How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Kevin Kolb
It's Been Two Games And Winston Justice Still Looks Really Good
Holy Crap, I Still Can't Believe We Barely Blitzed
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Lots of sports writers, in an attempt to prove their cultural bona fides, will talk about the music they're listening to while they write a story. I have trouble listening to music when I write anything that requires thinking (you'd be surprised at just how often one can happen without the other), so if I have anything in the background, it's either not-too-catchy classical or something bleep-bloopey. No words, which really screw me up.
Those things are pretty boring to pass along, though, so I thought maybe I could do something else. Like tell you what was drinking each week as I settle in for this watching and posting marathon.
Then I realized that might cost me some football credibility points.
Still, this is a good wine. A really good wine. And even better without food.
On to the rewind.
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When you're on the wrong end of a 48-22 drubbing, you're going to have your share of bad plays. That's just one of life's little rules.
But this play, right here, was by far the worst of the entire afternoon. Please note that it falls into the category of "Wildcat plays we didn't really call the Wildcat because the regular quarterback took the snap." Coach Reid wants to make sure we clean that stuff up.
Issue #1: Kolb doesn't run this option well at all. Either he's supposed to pitch it that early or he just made a bad read, but the whole point of a QB option is to get one defender to commit to you -- or you run it yourself. Here, he basically just extends the toss.
Issue #2: Jason Avant makes a terrible block and ... well ... DeSean Jackson. That's the kind of crap you pull after the six Pro Bowls and $10 million a year contract, man.
It should be noted that Reid was shown yelling at someone on the sideline after this play, but the angle was such that we couldn't see whom. I hope it was DeSean.
And that was pretty much your day right there, folks.
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Let's talk offense first, because there were a lot of good things on that side of the ball.
Big picture: After re-watching every snap, I've got lots of happy feelings about Kevin Kolb. He played a really good first half. I actually don't have that much video of him because he wasn't even all that interesting. He just dropped back, found the open receivers, and hit them.
Check out the first half stats for Kolb and Brees:
Things fell apart a little bit in the second half -- and we'll get to that -- but in re-watching the game, I was surprised by just how good Kolb looked. Going against the Chiefs, I'm going to be surprised if he doesn't start and I'm going to be really surprised if he doesn't win this game.
There were, of course, some issues. On the second quarter drive that ended in a field goal (the first one, before the end-of-half craziness), here was the first and goal play (which came after Kolb made a big-league throw in the pocket to Jason Avant):
In real time, I hated this call because as a general rule I don't like emptying the backfield for young QBs. It's always nice to have an extra blocker around who can clean up something they didn't see coming.
But as I watched it again, I noticed something. That's a QB draw, folks. Too bad the linebacker came free.
On second and goal from the 16, kolb hit Celek for an 11-yard gain. That set up this third and goal play, which looked a little sketchy in real time:
When you're watching live, that looks like kind of a bad read from a quarterback who's a little too locked in on his tight end. I also didn't like, as they lined up, the way they were making it easy to double DeSean. But watch all the routes on that play. DeSean tries to drag the coverage deep. Alex Smith, the other tight end, runs a crossing route all the way across the field without ever looking back at the quarterback. And Celek pretends to block for as long as he can before quietly slipping out into the pattern.
This was a designed play for Brent Celek. Kolb was supposed to put the ball there. The problem is that the Saints' lineman did a nice job getting his hands up and MJG did a bad job getting that guy's hands down. If you know the throw's going to that spot on the field, you don't want to just let the lineman hang around out there.
Not absolving Kolb for the throw, just talking about how we got to that point.
Kolb did have two really bad throws -- not just decisions -- in this game. On a couple of plays he had guys streaking across the middle of the field, headed for big gains, if only he could have gotten them the ball. The first time, with DeSean, happened on third and five with 1:33 left in the first half. His excuse on that one, such as it is, is that the umpire was in the way. The guy ducked, but if Kolb puts the ball where it's supposed to be, he probably hits him. That was the kind of break we didn't get on Sunday.
The second one had nothing to do with the officials, and everything to do with a little bit of pressure Kolb had been starting to get in his face. Remember this quote, because it's the key to understanding Kolb:
On getting his game sharp this week: "You try to duplicate it in the scout team but it's hard because you aren't getting a chance to set your feet a lot of the times with the defensive line rush ... But today I felt really comfortable, never thought about my feet, didn't have to give it an extra thought, that's what you want. You want to just focus on the defense and obviously reading it out and making the play."
