Patience. That is the word that best describes the attack the Saints used through the air Sunday night against the Steelers. Below is a table of the Steelers players in coverage for non-screen plays. The stats are: times targeted in coverage (TAR), receptions allowed (REC), yards allowed (YDS), yards after catch (YAC), interceptions (INT), touchdowns allowed (TD), completion percentage (COMP%) and yards per pass attempt (YPA).
You can see that past the line of scrimmage throws netted Saints quarterback Drew Brees a 73% completion rate along with an above average 8.06 yards per attempt. He did put up a 103.9 QB rating in those throws as well. Outside of the 2 sacks, the Steelers really did not get a ton of pressure on Brees and he mixed in 10 of 11 completions on screens to wide receivers, running backs and tight ends on the night. These screens totaled 39 total yards of offense for almost 4 yards a play. These plays amazingly also resulted in 71 yards after the catch. Think about that number for bit as the tackling was pretty good for the most part on these.
The numbers and the game tape clearly show that the Saints were patient and taking the underneath open field against mostly zone type defenses. The Saints were not really a threat to run, but did enough that Brees was able to use some play action to move around the linebackers and safeties. The Saints receivers did great job running their routes in the soft areas of the zones in front of left cornerback Bryant McFadden who I admit was playing perhaps a little deep on a few zone calls, but overall was where he was supposed to be on the field by design.
The two touchdowns I charged to McFadden in my stats as well, but the second should really be shared between him, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamula. Both touchdown passes were perfectly thrown. The first one to Marques Colston was right on the outside shoulder and BMac had no shot at it. The 68 yards after the catch mostly came on about 4 plays for the most part, the Steelers defense was there to wrap up the pass catcher.
Teams are learning they do not need to run well on the Steelers if the quarterback play is good and the receivers know their route assignments. Teams will continue to dink and dunk down the field and mix in the screens per the Saints gameplan. If the Steelers offense sputters like on Sunday night, patient teams can succeed without having to run much. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is going to have to allow the corners to play up more in zone along with letting more man on man coverages happen on the outside. He will have to blitz the backers, corners and safeties more and get more of a pass rush on opposing quarterbacks. The flip side is that this will open up the defense for more big plays deep. It will be intersteing to see if indeed the defensive gameplan changes this week as even though Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer has struggled this year, he does have the patience and receiving core to pull off the same thing.