When the New England Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years, they were widely credited for showcasing a defense that confused opposing offenses with multiple looks and more disguises than you'd see at a masquerade ball.
Now, the New Orleans Saints are doing the exact same thing, but on the opposite side of the ball.
The Who Dats' offense made New England's defense scratch its head throughout Monday night's 38-17 beatdown in the Bayou. The Saints continuously used different offensive formations and personnel groups, and they sent the Patriots spinning in too many directions.
The Saints compiled 480 total yards, and quarterback Drew Brees completed 18 of 23 passes for 371 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. New Orleans averaged 15.3 yards per passing play and 9.6 yards per offensive play. Those numbers indicate one thing: The Patriots defense didn't give its team a chance to win the game.
"We had several blown coverages defensively," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told the media during his postgame news conference. "They took advantage of them. It was just enormous mistakes on our part that turned into huge plays. You can't make those kinds of mistakes against a good football team, and we made too many of them."
Too many times, the Patriots looked utterly lost on defense, like a hiker without a guide on Mount Everest. They crossed up their coverages, rushed the wrong gaps — sometimes two at a time — and found themselves out of position play after play. The Saints scored touchdowns of 18, 75, 38, 2 and 20 yards, and other long gains helped set up those scores.
"We busted a couple coverages and cut guys loose, and those are definitely mental errors, just mistakes in coverage," Belichick said. "We had some plays where we had them covered, but they caught the ball and made big plays."
Brees' pressure on the Patriots defense must have felt like a gale-force wind, as his accuracy made the Patriots suffer for their mistakes. The 75-yard touchdown to Devery Henderson was a perfect example. Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite lined up on Henderson to the right side of Brees, and Wilhite blitzed. Linebacker Jerod Mayo and safety Brandon Meriweather were supposed to stay in Henderson's zone, but Meriweather broke to the wrong side of the field, allowing Henderson to slip past the defense and win an easy one-man race to the end zone.
The 38-yard strike to Robert Meachem was nearly as unsettling. The Saints only sent three players on passing routes, with running back Mike Bell staying in the left flat in case Brees needed an emergency dump-off.
Meanwhile, the Patriots had six players in coverage. Three defenders ran with the tight end, two shaded Bell's side of the field and one — Wilhite — was left in single coverage on Meachem, who caught a perfectly thrown ball from Brees. There is no scenario in which three players should have followed the tight end — it appeared to be Darnell Dinkins, who didn't have a reception all season to that point — and left Wilhite on an island against one of the game's better deep threats.
"It really wasn't as competitive a game as we hoped it would be or we needed it to be," Belichick said. "You've got to give them a lot of credit. That's a good football team, but that doesn't lessen the hurt on our end. … We've obviously got a lot of work to do to compete with a team of this caliber."
Belichick knew the Saints would provide a multitude of offensive looks, even saying last week that they might show more looks on Monday night than the Pats' opponents in their 15 other games this season. It was simply too much for the Patriots' young secondary during this particular game, but no one is absolved of fault after such a lopsided defeat.
"They mix it up a lot," Belichick said. "They do that. I don't think they did anything that revolutionized the game, but they do a good job of keeping you off balance with their personnel substitutions, their formations, changing the tempo of the game."