Now watch him on this throw to Westbrook:
Kolb is not a Tony Romo. He doesn't have happy feet. But when he got a little pressure on him, he lost some of the "step up and throw" stuff he did so well in the first half. Fortunately, he cleaned this up as the game went on.
Other Kolb notes:
- On the really bad interception early in the second half -- that's the kind of play inexperienced quarterbacks make. To add insult to injury, the Saints slid all their coverage to "rob" that route, which meant both guys on the other side of the field were wide open.
- Kolb ran a really nice two-minute drill (no, the second one) at the end of the first half, but something I missed in real time was the playcall with nine seconds left. The Eagles actually ran just a two man route, with the other eight guys staying in to block. With no timeouts, the coaches weren't going to risk the dumpoff to a guy short of the end zone.
- The 26-yard seam route to Celek on third down without about nine minutes left in the game was a truly great throw. Blow these things off if you want, but Kolb made his share of NFL plays on Sunday (just not as many as Brees).
- The flip to McCoy at the end of the game was a really nice play. Another sign of a guy aware of what's going on around him.
All in all, not a bad performance in his first start.
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Right guard continues to be a position of concern for this team. Last week, we mentioned the struggles of Stacy Andrews. Clearly the coaches agreed, because Stacy got to watch the Saints game from the sideline.
But MJG wasn't much better. And after a very good performance in week one -- which had me questioning my observation skills -- Nick Cole regressed to his usual so-so performance on the other side.
Of course, both guys had better weeks than King Dunlap, who -- surprise! -- made an appearance on the last series of the game, just long enough to almost get Kolb killed as the RDE went right around him. Since we have four quarterbacks on this team, but three of them are injured, old or complete unknowns, Peters came right back in.
Thank you for making us feel better about our tackle depth, King.
Back to the guards, here are some sample notes:
"MJG didn't sustain his block."
"Cole blew read."
(Next play) "Then he false started."
(Couple plays later) "Both guards' blocks beaten."
"Cole blew this block on the linebacker. At least this makes me feel better about my assessment of him."
"MJG didn't even get a hand on the DT, forcing the quick throw on the screen."
"This was on MJG."
"Neither guy (Jamaal Jackson or Nick Cole) blocked him. My assumption is JJ isn't the one who &%!$ed that up."
Keep in mind that these are all plays that for some reason or another didn't work. (I don't generally try to pick out individual linemen unless something really good or really bad happens.) That's a fair number of notes.
Peters had a couple of issues too, but for the most part he was really solid. I'm certainly no technique expert -- or even a novice, really -- but on the sack he gave up, it looked like he reached for the rusher rather than just setting up and taking him on. That got him off balance and beaten.
He also looked a little lost on this play. Maybe still adjust to the zone blocking?
If you're in the "Westbrook will be fine" camp, you can point to plays like this as evidence he'll be better when his linemen know which guys they're supposed to block.
Of course, the lineman who was most impressive -- and this makes perfect sense -- was Winston Justice. He's going to give up some sacks this year, as all tackled do, but the guy is flat out nasty in the run game. I'll cover the Wildcat stuff in its own section in a bit (which will have some Justice videos), but for now, I just want to say that Justice is absolutely murdering guys out there, both straight up and pulling.
Hugh Douglas masks must have been everywhere last week.
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Wildcat time. Let me say upfront that I think the three "hidden" Wildcat plays were: 1) The option I kicked this post off with; 2) The sorta dumb sprint-out-and-pass play to DeSean that would have worked just as well if Kolb had thrown it to him right away, since the LB (yes) playing over DeSean in the slot was sucked inside by the play action; and, 3) This shovel pass, which would be a lot more interesting with a running QB and a non-fullback at pitch back:
So now that we know we're going to get graded on this stuff, we'll have to keep a closer eye out.
Most interestingly, no one's yet picked up on a Wildcat wrinkle the Eagles were running on Sunday. When you see it, you'll, well, you know:
Yep, that's Brent Celek lined up at "tackle" and Winston Justice flip-flopped over to the other side of the formation. This is the "true" Wildcat, in the sense of what Miami was running last year.
They didn't run it this way every time, but when they did, this is what it looked like. Check out the sweet counter action on this play:
And here's why, in a nutshell, Andy Reid is not going to a) stop running the Wildcat or b) stop running it with DeSean. Check out the pre-snap alignment (click for full size):
In fact, the only reason this place didn't go for a bigger gain is because the cornerback completely ignores Kevin Kolb:
- Move the QB to a different spot.
