The New Orleans game might be classified as "Worst Case Imaginable." While most of us were hopeful for a decent
showing by the cobbled together Offensive Line (which wasn't exactly fantastic when at Full Strength), we all had at least nagging doubts and worries scurrying in the backs of our minds. Would Alex Barron be able to hold up? Will Gurode be able to step in for Brisiel? Will Barnes be able to make up for any deficiencies Gurode may have? Will Nix be an improvement over Bergstrom? And perhaps most importantly, Will the Offensive Line be able to function as a UNIT after being thrown together hurriedly.
I wish there were some affirmative answers, but in the game, the first team offensive line was problematic as Matt Flynn's body can probably attest to.
BUT, before going into full Clown-Panic mode, we should keep a few things in mind.
(1) Pre season weeks 1 and 2 have no game-planning. That means that the offense is preparing their plays but are not preparing particularly for the defenses that will they will be facing. As such the offensive line was not fully prepared for a full-time blitzing defense.
(2) The Rob Ryan blitzing defense is significantly different from the Vanilla Schemes that most teams typically play and puts a great deal of pressure on the offensive protection. Two years ago in the first week of the 2011 preseason, the Saints (under DC Gregg Williams) also sent a high pressure defensive attack against the 49ers, totally putting that offense out of sorts and crushing them 24-3.
(3) This offensive line features 3 new starters from Week 1. Week 1 had Veldheer, Bergstrom, Wisniewski, Brisiel, and Barnes. Week 2 had Barron, Nix, Wisniewski, Gurode, and Barnes. Vedlheer went out on the 14th, 3 days ago. Brisiel was held out this entire week. Barron played in the Preseason Week 1 game at LT with the second team and RT with the 3rd team. Similarly Gurode had playing time in the latter half of the game. It's tough enough to build continuity and cohesion in the full preseason, but putting a line together in a week (in preseason) is even more difficult.
(4) These protection breakdowns/confusions may actually BENEFIT the offensive line. They faced multiple looks and many different blitz combinations. Just from an Xs-and-Os perspective, it was very interesting to see what Rob Ryan was throwing out there. The "Live Bullets" for the offensive line will make for LOTS of film study time in the meeting rooms and should accelerate the development of the line's unity.
(5) These protection breakdowns are VERY CORRECTABLE. When we look at it, it's a matter of recognition and coordination.
Really, it's not great news because there are some clear weaknesses on the offensive line. But it's likely that in the regular season, with full game planning and prep, that this offensive line should not have so many absolute breakdowns.
Now, let's look at some of the Protections issues. Here's a quick look at Matt Flynn's (and the first team offensive line's) five sacks :
Sack 1 :
Very similar to the PS Week 1 Blitz that Dallas used when Sean Lee sacked Flynn for the fumble in the 1st quarter. In this they send their 3 DL and the LOLB #97 Jay Richardson and then send LILB #53 Humber. Humber follows behind DE #76 Akiem Hicks. McFadden steps away from the blitz and then releases into the middle of the field.
Akiem Hicks engages Gurode and there's a clear lane in the B-gap.
Sack 2 :
No blitz. on this play. This is a simple 4 man rush and Alex Barron gets beaten by Cameron Jordan's Club move.
Sack 3 :
6 man pressure package, but the Raiders have 7 blockers. Much of this is handled well. But on the left side of the offensive line, there's a bit of a problem opening up the A-gap. Barron and Richard Gordon double team #94 Cameron Jordan, while Bergstrom takes on the blitzing LB #53. But Humber. As Humber takes an outside move, this takes Bergstrom to his left and opens up the A-gap. #91 Will Smith is able to loop inside and Alex Barron is in no position to block him.
Sack 4 :
This is a 4-man pressure out of a Nickel subpackage. While technically NOT a blitz, since they send 3 down-linemen and S #41 Roman Harper, it generally is qualified as a blitz. Still, 5-man protection and a RB to block 4 should be pretty basic. In this case, Gurode blocks down to double team Tyrunn Walker (with Wis) and turns Roman Harper free.
Sack 5 :
7-man pressure against 6 blockers. That means there's going to be a free defender who is the QB's responsibility (hot route). Barnes does the right thing, he takes the inside-blitzing LB #53 Humber and sets Will Smith free on the outside. Everyone else is picked up.
These were the breakdowns. Of these, one was not a protection breakdown, but a physical defeat.
There were other blitz packages used by the Saints during the course of the first half and in some cases, there were problems and at others, they were handled very nicely.
The offense and the offensive line is clearly still a work in progress. The first real battle is to make sure everyone knows who their blocking assignment is, including the RBs. Once that is squared away, then we can look at physical matchups and assess how well a player is going to hold up. And then we have to look at the important coordination between linemen for stunt-handovers or situations likes Sack #3.
There should be a substantial improvement this coming week. There will be game plan install and preparation for the Chicago Bears and so we will have a stronger idea of what this unit is made of in a week. While I don't expect a great offensive line performance, I certainly expect that this performance will not be the status quo.