In case you haven’t heard, Michael Thomas is good at football, and at this point should be in everyone’s top 5 receiver list. One thing that makes him so effective is his ability to get separation quickly off the line. This ability also helps Drew Brees be able to get rid of the ball at a quicker pace.
One way Sean Payton uses Thomas’s ability is by putting him in the slot, where he has more space to work with.
On this play Thomas runs one of his signature routes—the pivot route—out of the slot on the boundary side. This route is inherently designed to create space between the receiver and defender, but with Thomas running this it’s almost unfair. The pivot route is where the receiver will release towards the middle of field, before planting his foot and cutting back to the sideline.
Marcus Peters is playing with outside leverage on Thomas, expecting help on inside breaking routes from his linebacker. At the snap, Thomas will start his route towards the inside as if running a slant and gets Peters to flip his hips towards the inside. This makes it harder for the cornerback to change his direction when Thomas plants his foot, pivots, and breaks toward the sideline. Thomas’s route running and change of direction skill allows him to create almost three yards of separation when he catches the pass. He breaks Peters’s tackle attempt and is able to gain 14 yards and get out of bounds.
Michael Thomas and the Y-cross
One of the Saints’ go-to play this year is the play action Y-cross. The play action attempts to pull the linebackers toward the line of scrimmage and give Thomas space to get behind them and have him get open across the field.
Thomas will line up in a tight split (close to the tight end-Josh Hill). Taysom Hill will line up as the second tight end and will chip the edge rusher before running a flat route. Tre’Quan Smith is lined up on the boundary side (top of screen) and will run a “go” route in an attempt to clear out that side of the field to open space for Thomas on his crossing route.
Thomas will begin his route inside before getting vertical to about 12 yards where he will break his route towards the opposite sideline. Thomas is able to sell the vertical route and forces the safety to open his hips and bail in order to defend the deep pass. This is when Thomas breaks inside and is able to create enough separation to make the catch for 13 yards.
Alex Anzalone was able to nab his first career interception on an athletic play that saw him stretch out for the ball and make the catch away from his body with his hands.
On this play, the defense initially shows a cover 2 look, which indicates that the middle of the field will be open. Ram’s quarterback Jared Goff sees this and will make an adjustment to the play, but the defense is actually in cover 3, and Marcus Williams will roll towards the middle of the field right before the snap. Lattimore and Apple will take the outside deep thirds of the field, and Anzalone and Coleman will cover the hook/curl zone.
The Rams are running a hitch-post route combination to the field side, and Goff s expecting Anzalone to come up to cover the hitch ran by the tight end, but instead he maintains his depth and reads Goff’s eyes to step in front of the pass intended for Woods.
A New Wrinkle
Taysom Hill continues to be used at the quarterback position on short yardage situations. Most of the plays feature Hill running the read-option with Alvin Kamara. For this game, Payton introduced a new wrinkle for Hill. Designed to look like a read-option, it appears to be a designed quarterback run with power blocking up front.
The offense lines up in pistol formation with Ingram behind Hill and Zach Line to his left. Hill will motion tight end Josh Hill into the backfield to create a diamond formation look. Taysom Hill will fake the handoff to Ingram while Josh Hill will attempt to block the linebacker on the edge. Taysom Hill will follow the lead block by Ingram, but is tackled short of the first down by the outside linebacker that Josh Hill was unable to block.
This is just another creative way Sean Payton is getting Hill’s unique skill set involved in the offense and moving forward it will be exciting to see what else Payton schemes up with his utility knife.