We’ve made due without him before, but David Onyemata’s loss for the first six weeks of the season will hurt.
With New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata out for the first six weeks of the season after testing positive for PED’s, the already-thin Saints defensive line will be even thinner to start the season.
But this isn’t the first time the defense has had to make due without the Manitoba Mauler.
Onyemata missed Week 1 of 2019 due to a substance abuse policy violation, leaving Malcom Brown, Shy Tuttle and Taylor Stallworth to do the majority of the heavy-lifting up front against the Houston Texans.
This caused some struggles that may be fixable by some different adjustments while defending the run and pass.
Below, we’ll analyze how the D line performed in that game and what it means for the front in Weeks 1-6 of 2021.
Run D got shredded
The biggest problem with Onyemata out in Week 1 of 2019 was the lack of penetration and strength against the run.
The Texans, a team that is not known for having a particularly strong running game, just trampled all over the Saints defense in this game.
Houston ran for a total of 180 yards on 8.6 yards an attempt and avoided six tackles. They had seven runs of 10+ yards.
And to make matters worse, it was almost entirely on Zone scheme runs, meaning the Saints front was just getting bullied at the point of attack.
Shy Tuttle was primarily handling the 1-Technique D Tackle assignment (between the guard and the center), while Malcom Brown moved over to the 3-Technique (between the guard and the tackle), which is where David Onyemata typically lines up. They alternated a bit, but that was the alignment the majority of the time.
Taylor Stallworth came in and played some 1-Tech, and Mitchell Loewen had a brutal time at the 3-Tech spot.
Of the Texans’ 21 rush attempts, a whopping 17 of them were of the Zone scheme variety, which means there are no pulling guards or lead blockers. It’s just Houston’s O line moving the Saints in different directions.
Look at this play below with Tuttle as the nose tackle and Brown at 3-Tech.
The Texans are running a simple split zone concept with a tight end leaking out backside to seal. The line gets no penetration and the run goes right through Tuttle’s gap for a big gain as he gets displaced by a double team.
Tuttle had a few moments as a pass rusher in this game, but it was rough for him against the run. Typically, Brown was at that nose/1-Tech spot, when Onyemata plays 3-Tech. And he is a menace against double teams, clogging up space and getting a push. The difference in play was stark, caused by the domino effect of DO’s absence.
Not much interior push on pass plays
Other than a few plays where an interior guys got a decent push forcing Deshaun Watson to retreat the pocket and get moved off his spot, there wasn’t much havoc created in this game from the DT’s.
The Saints created 29 QB pressures in this game, and only eight of them came from DT’s. And Malcom Brown had one of the team’s six sacks.
As you can see in the play above, the two interior tackles get zero push, and Trey Hendrickson is the only one to force Watson to move even a bit.
This was a common theme all game, and it plays into my next point about the first six games in 2021.
Going to have to rely on edge rushers to get home
Against the Texans, the Saints relied heavily on not only edge defenders like Cameron Jordan, Trey Hendrickson and Marcus Davenport, but also on the stunt game.
Those three guys alone combined for 12 pressures and three sacks in this game.
As you can see above, the Saints run a stunt on the right side with Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan on a third down play.
Davenport lines up inside of Cam and goes inside to initiate contact with the guard before crashing outside and taking out the tackle trying to block Cam. This allows an inside track for Jordan to sack Watson.
This is relevant in two different ways. One — it emphasizes the importance of the Saints defensive end depth. Two — it means Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen is going to have to get creative with how he brings pressure.
With such a thin D Tackle group, he may have to line Tanoh Kpassognon, Payton Turner, or really any of the D ends inside at times — and especially on third and longs — to create pressure on obvious passing downs.
Overall, David Onyemata’s absence is a concerning prospect. It’s tough any time you lose a starter, but especially so when it’s a guy who has been trending towards a Pro Bowl-caliber guy as of late.
There may be a signing in the near future that changes things and adds some more depth/firepower. But as of now, it’s definitely a weak spot in the defense.
And guys like Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach are going to need to step up big time if they want to help this defense remain at the level it’s been over the past few seasons.
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