And then there were four ...
I could ramble on and on with some eloquent preamble, but the truth is I'm all about this film breakdown and pretty sure you are too, so let's get to it, shall we?
Michael Bennett was the story of the Seahawks' win over the Saints at home. He has been a utility player of sorts on Seattle's defensive line all season. He plays all over the place up front and usually is more than able to hold his own. Whenever Bennett rushed Saints right guard Jahri Evans, magic seemed to happen. He went Super Saiyan on Evans' ass several times.
Bennett started at three tech and made an impact almost immediately on third down when he tripped Saints running back Mark Ingram just enough to throw off the timing of a screen that was set up for pretty big yardage.
The yellow shows Bennett on the ground after trying to trip Ingram, who is also in the circle.
This is a "what if" picture. Imagine if Ingram had caught the ball cleanly, then this is what he would have been looking at. Maybe not a touchdown, but a helluva long run. Thanks to Bennett's extra effort, that didn't happen.
Bennett went on to cause a fumble (well two, actually) which he recovered, get a sack of Brees and provide constant pressure throughout the game. It was pressure from Bennett on fourth-and-4 that forced Brees to throw the ball early and fail to convert.
That blue circle? That's Bennett.
That yellow circle? That's Darren Sproles going to the flat with nobody covering him.
Bennett doesn't get the sack, but he does just enough to affect Brees' vision.
The quarterback can't see two open receivers (yellow) and instead tries to go to Marques Colston in the middle, late. That's a no-no and Brees was lucky to not have this pass intercepted.
This is how Bennett's pressure looked from behind.
Here are some pictures of Bennett on the sack where he blows by Evans before Brees can even get set to throw.
The yellow circles are the Saints' eligible receivers. Most of them haven't even made it to the top of their routes. That's how fast Bennett was on Brees.
Yes, Bennett got there first. I'm not sure what's up with this new trend, but the rule always used to be that the guy who got there first received credit for a full sack. Guys would both get credited with a half sack only if it was simultaneous. Elias needs to give Bennett that other half, he earned it.
It was critical for the Seahawks to get pressure from the middle of their defense because Brees loves to climb the pocket to avoid pressure. Bennett accomplished that task almost all by himself and was a huge reason for the win.
As for Brees' performance overall, I think he definitely left some plays on the field. Mostly I question the offensive game plan. It's bad enough we hear during the broadcast that Sean Payton decided to start Khiry Robinson (13 carries, 57 yards) over Mark Ingram because his mentor Bill Parcells told him to, and then to see Robinson average less per carry than Ingram (10 carries, 49 yards) was the icing on the cake.
The difference wasn't that much, but Ingram was coming off perhaps his best day running the ball as a pro. To think a Super Bowl-winning head coach had so little confidence in himself and his own decision-making that he allowed his mentor (no matter how decorated) to convince him of who to start at running back is just stunning to me. I have to wonder how the locker room took it as well.
On another note, it also seemed Payton had no plan to involve all-world tight end Jimmy Graham. The Seahawks weren't doing anything special to take him away, either. I can tell you that the Seahawks seemed to really focus in on stopping the Saints' screen game, something Payton could have used against them to get Graham open.
Check out this screen to Sproles:
Sproles (red) is heading out for a screen while the tight end (yellow) is running a crossing route in the opposite direction.
It appears the Seahawks keyed on Brees' footwork on screens, and when they saw it they didn't hesitate. There is nobody paying any attention to the tight end at this point. I kept waiting to see Brees fake a screen then go to Graham over the middle, but it never happened.
Russell Wilson didn't have a good game either, which kept the Saints in it right up until the end.
The one thing that has driven me crazy in recent weeks is Wilson's aversion to taking off with the ball and trying to get the first down or score a touchdown. We all know he can do it, since he's done it before as a pro. Wilson does take off, but he just doesn't do it enough.
I've said before, Seattle lacks a dynamic receiver who can get open one-on-one. That looked to change on Sunday with Percy Harvin's return. When he sustained a concussion (because Wilson got him killed twice), the quarterback's outlook should have changed. For the Seahawks to get touchdowns, Wilson needs to use his legs more often, whether it's to move the sticks or to stick it in the end zone on third-and-goal. Just look at the chance he had here.
