Week 12 Recap: Saints Defense Still Can’t Get it Sorted Out

The Saints started out the season extremely aggressive on defense, in true Rob Ryan fashion. The only problem was that the defense was extremely undisciplined, blowing coverages regularly (remember the final pass before the game-winning field goal against Cleveland in week 2?). Somewhere along the way, Ryan was reined in. The Saints went to a more passive approach. More zone coverage. Fewer blitzes. Fewer blown assignments. Unfortunately for New Orleans, this did nothing to fix their tackling issues. On Monday night, Rob Ryan reverted back to his aggressive ways, blitzing the heck out of Joe Flacco. It once again did not work out.

Failing Aggressively:
On their first drive of the game, the Saints defense had the Ravens in a 3rd-and-8 situation from their own 43-yard line. Ryan dialed up a “0” blitz (no deep safety). Somehow, Steve Smith was left uncovered. A blown assignment and an easy first down.

Several plays later, on Joe Flacco’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Smith, the Saints brought another “0” blitz. The running back was left wide open in the middle of the field. Another blown coverage. Luckily for the Saints (although not luckily because Baltimore scored on the play anyway), Flacco had already picked out the 1-on-1 matchup he liked on the outside and didn’t see his back running freely in the middle of the field.

When the Saints weren’t blowing coverages in their all-out blitzes, their defensive backs were regularly getting beaten handily in 1-on-1 coverage. Blitzes just weren’t hitting home, which left their corners on islands in unfavorable matchups. This didn’t just happen a few times. It happened often. Flacco finished the day 11-15 for 195 yards with 1 touchdown, no interceptions, no sacks, and a 137.5 passer rating against the blitz.

Joe Flacco:
Flacco is quietly putting up one of the best seasons of his career. He was unflappable against the blitz on Monday night. He didn’t flinch or bail from the pocket. He stayed in, stared down the pressure, and delivered strike after strike. There are few quarterbacks better than Joe Flacco at throwing isolation routes. Rob Ryan’s defensive scheme on Monday played right into Flacco’s strength. The results were not surprising.

Ravens Running Game:
Baltimore is moving the ball consistently on the ground this season. They ran for a season-high 215 yards on Monday and have rushed for more than 100 yards in 8 of 11 games this season. By contrast, the Ravens had only 3 games with more than 100 yards on the ground last season.

They aren’t doing it with scheme. Baltimore’s offensive line is moving the line of scrimmage. The interior line, featuring left guard Kelechi Osemele, center Jeremy Zuttah, and right guard Marshal Yanda, is much better at driving defenders on run blocks than in pass protection. They are physical and can move defenders, and they’ve been doing so all season. They took it to the Saints in the trenches on Monday.

Back to the Saints:
This game was about as bad as it could get for the Saints defense. They missed tackles frequently, turning small gains into big plays. They blew assignments as mentioned above. They didn’t play sound, team defense. Justin Forsett’s 20-yard touchdown run to seal the game was a perfect example.

On this run, defensive end #94 Cameron Jordan at first played to his assignment, attacking his gap on the left side of the o-line to force Forsett back towards the rest of the defense. Forsett was patient though, made a quick move inside and then back outside. While Forsett deserves some credit here, Jordan deserves blame for abandoning his responsibility. He tried spinning inside to make the tackle. This was a poor decision. Defensive end #76 Akiem Hicks was waiting there to make the play if Forsett went inside. But with Jordan now out of his gap after trying to make the tackle, Forsett had a wide open running lane to the outside and scampered 20 yards into the end zone untouched. Game over. This was a perfect example of a player trying to do too much, not doing his job, and costing his team as a result. When you don’t play your assignment in a team sport like football, this is what happens.

Final Thoughts:
The Ravens have flown below the radar all season. They’re only a half game out of first place in the AFC North. With their good defense, solid running game, and Joe Flacco at quarterback, they have a real chance in the AFC. The Saints also have a chance in the NFC, based purely on the fact that their 4-7 record miraculously puts them in tie at the top of the worst division in football. They can still make the playoffs. The odds are probably in their favor. If they don’t start playing smarter football, though, even a terrible NFC South won’t be enough to save them.

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