Deonte Harris is a nightmare for opposing defenses to handle all of a sudden, but can the interior of the O line hold up long enough for that to even matter?
We all went into the afternoon expecting it to be the Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara show, when it really ended up being the Deonte Harris show. And defensively, when everyone’s eyes were on the playmakers who have been balling all year, Sheldon Rankins has the most elite performance out of anyone.
It really is a testament to how deep and talented this roster is, to have guys just keep popping up and making things happen when we least expect it.
Out of all these storylines from this playoff win, unexpected or not, there were three that really jumped out at me — things that were noteworthy, but also telling, going into the Divisional Round this Sunday.
So, let’s take a look at a few of my biggest takeaways from the game against Da Bears:
1. You guessed it, it’s Deonte Harris
After missing Weeks 12-17 due to a neck injury, the little guy from Assumption College showed just how big of an impact he can have, for the second postseason in a row.
Deonte Harris in two regular seasons with the Saints: 210 yards on 8.1 yards per catch
Deonte Harris in two career playoff games with the Saints: 133 yards on 16.6 YPC
Little man showing up big on the biggest stage.
— Andrew Bell (@AndrewBell_98) January 12, 2021
Catching all seven of his targets for 83 yards and avoiding two tackles in the process, Harris earned the highest PFF receiving grade in the league in the Wild Card round — 93.8.
He made his presence felt in a variety of different ways, whether it be making things happen after the catch, just beating man coverage or finding holes in zone coverage.
Here below, he finds the hole in Cover 3 Zone on a third down.
Here he catches a check-down and makes something happen:
And last but not least, here’s him destroying a safety in Man coverage, as the Bears tried to deploy a 2-Man look:
Not to mention, he beat the defense deep on the Taysom Hill interception, where Hill just has to get the ball out faster.
As Ross Jackson reported on Twitter, the guy averaged a whopping 5.93 yards per route run in the game. And if that play hits, it would’ve been even higher.
But the most impressive thing is he only played 24 total snaps. So, if that was how much you felt his presence with only a little over a third of the offensive snaps played, imagine what he can do if he’s on the field more.
His presence is so huge to this offense, as he stresses defenses out vertically and horizontally. He could be a huge X-factor against the Bucs.
2. The D Line is still very strong without T-Rex
The loss of Trey Hendrickson sucked. Obviously not having a guy who had the same amount of sacks as Aaron Donald is a huge blow. But the good news is that even if he doesn’t play this week, this defensive line has enough depth to make up for it.
While the interior of the Saints offensive line is a huge concern (as we’ll get into later), the interior defensive is stout. David Onyemata is notably the most dynamic interior defender on the team, but Sheldon Rankins showed he’s a force to be reckoned with, as well.
We saw a shimmy last night, and it was part of Sheldon Rankins’ mega-efficient night.
Rankins’ 91.6 Overall grade was helped most by his tremendous night rushing the passer.
On just 17 rushes, Rankins totaled 1 sack, 1 hit, and 3 hurries en route to a 35.3% pass rush win rate. pic.twitter.com/bddBu1lSuU
— PFF NO Saints (@PFF_Saints) January 11, 2021
Like Deonte Harris, he did it on a limited snap count. When he was on the field, he made life hell for the Bears guards.
This was huge to supplement the loss of pass rush productivity with T-Rex being out.
And in the run game, a guy whose return hasn’t been talked about much made all the difference.
Malcom Brown returned to the lineup from injury in Week 17 and has been moving people around and eating up double teams in the run game ever since.
In just 10 run defense snaps, Brown recorded two run stops, and according to PFF, that run stop % of 20% was tied for the second-best among defensive interior players last weekend.
As you can see in the play below, he’s very adept at splitting double teams and making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage on ball carriers.
Check him out at the 1-technique DT position to the left of the center.
The Bears are just trying to run Duo here against a light (5-man) box, but he simply rips through two blocker and makes the play for no gain.
He may be an early-down player only, but he is very good at his job. And he’s part of a D line that is loaded with playmakers in every facet.
3. Now, the interior O line…
This is where we get to the not-so-fun part of the article.
The interior of the Saints offensive line is a mess.
Whether it be rookie first-rounder Cesar Ruiz just getting annihilated:
Or Andrus Peat not reacting in time to a stunt:
Drew Brees is just having to throw the ball away, escape the pocket or get the ball out quickly on too many occasions.
And the numbers don’t even do it justice. According to PFF, Peat gave up three pressures, two hurries and one QB hit, while Ruiz technically only gave up one pressure and one hit.
However, Ruiz was getting beaten badly on plays that didn’t show up on the stat sheet because Brees got the ball out quick — like on this play below:
This is why Ruiz’s pass blocking grade was by far worse than any of the other linemen — at 31.3. Peat’s was a poor, but not disastrous, 55.3.
And while Peat at least had some good moments in the run and passing game, there wasn’t much positive to glean from Ruiz. And yes, he was going up against a monster in Akiem Hicks, but he still just has to be better. Point blank.
It looked like he was on an upward trend in Weeks 14-16, with passing grades over 65.0 in all three games, but then was benched for Nick Easton in Week 17 for whatever reason. Maybe that affected his confidence, or maybe Hicks is just that good. Let’s hope for the latter.
To be fair to Erik McCoy, it’s not really on him either. He is technically a part of the interior, but he’s been fine. It’s the guard play that’s making him look bad at times.
This is really the only glaring weakness of the Saints team at this point, as they’re mostly stacked everywhere else. But some weaknesses are in more prominent areas than others. And if they don’t find a way to shore it up quickly, it could be the reason this offense underperforms in the postseason once again.
What were your biggest takeaways from the game? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.