As usual, all the Seahawks' eligible receivers (yellow) are covered. If Wilson had taken off right now I would put all my money on him beating Cameron Jordan (blue) to the corner of the goal line for a touchdown.
Instead Wilson drifted toward the end zone and kept waiting for someone to get open. That gave Jordan, a fantastic athlete for his size, enough time to walk him down.
Anybody out there willing to bet that if Wilson takes off right at this moment, Jordan would have a legitimate shot to keep him from turning the corner?
Instead the pass falls incomplete, and yet again the Seahawks had to settle for a field goal. Those 23 points were good enough to win on Sunday, but I'm not sure it will be enough the rest of this postseason. To win, the Seahawks need Wilson to run more, it's as simple as that.
I'm not necessarily talking about read option either. I'm talking more about scrambles when guys are covered. Look at the opportunity Wilson had if he had pulled the ball on this read-option play.
The defensive end (blue) goes inside of the tight end, which means the linebacker is probably going to take a dive also. Besides that, Wilson has a slot receiver (white) to block for him. So why not pull it?
Here is what that could have looked like. I'm just saying.
I am starting to think Wilson predetermines his read before the ball is snapped, which isn't good. That's the only explanation I can come up with for why he didn't throw this bubble screen.
This was one of those read-option plays that has a passing option built into it as well.
The cornerback (blue) who lined up on the innermost receiver (yellow) ended up blitzing at the snap. That's the perfect time to throw the bubble screen. Just imagine if Wilson throws this and the other two wide receivers make any decent kind of block. Might well be a touchdown.
So why wouldn't he throw it? Well, if that cornerback didn't blitz, then it would have been a perfect time for Wilson to pull it and run between Marshawn Lynch and the bubble screen fake. I'm leaning toward believing he makes up his mind before the ball is ever snapped.
Let me say this: the read option can and should be a weapon this postseason for any team with a running quarterback, but if he isn't comfortable making decisions in a split second, he might not ever maximize the benefits.
Pretty self-explanatory here: defensive end (blue) has dive while cornerback (yellow) has quarterback.
Again Jordan (blue) goes inside the tight end. The corner can't be sure if Wilson handed off the ball so he starts toward the line of scrimmage.
Lynch (red) takes the handoff, notices Jordan way inside and decides to cut right behind the tight end's block. The cornerback is still cautious about losing containment by going for Lynch when Wilson might still have the ball.
Between Jordan going inside and the corner staying outside, it gives Lynch a huge lane to run straight ahead and build up some steam.
You had one job No. 25 ... ONE JOB!
Lynch was huge as usual for the Seahawks. I thought he might get to 30 carries, but all he had was 28 for 140 yards and two touchdowns. The crazy thing is for segments of the game the Saints were doing a good job of playing the run. Unfortunately, at times they got caught trying to shift their line and things did not generally end well.
At the moment the defensive tackle with the yellow circle is in the A gap, the defensive tackle on the opposite side is in the B gap so you have balance.
When the Seahawks start to motion, the Saints linebacker (yellow) starts to yell at the defensive tackle to shift over to the B gap. That would be all fine and good had the other defensive tackle then also shifted over to his A gap so they could again have balance.
Instead you get two A gaps open and as I always say kids, that is never a good thing.
Would you want to try to tackle Lynch running through a lane this wide?
No sir, not me.
The second Lynch touchdown, the one that shut the door on the Saints, was a thing of beauty. They used the wide receiver to the left to crack on the safety. That left Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis one-on-one with Lynch up the sideline.
What Lewis should have done was get upfield once he saw the receiver try to crack block. That could have helped Lewis turn Lynch back into his inside help.
Instead he followed too far inside and 31 yards and a touchdown later ...
After that, the Saints scored right at the end to make it a one-score game. Here is the diagram of that touchdown to Marques Colston.
The Seahawks are sending pressure from both edges (yellow), while both safeties are supposed to have the slot receivers.
Looking good so far.
The safety in the blue circle did a damn good job, while the safety in the red circle must have missed the memo.
Lastly, I know the result of the Colston play at the end of the game is funny, but watching film I can see what the Saints were going for here. Sproles is over on the other side hanging out. He was running a little too fast, which is why I think Colston threw it forward. He just got confused about where he was on the field. However, had Colston made a good throw and Sproles could have caught it on the run, well ... you decide.