On Marques Colston's 15-yard touchdown from Drew Brees last week against Carolina, it looked like the Saints receiver just ran up the seam and Drew Brees hit him for a score.
It wasn't nearly that simple.
When the Saints line up with three receivers to one side and Colston in the slot, the defense should be on high alert for Colston to run a seam route. The Saints run that play a lot. The question is, how can the Saints get Colston open on that play?
That's where the design of the formation and the play comes in.
The Saints lined up with three receivers to the right and tight end Jimmy Graham on the line of scrimmage to the left. The Saints' objective was to occupy three defenders to get Colston free: the two deep safeties, Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell, and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.
The two receivers on the outside of Colston run vertical routes to occupy the play-side safety, Mitchell. Then Graham starts his route vertically to occupy the backside safety, which is Mikell. They get Mikell controlled enough that he can't fly over the top to the side with three receivers.
There's one more thing the Saints have to do, and that's occupy Kuechly, a fast linebacker who could disrupt the passing lane on Colston's seam route, especially in the confined area of the red zone. To keep Kuechly from taking away Colston, the Saints run a play-action fake out of the shotgun. That makes him hesitate just a bit.
It works as planned. The window to Colston opens up for a split second, and Brees hit him. The backside safety, Mikell, missed the ball by a foot, because he was occupied for just a moment by Graham.
The execution of the play is remarkable.
When you watch film of a big play like that, the thought process is, "How did they get to that?" On this play, it’s all scheme. You have to occupy people to open it up. If Graham blocked on that play, the backside safety is going to rotate to the three-receiver side and deflect Brees' pass to Colston. You have to occupy and threaten people in their area of responsibility. That’s why complementary routes are so important in the NFL. You're not going to get a lot of space, especially in the red zone. You have to create it.
And once the scheme works, that's where the timing, anticipation and accuracy of the quarterback come in. Brees' timing is perfect on this play. If he's a split second late, the backside safety breaks it up.
And the Saints have variations off that play. If the backside safety immediately flew to Colston's side, Graham is probably going to not run an out route but a hook up because he'd have leverage on the outside corner. It's not just one throw and if they take it away, you can't do anything else.
The precision of that touchdown to Colston, from design to execution, is beautiful.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.