their lack of control of the ball made it difficult for them to control the football game as a whole. The Saints offense really capitalized in the fourth quarter when they exploded for three touchdowns against a tired and weary defense.
The Saints did it with excellent play-calling by Pete Carmichael, Jr.—which featured a heavy dose of Pierre Thomas (more on him later) and Darren Sproles in the run game and many shots down the field for one of the game’s finest deep ball passers.
3. Pierre Thomas
Have you ever seen a guy break so many tackles and gain so many yards afterwards, in a playoff game? Thomas' ability to maintain his balance by placing his off hand to the ground while keeping his legs churning was absolutely the key to the Saints never punting in this game.
Thomas may be the most underrated running back in the NFL. He runs with power, exceptional pad level and great balance which he exhibited Saturday night.
He finished with 111 total yards, but those were as loud a 111 yards as one could imagine. Thomas' impact on this game was obvious to anyone sober enough to comprehend what was happening.
In my opinion, as great as Drew Brees was, Thomas was the Saints MVP Saturday night. Without him, it's hard to say for sure the Saints would have won this game.
2. A Little Luck and Perseverance
I still can't believe the play pictured above was ruled a fumble. But given that was the call, the Saints are extremely lucky the officials blew the play dead. If they had not, the Lions would have likely added a defensive touchdown and made this game a fourth-quarter decision instead of a relative blowout.
But the defense stepped up big when they had to. It stopped the Lions on both sudden change situations, and made life more difficult on Matthew Stafford in the second half than in the first half.
Due to the defense stepping up after two New Orleans turnovers, the offense felt compelled to step their game up. And boy did they ever!
Forty-five points later the Saints did what the Saints do, they scored at will. That's what they always do at home. And the Saints have managed 42-plus points now in four straight games.
Of course, it didn't look as if the Saints would reach that mark at the beginning of the fourth quarter when they only had 24 points. But that might be the whole point—you can hold this offense down for a half, but there’s no way you’re holding them down for a whole game, especially the way they're playing right now.
1. One Heck of a Game Managed by Sean Payton
Sean Payton coached Saturday night's game perfectly. But it really began with his injury at Tampa Bay and the Saints horrendous road effort at St. Louis back in Week 8.
Since then the Saints have grown in their pass protection, running game and overall defensive aptitude. The reason?
Sean Payton is trusting his fellow coaches more than ever. Joe Vitt's role increased, and his linebackers' unit has been better than any time in his six seasons on the job. Pete Carmichael, Jr. is calling the plays and has done a masterful job as Sean Payton 2.0.
And all that has actually allowed Payton to focus on his primary role as game manager and motivator. And he has excelled in both those roles—especially Saturday night.
Payton maintained his calm and trust in his players in not challenging the fumble ruling. Two or three years ago Payton would have challenged that call—hoping desperately to retain the football.
But later in the game he knew exactly what the team needed when he went for it on 4th-and-1 inside his own territory in a situation he didn’t have to go for it.
Most coaches wouldn’t have thought twice about going for it there. Most would have punted, not because they trust their defense but because they actually don’t trust their offense or defense. Payton’s move proved he trusted both units. He trusted his offensive line could get enough push to get the first down. He trusted his quarterback to make a play.
And if for some reason none of those things happened, he trusted his defense would bail the offense out. It’s something Payton has always talked about—he calls it playing complementary football. In 2011, Payton and this team have nearly perfected it.
Payton—and the way he’s coaching—is the primary reason the Saints are likely to go on the road for two more weeks this postseason, yet are likely to be the favorite in both games.