- Have Vick run the Wildcat and throw the other QB the ball.
- Have DeSean run the Wildcat with Vick and have DeSean throw Vick the ball.
This Wildcat play, though, is why I don't think we're seeing the players actually read the defense. It's a similar situation to the last one, except Jackson hands the ball off to Westbrook. Given the way the Saints have only seven in the box and are playing a two deep shell, this looks like another play where Jackson should just race outside and get himself one-on-one with a lineman:
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Something else we saw a fair amount of last Sunday was a double twin wings formation (not the real name). The Eagles had some effective running plays out of the formation last year, but my assumption is that they're mostly using it now to help their tackles.
The problem, though, is that it's not a great fit for their personnel, I don't think. You've got these speedy little receivers to spread across the field, and yet you line them up inside to get the crap knocked out of them as they run their routes.
This play worked, because of a great effort by Celek, but watch instead what DeSean goes through (right side of the formation) after the snap:
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Another wrinkle was an inverted double twin wide receivers look, where the two WRs on the field lined up in the slots, with non-WRs on the outside.
The Eagles ran this on their first offensive play of the game. Westbrook and McCoy were outside and both ran deep. The two slot receivers and Celek all ran curls. (And yes, that means, technically, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin both started this game. That happened fast.) We saw this at least one more time, with tight ends.
It's an interesting puzzle for the defense. On first down, with only two wide receivers in the game, you're not likely to have nickel personnel on the field. So where do you put your corners? I like anything that gets Maclin and Jackson moving through the middle of the field with slower guys around them.
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Other offensive notes:
On the 71-yard touchdown to DeSean, the Saints put #93 on top of him in the slot. They blitzed that guy, then asked a linebacker to race back and cover him. That's just not smart.
As the routes developed on that play, here's the pressure it put on the defense:
I don't know how the reads are supposed to work here, but you can clearly see that safety's in a bind. If he comes forward, Kolb has DeSean deep. If he runs with Jackson, the TE is open for a nice gain. It's a nice route combo.
DeSean Jackson's false start penalty was even more monumentally stupid considering he wasn't even play side. The run was headed the other direction. He could have sat down on that one.
I don't love all the fake reverses and stuff when we're running a screen pass. Seems like that just gets the defense moving towards the line of scrimmage, when really we want them floating backwards, expecting something deeper.
If the LDE stunts into the middle, it's hard for that shotgun spread handoff play we like so much to work. That's a good counter.
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Special teams moved this week from "work in progress" to "actively sucking." High pressure front spotted moving in from the Great Lakes, should see blustery conditions this weekend.
The "illegal shift" penalty that forced us to re-punt was BS, however. Quintin Mikell is set long before the snap here:
While we're on the subject of penalties, the illegal formation penalty on Celek was a bit ticky-tack. They had him for being off the line, but he wasn't even pass-blocking that play. It's not like he gained an advantage and he wasn't that far off.
The one on McCoy was legit. He lined up on the line and covered up the tight end. Still working on those things.
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This has been a long and frustrating night so far. We're having phone problems, and even though [the phone company] came out today to repair the line, what do you know, 90 minutes after the tech left, we're back to endless static and a DSL connection that keeps popping in and out.
The best part is that this happens pretty much every time it rains really hard within a few days. Always fun to watch the young [phone company] workers when they come out and realize the wires back there are twice as old as they are and insulated with paper.
We should be fine by next week's rewind, though, since they promise they'll have things all patched up absolutely no later than Thursday night ...
Anyway, i'm way behind schedule, mostly because I'm having trouble getting the videos to upload and this thing keeps seizing up on me. For the defensive portion of this program, you may just have to take my word on a few things.
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So, yeah, Sean McDermott pretty much got outcoached last week. There's no shame in it, Sean Payton's a good coach, but beyond all the issues with tackling and pass rush and tackling and coverage and tackling, there were still plenty of puzzling X and O decisions to discuss today.
One of the things JJ started doing last year (I believe) is rolling his safeties up to the line when the opponent is in a running look and dropping Sheldon back to free safety. This is a great look against a team like the Giants, which will run two tight ends and two backs at you all day.
The issue this past Sunday, however, is that McDermott was using Mikell outside and Sheldon as a safety even on plays where that didn't totally make sense. Here's the first play of the game. It's double WRs on one side of the formation, with Mikell basically playing cornerback on a tight end on the other:
Does Sheldon make a better play on that ball? I don't know, but I'd guess so, since that's his position.
