Inside the playbook: the Saints' deep ball

Today: The Saints deep ball

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On Sunday, in the Falcons 27-24 OT victory over the Saints, we got a chance to see the deep ball come into play — for both teams. This morning, let’s spend some time looking at Drew Brees’ 80-yard TD pass to WR Lance Moore. A complete breakdown using the chalkboard and the TV tape to illustrate why New Orleans beat the Atlanta Cover 3 look using a classic route scheme: 4 Verticals, or, in this case, “999.”

Let’s set it up. The Saints are in their Posse Personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) against the Falcons base nickel package (4 DL, 2 LB, 5 DB) in a first and 15 situation on their own 20-yard line. Everyone in the NFL will run 4 Verticals to stretch the field, but the Saints disguise the route from their pre-snap alignment and use TE Jeremy Shockey (highlighted in orange) to give Moore a free run down the seam.

The Saints align in an empty set (no one in the backfield) using RB Pierre Thomas as the No. 1 WR to the closed (or TE) side. Moore (who is the Z receiver in this formation) aligns as the No. 2. The key here is Shockey — who bends his route back across the face of the FS (part of the “999” route scheme) to open up the seam for Moore streaking down the field with a free release off of the line of scrimmage.

Let’s check it out on the chalkboard…


Before we get to the TV tape and check out the replay, keep in mind the coverage scheme by the Falcons. The four underneath players will carry any vertical route to the 3-deep coverage, but it is the responsibility of the FS (highlighted in white) and the CB to play with the proper depth and overlap any ball thrown in the seam. Three-deep coverage is played throughout the NFL (and at all levels of football), but just like any defense, there are a number of routes that are designed to beat the defense.

And “999” is ideal when matched up against Cover 3.

Let’s take a look at the TV tape and get into some coaching points…

Coaching points…

Shockey’s route: The “999” scheme is run out of a 3x1 alignment (or a 3x2 alignment in an empty formation). Why? Simple: to disguise the 4 vertical look. Shockey, the No. 3 receiver to the closed side, will take a hard inside release and stem his route across the field to create that 2x2 vertical look. And, this is where the FS comes into play. We will get into his technique in a moment, but any time a receiver crosses your face, it is tough as a deep third defender to stay true to the scheme. Shockey is an option in this route, but the design is used to draw the FS and open up the front side of the route.

Lance MooreICONThe Saints' Lance Moore.

The free safety’s technique: Get depth. As we can see from the TV tape replay, the FS is sitting short — not good. When you have to break on a route going lateral to the line of scrimmage, you are beat. The FS has to stay deep, read the QB and then break at a downhill angle to make a play on the ball. With Shockey crossing the field, the FS settles his feet — and that always leads to a big play.

The cornerback: Tough play for the closed side CB. With the “R,” Thomas, aligned with a wide split outside of the numbers, the CB has to widen and protect the 9 (or fade) route outside of the numbers. The key here? Find a way to split the two verticals by Thomas and Moore. Show the QB (with proper depth) that you can play both and force Brees to hit the check down to the “W” receiver. Need help from the FS in this situation, and the technique has to be perfect. But in this situation, the CB is too wide and can’t help on the inside vertical by Moore.

The curl-flat defenders: Can Atlanta get a jam on Moore? The Sam linebacker (strong side linebacker) to the closed side of the formation is responsible to drop to the curl-flat. Even in Cover 3, he can get a piece of Moore (under five yards) and re-route him to disrupt the route. Can’t give speed like Moore a free run down the field vs. zone coverage.

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