Midweek report

So far, Saints’ approach has been unbeatable

By Albert R. Breer
Globe Stafff / November 25, 2009

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An early look at the New Orleans Saints from an NFC scout:

“It’s a matchup-based system, and they’ve created a group of weapons with the triggerman to run it. They’ve got playmakers everywhere, but the area where they haven’t gotten enough credit is with the way the offensive line is playing. To throw as well as they do, and run when they can’t, it’s gotta start there, and they’ve done it even losing guys like Jammal Brown there.

“They like to get [Drew ] Brees out on the perimeter, and because he’s a shorter guy, he needs a window. So they move the quarterback, or move the defense, and do a real good job of it.

“They’ll do it with the action of the play. For example, they’ll show play-action pass, give the protection action that gets the defense to move one way, and throw the opposite way. They’ll show zone-run scheme, then pull the tight end and run him to the other side, and the defense will have moved with the run action. And they do it by formation.

“All of it’s a product of how well Brees sees the field, and by the design of their plays.

“They beat you with [all the skill players] as a group, because those guys do it different ways. You got speed with [Devery] Henderson and [Robert] Meachem. You got the big guy, [Marques] Colston. [Lance] Moore’s crafty, the tight ends. And they use them to beat you by doing things based off personnel groups, getting the ball to the matchup they want. They use [Reggie] Bush that way. They use the tight ends that way.

“[The defense] puts you in situations to create turnovers, and the difference is this year, they’re catching the ball. It’s through creative pressure, and they’re doing a much better job in coverage than they have in the past.

“They appear to be very well-coached on opponents’ tendencies; you can see them doing things like baiting the quarterback. And it makes a difference having a guy [Darren Sharper] that’s making big plays, directing everything, and adjusting based on tendency.

“They’ve found too many ways to win, different ways to win, for it to be smoke and mirrors. The offense feeds off the defense, and the defense feeds off the offense, and they’re making plays on special teams. It’s contributions in all phases.’’

Tale of the tape
1. The Patriots coaches paid a heck of a compliment to their secondary in the way they varied rush packages against the Jets. New England sent extra rushers on nine of Mark Sanchez’s 23 dropbacks. And defensive backs were sent consistently - most prominently Brandon McGowan. There were defensive backs blitzing on one of Tully Banta-Cain’s sacks and one of Leigh Bodden’s interceptions, and that kind of pressure requires trust on the back end.

2. The Jets, on the other hand, didn’t pressure Tom Brady the way they did in Week 2. After blitzing more than half the time in that game, they came with extra rushers only 27 percent of the time Sunday. New York did disguise quite a bit, but the Patriots handled it with aplomb. It’s telling that the two sacks the Jets did register came with a straight four-man rush.

3. Clearly, there was an emphasis on Brady unloading the ball quickly - and the style of rush played into that big-time. The Jets constantly crowded the line, while normally rushing only three or four. In those cases, linebackers and defensive backs had to bail back into zones, and by getting rid of the ball quickly, Brady was able to take advantage and get those guys on their heels.

4. Adalius Thomas’s play of late has been encouraging. His three solo tackles, one for a loss, and quarterback pressure are the obvious signs. His discipline is a bit more hidden. There was the way he snuffed out a Dolphins reverse pass two weeks ago, sacking Chad Henne. This week, he stayed home when slashback Brad Smith darted for an end-around from his side and the ball went off-tackle. As Smith carried out his fake, Thomas was defeating Dustin Keller’s block and leveling tailback Shonn Greene.

5. Laurence Maroney’s improvement is evident as well. And it’s not just in “how hard he runs.’’ It’s more about picking his spots. On his longest run, a 14-yarder in the second quarter, he showed patience, waited for the hole to develop, then burst through it. On the next play, without much there, he slashed back to get the 3 yards that were available. Having the sense of when to use each of his tools is really the difference between Maroney being what he was Sunday, and what he has been on more disappointing days.

Player spotlight
When Banta-Cain left for San Francisco, three-year, $12.2 million contract in tow, the Patriots figured to have kissed him goodbye.

In fact, the only reason he’s back now is that the 49ers gave up on him. He played in 28 games in San Francisco, starting just 10 and registering only four sacks. He has five sacks in his first 10 games in his second tour as a Patriot.

What’s going on? Here’s the way director of player personnel Nick Caserio sees it:

“They used him primarily on third and fourth down. They used him in some pass-rushing situations, played him in the kicking game. He was playing in a rotational basis with some other guys out there. But when he was released, obviously, he’s a guy we had some experience with.

“One of things Tully has done since he’s been here, going back to February or March, is he had a real strong offseason and he continued to work on his pass rush and develop some of those other skills. It has really translated over into the season.

“Really, it went back to, like I said, in March, with the offseason program and the OTAs [Organized Team Activities]. There was a steady progression and he’s been productive when he’s been on the field this year, there is no question about it.’’

Albert R. Breer can be reached at

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