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Saints O-Line More Like High School Band Than Symphony Orchestra

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The Saints offensive line must protect Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees better to become a truly prolific offense in the NFL. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.
The Saints offensive line must protect Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees better to become a truly prolific offense in the NFL. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.

The New Orleans Saints offensive line has not performed up to its usual high standards so far this season. The Saints are ranked second in the league in passing and have allowed 13 quarterback sacks. They are also 26th in rushing while averaging 3.1 yards per carry with only one run over 20 yards.

According to Football Outsiders, the Saints offensive line ranks 21st in run blocking and 17th in pass protection. There have been a lot of negative runs or runs for no gain all season and as simple as it seems for each lineman to block the defender lined up across from him, there is much more to it than that.

Saints fans have heard of the Outside Zone Scheme and saw how it has been run successfully for several teams over the years. It made sense for the Saints to use this scheme as well since they used it in 2009 and saw results. But so far this season, New Orleans has had a hard time executing the plays and in turn, half of the passing plays are basically eliminated from the playbook. While reading excerpts from former Denver Broncos offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, I learned about some aspects of the Outside Zone Scheme that many people do not know about.

1. The Outside Zone does not work as part of a team's overall offense. It will not be effective because with the time and effort it takes to learn the intricacies, it would have to be implemented as the central focus. In other words, coaches can't use a little bit of this and a little bit of that as their offensive philosophy. The Outside Zone Scheme is your horse, and you ride it until the legs fall off.

2. The running back’s landmark is always the butt of the tight end, whether he is there or not. For the running back, it is all about the timing for this play to be successful, so a running back can't be either too fast or too slow to the line of scrimmage or it disturbs the timing of the play completely.

3. The running back is handed the ball between his first and second step of the play. On the third step, he has to make a decision on where he is going or the play will fail miserably.

If the running back dances around and is indecisive on where he is going, it throws off the precise timing of the blocks from the linemen and makes them look bad. The back has to pick a hole and run through it - there is no room for improvising.

This indecisiveness could be the biggest reason why the running game is not successful this year so far. This is a very focused and regimented style of a running game. Everyone has a particular job to do and a particular way to do it, just like a playing in a symphony orchestra.

Of course, this is only scratching the surface because there are so many other details about the Outside Zone that could be mentioned here. This was only meant to give a little view about the scheme.

Unfortunately, the Saints pass blocking is shaky as well, and like the running game, there is more than enough blame to go around. There have been occasions of the offensive line missing assignments on passing plays, but the more disturbing thing that happens often are instances where the linemen get beat by the defensive linemen head on.

QB Drew Brees is known for having one of the quickest releases in the NFL, so it is very disturbing when he gets sacked because that just says his pass protectors never had a chance on that play.

The breakdowns seem to be more physical than mental at this point, as there have been way too many times where fans have seen a Saints lineman getting knocked off the ball this season.  

At the end of the day, however, the Saints offensive line must make it a priority to play better. If the line is able to elevate its play, this dangerous offense will only become that much more prolific.