September 27, 2009

Saints D pitches shutout as PT Cruiser rolls in second half on way to 27-7 victory in Buffalo

Bullet time:
  • The Saints defense played as good as this franchise's defense has played in a long, long time. And oddly enough, it was using mostly three-man fronts and lots of defensive backs. I wouldn't call it the first game of a transition to a 3-4 defense for the Saints, because the Saints didn't have four linebackers on the field every time they had three linemen down. The Saints played a lot of nickel, true, but those three-man fronts were mostly thanks to the absense of starting DT Kendrick Clancy. His replacement DT Remi Ayodele is not so good that the Saints' prized defensive coordinator won't be creative with three-man fronts.

  • Overall, a brilliant game plan from Gregg Williams and in the long run of things, this victory can be attributed mostly to him and his defensive unit.

  • All four Saints runningbacks have scored touchdowns this season, with Lynell Hamilton opening scoring today and Pierre Thomas scoring twice in the fourth quarter. Even fullback Heath Evans has a score. All that from a passing team? Remarkable offensive production.

  • That Pierre Thomas' two touchdowns were from 34 and 19 yards out is also remarkable. So much for a bum knee, Thomas showed speed and more importantly power, geared by confidence in his knee which suffered a strained MCL in the preseason. Superb running by the PT Cruiser in the second half, as he accounted for 126 of the Saints 191 second-half yards.

  • The Saints' 222 rushing yards on Sunday were the most by the this team since December 24, 2006 (236 yards), when both Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush rushed for more than 100 yards each.

  • It was the first win for Sean Payton without a Brees touchdown pass since the third game of his tenure and the Saints' post-Katrina home opener on September 25, 2006.

  • Even QB Drew Brees got in on the ground-game fun, rushing for two first downs including once on a naked bootleg. It was a remarkably quiet day for Brees, who looked sharp on the opening drive but over the course of the game was hit and sacked more than usual, being sacked twice and with Bills regularly in his face. Brees finished 16 of 29 for 172 yards and a pedestrian 72.8 QB rating. Its a significant cool-down for the white-hot Brees, but a victory nonetheless.

  • Brees did a great job all game of milking the clock and dealing with pressure. The Saints won the time of possession battle with 33:34, and the turnover battle 1-2.

  • The Saints were down to their third string left tackle Zach Strief for more than half of the game, with Jammal Brown out through October and Jermon Bushrod picking up an ankle injury during the course of the game. Strief, Bushrod and Stinchcomb struggled with Bills defensive ends Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay during the game, and former LSU DT Kyle Williams also had an active day. Schobel collected the only Saint turnover with a sack, forced fumble and recovery on Brees in the second quarter.

  • The Saints' defensive line also did a fantastic job today, despite operating out of three down linemen sets most of the game. The three starting linemen all collected sacks, and Charles Grant and Randall Gay combined for a fourth. DE Will Smith had a huge play in the second quarter, busting through the line on 3rd and 1 and dropping RB Fred Jackson for a two-yard loss. Smith later picked off a pass that CB Jabari Greer deflected off of WR Terrell Owens. A welcome surprise from the Saints' cadre of first-round picks on the defensive line was a big part of the Saints' defensive success.

  • DT Sedrick Ellis had an active day, in on five tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss and two quarterback hurries. He helped limit RB Fred Jackson to 71 yards on 18 carries.

  • The Bills collected only 245 yards of total offense, not including the 25-yard touchdown pass on the fake field goal.

  • Officiating during today's game was questionable. There was a roughing the passer on Saints DT Anthony Hargrove in first half that was the worst example of a league paranoid about quarterbacks. Its not totally certain if Hargrove really touched Bills QB Trent Edwards, and if he did, if Edwards even felt Hargrove's fingers on his helmet. Terrible call. Later in the first half, a tripping flag on TE Jeremy Shockey was a poor call. Shockey was shifting left with another blocker at his side, and tripping was the flag. Very ticky-tack call. Then in the third quarter, while the game was still competitive, Hargrove was in on the tackle of a scrambling Edwards and hit the quarterback in his back as he fell and before he was down. That was ruled a late hit. Inexcusable, in our opinion.

  • That said, a late hit call against S Darren Sharper, diving late onto a downed Bills WR Lee Evans, was a good call and inexcusable for the Saints' most wise defensive veteran.

  • The Bills' only points of the day, their first quarter fake field goal, was a great call by former Saints assistant coach Bobby April, one of the best special teams coaches in the league. April caught the Saints without enough players to defend bootlegging punter Brian Moorman and his two targets. Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma was forced with the decision to cover one of the two receivers, both defensive linemen, or to go after Moorman. He chose quickly to pressure Moorman, who made a good lofting spiral despite being just hammered by Vilma. DE Ryan Denney tiptoed into the end zone and the game was tied.

  • As good as the Saints looked on the opening drive, they struggled the rest of the game putting long drives together. That 10-play, 4:57 drive to open the game was the best of the day and for the Saints, their third straight game-opening touchdown drive. Later in the game, the Saints did have a 12-play, 6:33 drive in the third quarter that featured Brees bootlegging for a fourth and one conversion, but the Saints punted from the Buffalo 34 yard line and pinned the Bills at their three yard line.

  • Special teams weren't pretty today, marred by penalties on almost every punt. Rookie CB Malcolm Jenkins though made the day shine again, making a remarkable strip and fumble recovery on punt coverage. Its the third straight week Jenkins made a big play on special teams, and the second straight week he forced a returner to fumble. This time, in the second quarter, Jenkins was the first gunner downfield following fellow rookie Thomas Morstead's 49-yard punt. PR Roscoe Parrish dodged Jenkins initially but not Jenkins' right arm, which in passing jarred the ball loose. The fumble appeared on the ground right in front of Jenkins, who collected it and hung on. The Saints moved from the Bills 32 to the 9 on that drive and turned it into a field goal that gave them a 10-7 advantage and a lead they wouldn't surrender.

  • What more can you say about Pierre Thomas? He didn't work much in pregame warmups, didn't play much at all in the first half, and then in the second half he took over. He made the tackle on the kickoff, then on the Saints' first possession he took three straight handoffs: one yard, 19 yards, 13 yards. The Saints were held in check in the third quarter, and then Thomas took the game on his shoulders in the fourth quarter with his two touchdowns, putting the game out of reach.

  • WR Terrell Owens was a non-factor in the game, and there were multiple reasons for that, not the least of which was the Saints' secondary. Owens might have decided against making a tough play for a deep pass as FS Darren Sharper closed in for the kill. He also bobbled a catch out of bounds and then, the one time he beat the Saints' secondary deep, his quarterback overthrew him by five yards. But after wearing a silly pair of cheap blue plastic sunglasses, and implicitly questioning the playcalling in a post-game interview, can anyone feel sorry for him? Former LSU WR Josh Reed outplayed his higher-profile teammates Owens and Lee Evans today.

  • It was a shutout for the Saints defense, not including the special teams touchdown. That's the first time the Saints defense has done that since December 17, 2000, when the Saints beat the Falcons 23-7 at home and the Falcons' only points came on a kickoff return TD. The Saints haven't recorded a true shutout since December 24, 1995 against the Jets in New York.

  • The Saints play the Jets next week in the Superdome at 3:05pm.

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