Even with the Saints’ offensive might, they had their work cut out for them against Baltimore’s defense on Sunday. Entering Week 7, the Ravens led the NFL in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game, and sacks. Baltimore can get to the quarterback in multiple ways and loves to bring intricate blitzes on 3rd down. Sean Payton’s game-plan seemed to hinge on keeping the offense in manageable 3rd-down situations as a result.
The Saints were able to do this via their running game, which they utilized heavily from the get-go. New Orleans ended up running the ball on 39 of their 70 plays (55.7%). They faced 3rd-and-6 or less on nine of their fourteen 3rd-down attempts. While they only succeeded on three of those attempts, they did eventually convert three times on 4th down. Sean Payton likes to be aggressive with his decision making anyway, but the option to go for it on 4th down had to factor into his approach of running early and often.
New Orleans has a versatile rushing attack, both in scheme and personnel. They’ll run the ball inside or outside, and personnel doesn’t dictate scheme. The small and shifty Alvin Kamara runs the ball consistently between the tackles. The powerful Mark Ingram will run outside. And “Quarterback” Taysom Hill will run the ball all over the field from any position. While the numbers weren’t tremendous (134 yards on 39 carries), their rushing attack had enough success to keep Drew Brees in manageable 3rd-down situations and tame Baltimore’s pass rush.
Still, it’s difficult to entirely avoid 3rd-and-long, which happens to be when Baltimore loves to bring their more complex blitzes. The Saints faced five such occurrences on Sunday and actually converted three of them.
On two of those conversions, the Saints went no huddle to prevent Baltimore’s blitzes from becoming a factor. The idea here was to snap the ball before Baltimore had a chance to set up or disguise their pressure scheme.
The below play was a 3rd-and-12. You can see that the Ravens did bring a blitz here. However, they were still communicating at the snap. Brees ended up with a clean pocket as the pass rush didn’t get anywhere near him.
Snapping the ball quickly gave Brees an extra second as Baltimore’s blitzers were still getting aligned. That was all the time he needed.
In the 4th quarter, the Saints faced a 3rd-and-8. Again, Brees hurried the offense to the line. If the Ravens were planning on bringing a blitz, they didn’t have time to set it up because the Saints were ready to go.
New Orleans eventually scored the go-ahead touchdown on this drive.
You’ll notice that both of the plays shown above are not glaring. Hurrying to the line did not create blown coverages and wide-open receivers. It did, however, enable the Saints to operate their offense the way they wanted to and stay on the field. It’s not easy converting multiple 3rd-and-longs in one game against a defense like Baltimore’s. The subtle wrinkles Payton included in his game-plan helped earn a tough win on the road.
The Saints might not have put up their normal crazy fantasy-football numbers on Sunday, but they did deliver a championship-caliber performance. They showed that they can win ugly, which is something that will serve them well in the playoffs.