A few reflections on the New Orleans Saints' 40-33 Sunday win over the Houston Texans…
-- The Texans have a very dynamic front seven and they move it around a lot — Wade Phillips runs a lot of 5-2 and four-man fronts as he did in Dallas. However, the primary reason they're vulnerable against the run is that there's nobody on that front you really need to double-team. Shaun Cody is the primary nose tackle, and while he's a good player, there aren't many guys up the middle standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 301 pounds. Phillips had a very rare player in Dallas in Jay Ratliff, who could command constant double teams from anywhere in the front (including over center), despite having Cody's approximate dimensions. But that's Ratliff — a very special player.
-- On the other side, the Texans' offensive line is a thing of beauty. There are always more bad offensive lines than good ones, because it takes a while to blend talent and continuity in a way that works consistently. The Texans have put together a line that looks like an Alex Gibbs seminar come to life. Inside and outside zone, influence blocking, slide left and right, inside cut-blocking, handing off defenders in short spaces … this line does all the little things well. Losing fullback Vonta Leach to the Baltimore Ravens was supposed to be a big personnel hit, but the team has adjusted with different concepts including tackle pulls to being extra support into the backfield. If you're an O-line junkie and you're not watching the Texans, you're missing out.
- - There are quarterbacks I think of as "in the box" players — i.e., they tend to fall apart to a greater or lesser degree when there's pressure around them, they have to improvise outside the pocket, or their planned route concepts are altered. I would include Kyle Orton and Matt Ryan in that group of very good quarterbacks who tend to struggle when disaster strikes, and I'd say that Houston's Matt Schaub is another example.
New Orleans Saints
-- People talk about Green Bay's Jermichael Finley and San Diego's Antonio Gates as the ultimate matchup nightmare tight ends, but we'd better start including Saints second-year man Jimmy Graham on that list pretty soon. The former Miami basketball star has really started to shred defenses since Marques Colston was hurt and he was asked to play more of a role. He's that typical tight end who's too big for most safeties and too fast for most linebackers, but the X-factor here is his root strength. On one catch, he dragged the 6-foot-7, 290-pound Mario Williams about 5 yards, which should be nightmare fuel for opposing defensive coordinators. His fourth-quarter touchdown, where Texans safety Glover Quin looked like a 5-year-old trying to cover him, should add to the oncoming legend.
-- The Saints had issues covering tight ends with Jonathan Vilma out of the game, but one thing that Houston's opponents need to watch going forward is how they use fullback James Casey out of the backfield as a receiver. They line to run two-back shotgun, and roll Casey out into the flats and seams in kind of a hybrid H-back role, and the Saints didn't really have an answer for it. That's a great way to get multiple with your tight end looks and expand your passing offense.
-- New Orleans is still getting young cornerback Patrick Robinson up to speed, but the real coverage liability is safety Roman Harper — he's great as a blitz weapon, but in any kind of coverage, he's a mixed bag at best.
-- We talk a lot about how great Drew Brees is, but the thing that impresses me most about him is his ability to process information in a big hurry under pressure — he's kind of the Anti-Schaub in that regard. His third-quarter touchdown pass to Robert Meachem was a great example. Under pressure and rolling right, Brees threw a perfect strike to Meachem in a place where the ball was either going to be caught by his receiver or fall incomplete. Johnathan Joseph had great coverage, but the throw was too good. More and more, I'm coming around to the idea that processing speed is the main attribute a quarterback must have. Arm strength, mobility, accuracy … these are all great things. But as defenses become faster and more complicated every day, the quarterback who can read and adjust at the millisecond level is worth millions more to his team than the one who can't.