POSTED Tue. Oct 1, 2013
State of the Saints: Always go for it on 4th & 1.

The Saints were so good last night they shut down the government.

Seriously though, I think everyone was expecting a somewhat contentious game. The 3-0 Dolphins would have preferred the game to be a somewhat low scoring grinder. They are a defensive, run-first team that can win football games that are winnable by scoring 20-something points (namely, 23, 24 and 27 points in the first three weeks).

There were two problems with this approach. First, Drew Brees is unstoppable on Monday nights and he scores way more than 20-something points on such evenings. Second, the dolphins’ workmanlike offense swam straight into the Japanese tuna net of Rob Ryan’s defense.

The first drive was school yard pitch and catch from old Chargers chums Brees and Sproles, as Sproles tore off a huge 48 yard reception on the second play from scrimmage on the second play of the game that immediately unbalanced the Phins’ defense. Then Brees hit rookie Kenny Stills on a beautiful quick slant on third and short to set up an easy Sproles rushing TD.

The Phins first drive started off well, as Lamar Miller and Tannehill both tore off big runs to position themselves in the red zone. But this is where the Saints defense showed up. Following a time out forced by crowd noise and Rob Ryan mind games, the Saints stuffed Daniel Thomas on third and one for a two yard loss, causing the Phins to settle for a field goal.

After a quick three and out, the Phins got the ball back and a strange, momentum-swinging drive occurred. On a third and seven, Tannehill completed a screen to Miller for 6 yards that got a preferable spot, leading to a first down. Payton challenged this and the spot of the ball was reversed. Then Joe Philbin made a huge mistake, punting on fourth and one from the 44 yard line.

Statistically, one should always go for it on fourth and one, but this holds especially true when you’re at midfield. The subsequent punt was crappy and resulted in a touchback, neutralizing the field position-inspired reasoning behind the punt.

We wound up punting it back to them, but just as it seemed like Miami was getting a drive going, Lofton popped the ball out of Tannehill’s hands on a scramble. The resulting drive was when the game got out of hand, as Brees converted a huge third and twenty to Sproles, later capped off with the first of two Jimmy Graham touchdowns, this one a 27-yarder.

The following drive resulted in a Miami touchdown, after a big open field after-the-catch run by backup RB Michael Thigpen led them deep into Saints territory. Lamar Miller, the sole bright spot of the day for the Dolphins, scored the TD.

The Saints quickly punted on their next go-round, but got the ball back three plays later by a huge Jabari Greer interception. New Orleans had 83 seconds to score before halftime. They needed 28 for Brees to hit Sproles for another TD. With 55 seconds left, what does Philbin do here? Why, kneel, of course! Who needs momentum going into halftime?

After halftime, the dolphins went three-and-out and punted to the Saints, who methodically advanced down the field on Brees’ arm and scored. The next possession was also a three-and-out, finished off by a Junior Galette sack. After the punt, the next play was a beautiful 43-yard touchdown to Graham. What was once a close game was now the most gruesome dolphin lambast since The Cove.

That’s why you go for it on fourth and one and why you don’t kneel away a minute of game clock before halftime. It cannot be overstated that momentum is everything in professional football.

By the magnanimity of Rob Ryan and Payton, the dolphins were allowed to score another touchdown. The rest of their drives resulted in interceptions, one by newly signed free agent Chris Carr, who we neglected to sign last year as we were busy breaking records.

Next week, we travel to face the Chicago Bears, who specialize in barely defeating shitty teams. Then we head to Foxboro to play the Patriots, who are good at narrowly winning contests against shitty teams.

These organizations are not nearly as good as their records would indicate. The Bears are a Cowboys-esque Jekyll and Hyde team, making them difficult to predict week-to-week. But the Saints on an above average week are better than the Bears on a good week. On the other hand, the injury-ravaged Patriots have been consistently mediocre this season, turning in their best game last weekend at the expense of the injury-ravaged Falcons. I think we got this.

As for the Miami Dolphins, the moral of the story is that you go for it on fourth and one. You go for the one-minute drill to try for at least three points before halftime, when the risks are hedged by the short clock. As we all learned in Super Bowl XLIV, sometimes the risk pays off and to the aggressor goes the spoils.

Image courtesy of the New Orleans Saints.


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