Sunday’s game got off to a disastrous start for the Jets defensively. They allowed 17 points in the Saints first three possessions. These series put the Jets into a hole they would never climb out from.
What was really striking about these first few possessions was how frequently the play the Saints called was the perfect answer to what the Jets were doing defensively. It almost felt like Drew Brees was in the Jets’ defensive huddle.
First let’s look at the 54 yard screen pass on the first series that set up the field goal.
Brees knew exactly what he wanted to do, exactly what the Jets were doing, and exactly how to manipulate the defense. This was a screen pass to his right so he brought a receiver in motion to the left. The reason he did that was the receiver brought Buster Skrine with him, one less defender on the right side of the field where the play was going.
Then Brees pointed out that Demario Davis was blitzing so the protection should act accordingly.
Then he pointed out Jamal Adams as a blitzer. Again the protection should note that accordingly...or so it seemed.
Guess who blitzed at the snap for the Jets. It was Davis and Adams.
Davis got picked up by an offensive lineman, and it looked like Ingram’s job was to pick up Adams.
Ingram fakes a block and slips out into a pattern, though.
I didn’t realize what actually happened on this play until I watched it a few times over. Brees played a game of cat and mouse with Adams.
I think Adams’ assignment on this play was to cover Ingram. When Brees pointed Adams out, the rookie safety figured that meant Ingram was staying in to block. When the guy you are covering stays in as a blocker, you are free to blitz. Adams blitzed thinking Ingram was blocking, but Ingram slipped out. Adams wasn’t there to cover him.
When people talk about quarterbacks, the discussion frequently bogs down into their surroundings. Are there good receivers? Is there a good offensive line? Have the coaches put in a good system? Look, these things matter. There is a reason quarterbacks are so highly paid, though. They can lift an offense up independent of their surroundings, and this is a good example. Brees baited a rookie into leaving a receiver open.
As you can see, the Jets turn a bad play into a catastrophe as Marcus Maye gets caught in traffic, Morris Claiborne figuratively gets his ankles broken, and Darron Lee gets thrown off a tackle by Ingram. The Jets caught a big break here as Ingram was ruled to have stepped out short of the end zone even though he didn’t.
Later in the first half, Brees again knew a Jets blitz before the ball was snapped. He correctly identified Darron Lee as a blitzer.
The protection was able to slide in Lee’s direction and pick up the blitz.
Now let’s rewind a little bit to see what happened presnap away from the line.
The Jets started out in a pretty good defensive alignment. They had Morris Claiborne against wide receiver Michael Thomas.
The Saints then motioned Alvin Kamara out wide from the backfield. Claiborne ended up shifting to Kamara outside.
The Jets now had their best corner against a the rookie running back. Kamara has excellent receiving skills, but it is less than ideal to use the resource of the best cover guy on the defense against a back. It meant Claiborne was not matched up against a more skilled receiver.
The situation got even hairier for the Jets, however, because Thomas then motioned across the formation into the slot on the other side. David Bass shifted out to take him.
So now the Jets found themselves in a situation where their best cornerback was covering a running back, which left a linebacker one on one against the other team’s best receiver.
This could have gotten really ugly with Thomas running a vertical route, but rather than wait for it to develop, Brees saw an easy completion on the sideline for a nice gain as Buster Skrine gave up too much cushion so he just took that.
Execution doesn’t get much better than this. This was knowing exactly what the defense would do, manipulating things to create the matchups you want, and still keeping an eye on the rest of the field in case something else was there to be taken.
Later on the Saints found themselves in a fourth and two. They spread the field and forced the Jets to show their coverage. When the defense lines up with cover guys tight across from every receiver, it is a giveaway the coverage is man to man.
It was a perfect spot for a receiver screen. Thomas could motion to bring Claiborne into traffic, and the two receivers near Thomas could simply block their men.
Claiborne couldn’t get near Thomas when he caught the ball, the blocks held, and the Saints ended up with a first down that was almost a touchdown.
The Jets eventually put together a long stretch of excellent defense, but the damage had already been done. At the start of the game, the Saints knew the Jets defensive calls as well as the Jets did, and they knew how to exploit it.