Max Unger Will Make a Difference for the New Orleans Saints


The search for Max Unger started at an unlikely spot in the New Orleans Saints schedule.  It was not at the end of last year’s disappointing 7 and 9 season.  No, it started on November 3, 2013, when the New York Jets beat the New Orleans Saints.  It was then that Karl Dunbar, the defensive line coach for the Jets, challenged the Saints offensive line up the middle. Mike Detillier wrote about it in the Saints Report

"Former LSU defensive lineman and current New York Jets defensive line coach Karl Dunbar on playing against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.“We beat them last year (26-20) and our strategy was to get pressure on Drew Brees from the interior, Dunbar said at the Thibodaux Regional Medical Center sponsored Offensive Lineman Camp at Nicholls State. “It’s a lot easier said than done. We have the personnel to give every team problems in blocking with really talented defensive linemen in Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad (Wilkerson) who both had terrific seasons for us, and we got real good edge pressure from Quinton Coples, but we loaded the inside and blitzed the Saints heavy from the middle. You have to throw Drew Brees off his launch pad, if not you are in big trouble. You can’t wait and blitz him from the edges or he will just pick you apart throwing the ball short to Jimmy Graham or the backs they had in Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. You got to break up their rhythm and fast, and the best way is from the middle. Seattle did that to them also and the Seahawks did the same to Peyton Manning and Broncos in the Super Bowl. No quarterback likes that inside pressure because they can’t step up in the pocket to make a throw and you break their timing. If you don’t destroy quickly the launch pad of a Brees, Manning or Tom Brady you have no chance to defeat them.”"

And so the seismic shift began … to beat the Saints go for the middle of the oline.  Detillier mentioned the “Jets effect” on Eric Asher’s Inside New Orleans Sports show on WLAE TV this week in explanation of the 2014 season. (Side note to Saints fans: If you want Saints skinny, watch Eric Asher or listen to the podcasts) In 2014, teams consistently got up the middle to Drew Brees’ sweet spot

In 2013, the Saints center was Brian de la Puente who left in free agency in 2014 at which time, the Saints re-signed Jonathan Goodwin as center.  Goodwin, a fan favorite, struggled in 2014.  The need for a change was obvious and the Saints began to cast their eye around the league for the best veteran center available.  Gone were thoughts of Brees’ ability to overcome a less than stellar oline; back were the practicalities of protection and power play.  As for free agents, the Saints knew immediately they did not have Rodney Hudson money but they did have jack in the starting lineup to make a trade.  Thus, the Graham-and-a-4-for-an-Unger-and-a-1 trade was born. (Credit: New Orleans Saints website)

I am of the opinion trade focus was Max Unger and what it would take to land him.  But why the hunger for Unger?  First hand knowledge from playing against him twice in 2014 for one and second was watching him in the 2014 post season.  (It didn’t hurt either that he was a ProBowler in 2012 and 2013).

Max Unger Will Make a Difference for the New Orleans Saints

The 2014 post season began well for Unger. This stretch of the season saw his return to the Seahawks after injury. His play against Carolina in the divisional round was excellent, against Green Bay in the conference round somewhat neutral and against the Patriots in the Superbowl, it was flawed.  Is he a premier center, worthy of “Grahamness?”  Absolutely! He is physical, agile, able to get to the second level easily,well-conditioned, relentless and tough at the point of attack.  The Carolina Panthers defensive line did not phase him–this is good news in the NFC South. He practiced against and knows Dan Quin’s defensive–another plus.  So much for Quinning in Atlanta.

Some more good news–Unger is rarely penalized.  He fights with his hands and this was beneficial when playing in Seattle as he often had to hold off a defender while Russell Wilson scrambled around. Unger’s experience in a zone blocking scheme will accrue to the Saints benefit. He was unquestioned in his ability to read defensive schemes, and it will be a joy to see him collaborate with Brees.  The Saints run both zone and man schemes on the oline but I believe Unger has the necessary football IQ to assimilate to the Saints assignments.  Unger comes with some experience against the Cardinals, Rams, and 49ers–all of whom have incredible defenses, and he comes with rave reviews from Tom Cable, his oline coach.

"He’s the prototype of offensive lineman Seahawks assistant head coach Tom Cable wants orchestrating his line with three distinct attributes: Smart, tough and quick.“When I say smart, they are usually exceptional. They’re not your run-of-the-mill, stereotypical what people would think of linemen. They are high test scores, very diligent, great finishers, a little bit anal sometimes. I think they have a gift mentally,” Cable said. “And then they have to be really tough because they get banged around and beat up in there all the time. And then quick so they can get from where they’re at, snap the ball and then reach a guy.”  Asked which of those is Unger’s strength Cable had a quick response.  “All of the above,” Cable said. “We’re fortunate because he has great gifts and he kind of fills every one of those.”It was around the midpoint last season when Seattle started using more of the zone-read offense where quarterback Russell Wilson would line up in the shotgun and often keep the ball instead of handing off to Marshawn Lynch. For some centers, the transition to suddenly being in the shotgun the majority of the time, combined with making the calls for a zone-blocking scheme might be a challenge.  Not for Unger. He’d been there before, having played collegiately at Oregon when the Ducks were running some similar offensive principles.  “Going back to it was pretty natural. It wasn’t learning something new, as much as dusting it off and that’s a big difference especially at this level,” Unger said. “It’s such a chess match out there that if you have to add on one more pre snap thought it carries so much weight. Luckily we didn’t have to do that with the shotgun snaps.”"

I broke down tape on Unger.  To give you good folks an idea of what I saw, I made two cut ups of his play.  The first is the SuperBowl and the second is the divisional round with Carolina–if you will, the flawed and perfected views of his play during the post season. (Credit: NFL Game Rewind) Frankly, I am excited about the energy and resolve he will bring the table.  He may not be nasty but he is a finisher.

And, oh yeah, the one time Seattle played the Jets with Unger, they won but Mo Wilkerson got a touchdown. (Credit: archive video)

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