Saints Film Study: Position By Position Breakdown of Week 1
The Saints’ linebackers had a refreshingly great game, welcome news after last year’s horrid showing. And they did so without their best player, Dannell Ellerbe, who is nursing a quad injury. Newly acquired James Laurinaitis and Craig Robertson both played all 73 defensive snaps, while Michael Mauti, Stephon Anthony, and Nate Stupar each had limited roles at SLB.
I admit, I was critical of Laurinaitis’s preseason play; he looked slow and ineffective in coverage and run support. Sunday was a different story. The veteran still had trouble shedding blocks, but the positives hugely outweighed his deficiencies. Laurinaitis did everything he was brought in to do: he diagnosed plays well, consistently helped guys get aligned, and for the most part tackled effectively. He really is a cerebral player. It’s possible that the real value of a MLB like Laurinaitis is only clear when the team gameplans, which they do not do in the preseason. Laurinaitis often pointed, pre-snap, in the direction that the play ended up going, allowing the team to react quickly to runs.
Now, the run defense still left much to be desired, and some of that is on Laurinaitis. He notably got run over on the Raiders’ first touchdown, though he didn’t have time to get set. He had to slide over to Craig Robertson’s position when Robertson missed his gap assignment. Laurinaitis tackled well besides. He still might become a liability in future weeks, if teams find a way to isolate him in coverage. But if Dennis Allen can use him effectively and allow him to make plays with instinct rather than speed, he’ll continue to be a great asset for this defense.
Stepping in for Ellerbe, Craig Robertson had his best game as a Saint. He makes up for what Laurinaitis lacks; he’s speedy and active all over the field. He made some remarkable tackles at the line of scrimmage, although as I mentioned he was responsible for a missed assignment on the Raiders’ first touchdown. He also got blocked out of the play on Richard’s 75 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and failed to make the tackle when Richard ran past his shoulder. A lot of Saints missed tackles on that play, so the blame isn’t solely on Robertson. These two plays aside, Robertson was stout in run support.
He was equally effective in coverage, finally demonstrating the coverage ability that writers have been noting throughout training camp. Again, his coverage came with one key blemish: the critical PI call on 4th down on the Raiders’ game winning drive. There was certainly some contact, and Robertson didn’t do a great job of turning his head. But the ball was not catchable. It just wasn’t. Now, the refs made mistakes both ways, and the Saints didn’t lose the game because of one call. But we certainly would have won the game if the call had been correct. It’s heartbreaking, but that’s football.
Behind these two, Mauti saw the majority of the snaps at SLB. It’s a disappointing situation for Saints fans, who expected more out of Anthony after he started his whole rookie year. But for what it’s worth, Mauti played a very good game. He’s not as athletic as Anthony but he’s strong and can still cover ground. He’s less of a liability in coverage. Still, I’m hoping that Anthony can earn these snaps over Mauti; his ceiling is higher, and he can develop into a real difference maker on defense.
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