The game-sealing touchdown in New Orleans’ 45-35 win over the previously undefeated Rams came on 3rd-and-7. You can see the matchup of the day highlighted at the top of the screen – wide receiver Michael Thomas vs. cornerback Marcus Peters.
Given that it was 3rd-and-7 and the Rams’ Defensive Coordinator is Wade Phillips, there was probably a good chance that the Rams were playing some sort of man coverage. Drew Brees still wanted to be sure. He motioned his running back, Mark Ingram, to the perimeter. Linebacker Cory Littleton followed.
Littleton following Ingram to the perimeter was an indicator that this was, indeed, man coverage.
The question for Brees was about the safeties initially aligned in the middle of the field. What would they do post snap? The answer would help determine Brees’ best matchup.
As it turned out, safety Lamarcus Joyner moved down into the middle of the field to help out against running back Alvin Kamara.
Safety John Johnson was providing help to the other side of the field.
Whether this was an accident or by design, this left no safety help over the three-receiver side.
Replays show that Drew Brees peaked at Joyner creeping down into the middle of the field, leaving the huge void over top of Thomas and Peters. That was all Brees needed to work the matchup. You can see below how quickly Thomas got on top of Peters.
Peters was never able to recover. You can see the play in full below.
In fairness to Peters, it looked like he possibly should have had help. After Ingram motioned to the outside, you could see Peters gesturing towards his safeties.
It seemed like he was trying to make sure that one of the safeties either played over top of him, or at very least, played in the deep middle of the field. Peters wasn’t entirely set as the ball was snapped because he was still communicating with his safeties. This enabled Thomas to beat him quickly off the ball.
It’s easy to say Michael Thomas had his way against Marcus Peters on Sunday. He caught 6 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown while facing Peters in Man. Take away that 72-yard touchdown where it appeared Peters should have had help, and the results were 5 receptions for 55 yards. The Saints actually had more consistent success using formations that got Thomas matched up in 1-on-1 situations against safeties in zone coverage (6 receptions, 84 yards).
With that being said, if these teams play again this season, it will be imperative that Peters do one thing he wasn’t able to do at all on Sunday – get his hands on Thomas at the line and disrupt his routes. Easier said than done, we know. Still imperative. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams use some 2-man and provide Peters with safety help over the top so he can feel comfortable jamming at the line.
Either way, a rematch between these two teams with more on the line should be on the wish list of every NFL fan.
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