Analysis Notebook: TNF, Week 12
Another Thursday Night Football game comes to a close and another Analysis Notebook chapter opens up. Last night we saw Drew Brees put in a typical Drew Brees performance and ultimately lead the Saints to the win on the road.
There are a few facets of the game that Brees is truly excellent at, and at times in most games he will dig into his bag of tricks and break out each one of them in turn. At the end of the first Saints touchdown drive he went hard to his pump-fakes to try and move defenders around in coverage. This is a skill that all the best quarterbacks have, and each goes about it slightly differently, but the idea is the same: move defenders away from the place you want to go with the football by making them jump towards something else.
In zone coverage, defenders are often looking right at the quarterback to key on where the pass is going. Instead of sticking tight to a receiver and looking for a pass only when you are on his hip, playing zone often asks defenders to sit in an area and anticipate where the throw is going. By its very nature that leaves defenders with ground to make up on the receiver before the ball arrives while, in theory, a defender should already be in close attendance on an intended receiver while playing man coverage.
Given the speed at which a good quarterback can get the ball to his intended receiver, defenders need to set off early. In effect they need to read where the quarterback is going with the ball before he throws it and head in that direction to make up for the potential distance between them and the receiver. That leaves them vulnerable to being faked by a good quarterback. If he looks in one direction and pump fakes, they have to buy it to some degree. If they wait until he is actually throwing the ball, they’re already too late to do anything about the pass. Top coverage defenders will work out when a passer is pump faking and when he is actually looking to throw, but even the best are fooled at times.
Brees went to this well on consecutive plays late in that drive. The first didn’t have the intended success as William Moore and Desmond Trufant converged on the pass to Marques Colston in the end zone and the collision between them was the only thing that prevented Trufant from intercepting the pass. Undeterred, Brees tried it again on the very next play, again to Colston.
The Saints sent Colston on a drag behind the linebackers across the middle of the field. As you can see the Falcons’ linebackers and safety Thomas DeCoud formed an evenly spaced line of zones underneath the intended route. Brees could choose to either try to fire the ball into a tight, moving window between them as Colston runs in behind, or to try to move those zones to open up a bigger gap to complete the pass. He chose the latter.
He looked to his right where Lance Moore was running a hitch and pump faked in that direction. This caused DeCoud and LB Paul Worrilow (No. 55) to react and move off in that direction while Sean Weatherspoon remained true to his zone and the route of Colston passing in behind him.
In one swift movement, Brees transformed a wall of closely tied Falcons zones into a wall with a glaring gap in it, and he quickly came back to his left to hit Colston inside that gap where he was tackled close to the goal line, converting a third down and setting the Saints up for a touchdown three plays later.
The Falcons had a defense that should have made it very tough for the Saints to complete the pass to Colston on the play, demanding precise timing and accuracy between the quarterback and receiver to pick a hole between those zones on the move in order to make the pass, but with a pump fake Brees busts it wide open.
Often the play that is drawn up is a tough one to execute against the defense, but small things like this from the quarterback can transform the play in an instant, creating gaps in the defense where none exist on the chalkboard.
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