We saw the same thing on the first play of the second quarter. My notes have the Saints with 2WR, 2TE and 1RB personnel. Mikell is again lined up outside, but this time on wide receiver Devery Henderson. Brown is back at safety. No surprise where Brees went -- 16 yard gain.
I really, really don't understand why we'd ever put a safety outside on a WR when we didn't have to.
I also don't mean for this to be "Pick on Q" day, but this just isn't good:
You have a slot corner showing an obvious blitz, a veteran QB and a short line to gain. Mikell can't be that tentative in coming up to pick that guy up.
Here's another play where we got too tricky for our own good. I'm ok with sending just three guys occasionally, but sending three guys and then asking your defensive end to cover Reggie Bush for as long as Brees has to scan the field? Not sure I get this:
Of course, the biggest issue with not blitzing very much is that our line rarely got there. And the Saints did a good job keeping us in base personnel -- by, for example, putting two tight ends on the field a lot -- but then spreading us out by splitting the TEs out wide.
I was all set to splice together a little montage of non-pressure, but given the issues, this one will have to do (you can watch it three times in a row to get the same effect):
Pretty much the story of the day. An end gets some pressure, the tackles get stoned.
Now isn't really the time to complain about that (although the one time a tackle actually beat a block it was Laws...), but it is time to recognize that you can't give Brees six minutes to make a decision and expect to have much success against him.
Blitzes don't even totally need to "work" to be effective. On this play, the coverage gets a little funky and if Brees has a bit more time, it's probably a touchdown. But precisely because he doesn't have time he ends up making a sub-optimal decision:
Brees made one other really bad decision Sunday, when he tried to force a ball into triple coverage. That throw came one play after Trent Cole rang his bell.
Blitzing isn't just about the play you call a blitz. We saw above what happened when Kolb got a little less comfortable in the pocket. Every quarterback is like that if he starts getting hit enough.
Yes, Brees burned two Eagles blitzes with big plays. You know what? Those were amazing throws. That's why he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
And maybe if they'd been beating him up a bit more he wouldn't have been in such a zone in the first place.
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On run defense, we learned something this weekend. Or rather, re-learned it. You can't run straight at this defense. You may get a couple nice gains, but for the most part it's "head, meet wall."
Unfortunately, what you can do is run misdirection all day. Over and over again the Saints used the Eagles' aggressiveness against them with counters and bootlegs that got everyone flowing one way and then hit them back the other.
In fact, they ran one thing I'm not sure I've ever seen before (which isn't to say it's new). The typical counter play looks something like this. You get everyone going one way, then you pull one lineman back around and have him lead the back through the hole.
What the Saints were doing instead was to have the fullback actually reverse course after his fake and lead the running back through the hole. I don't know if they were busting keys or what, but it took us all game to recognize what was happening.
Sean Payton also showed why he's such a good play-caller, building a very nice pattern out of the counter-boot action that included a pass, a reverse and some nice runs.
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As for the double-A-gap defense, we ran it a few times. The two linebackers (lined up as DEs) actually got nice pressure on one play (with "Gaither on a blitz," according to Joe Buck). But we never brought pressure up the middle, presumably because we assumed New Orleans was ready for it.
Juqua Parker's sack came out of this alignment. We ran a nifty zone blitz where all the pressure came from half the line, while the other half dropped.
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Another thing I don't like is when we use guys completely out of position in non-tricky ways. On the big completion to Shockey that almost burned Reid for calling that end-of-half timeout, Chris Clemons was just playing a middle zone. Chris Clemons cannot cover Jeremy Shockey, and we didn't blitz, so he had no choice but to try.
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Again, not to single out any one guy, but on the three-play drive after the Ellis Hobbs fumble:Play #1: Another crappy non-tackle by Akeem
Play #2: Bell just ran over Akeem
Play #3: Bad coverage by Akeem and even worse tackling
So that wasn't a great series.
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Last point: Macho Harris is not as good around the LoS as Quintin Mikell, but McDermott seems afraid to use Harris deep and Quintin in the box. We may need to let the kid give it a shot.
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And last video. Here's the Curtis limping series Gabe mentioned on Monday. Watch the way he gets his ankle rolled on one play (and gives a little limp back to the huddle) and then the very next play we try to get him deep against a corner sagging off of him:
That might be asking a bit much.