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Nail in the Coffin: New Orleans Saints Edition

Welcome to Nail in the Coffin, a series I’m writing this summer about the Chargers inability to close out games under Norv Turner in 2012.

Jeff Gross

Welcome to Nail in the Coffin, a series I’ll be writing this summer about the Chargers inability to close out games under Norv Turner last year. I was forced to restrict myself to the 2012 season in order to refrain from opening too many sore wounds.

In 5 out of 8 of the Chargers’ losses last season, they had a better than 50% probability of winning in the 3rd quarter or later, according to the Win Probability Graphs provided on*. So the Chargers were favored to win, at some point late in the game, and proceeded to fail. In this column, I will go through plays on the "decisive drives" of each of these 5 losses, and attempt to analyze what went wrong. As a disclaimer, the analysis of these plays will be for the layman, as I do not possess the scheme or tactical knowledge to tell you what play was called and thus what the players should be doing. However, it should be sufficient to portray the plays responsible for the end of the Norv Turner era and reflect the painful nature of watching the San Diego Chargers in 2012.

*For further information on these graphs go here

We start with the Week 5 game against the New Orleans Saints which produced the following Win Probability Graph:

I will be analyzing the Saints’ drive early in the 4th quarter, which saw the Chargers’ probability of winning fall from 63% to 30%.

4th Quarter: Chargers (24) – Saints (21)

(2) 13:42 – Saints 1st and 20 at NO 10. Chargers’ WP 65%


The coverage starts relatively well for the Chargers here. However, the lack of any semblance of a pass rush allows Camarillo time to shake Gilchrist and then find himself all alone in the middle of the field. Brees isn’t missing that throw. Actually, even Mark Sanchez might complete this pass with this kind of time:

Type of Error: Physical - Coverage and Pass Rush

Win Probability After Play: 63%

(3) 13:07 – Saints 2nd and 7 at NO 23. Chargers’ WP 63%


Antoine Cason is lined up against Greg Camarillo without safety help and gives him about an 8 yard cushion. Whether this is a hot read by Brees and Camarillo or the designed play we’ll never know, but Cason’s positioning (either his choice or a coach’s) ensures he never has a shot at defending this play. However, Melvin Ingram has a shot to shut this play down.

At the snap Ingram locks eyes with Brees, who has taken a quick 3-step drop to throw the slant. Melvin hesitates, fails to put his teeny-tiny T-Rex arms in the air in an attempt to block the passing lane, and watches the ball sail over his head. This is probably one of those "speed of the game" adjustments draft analysts blabber on about.

Type of Error: Physical - Positioning. Mental - Play Recognition

Win Probability After Play: 59%

(4) 11:35 Saints 2nd and 1 at NO 43. Chargers’ WP 56%


This play occurs after a Chargers penalty for 12 men on the field and a 4 yard Pierre Thomas run. The player to watch here is Atari Bigby, lined up at near-side safety. He is slow to react on the crossing route from the Tight End, and even when he does react, he is nowhere near him. This poor coverage forces Eric Weddle to drive on the Tight End, leaving Jammer all alone with Devery Henderson. This play highlights a big issue I (and many others) had with the Chargers’ defensive alignment last year – cornerback assignment. Last year, the Chargers assigned sides to their cornerbacks, which is where they lined up regardless of the receiver. This allowed teams to easily exploit mismatches, for instance lining up Devery Henderson across from Quentin Jammer and sending him on one of those trademark "I’m Devery Henderson and I’m going to run as fast as possible" routes. Once Weddle has to cover for Bigby, Jammer is toast.

Type of Error: Physical – Coverage.

Win Probability After Play: 45%

(5) 9:32 Saints 3rd and 8 at SD 14

After some nice run defense from the Chargers, the 3rd down defense breaks down on a good play from the Saints. The Saints bunch up 3 receivers to the right, and are able to free up Colston for a first down. Look at the following picture and keep in mind this is 3rd and 8 in the redzone:

The Chargers have 3 defensive backs at the 2 yard line or deeper, which is 4 yards behind the first down marker. That is not a recipe for successful 3rd down defense.

Type of Error: Physical – Coverage. Mental – Awareness

Win Probability After Play: 35%

(6) 8:55 Saints 1st and 5 at SD 5


Colston fights through Cason’s pass interference to pull down the TD. Did the Saints line Colston up on this side to avoid the more physical Quentin Jammer knowing he would be on the far side? I would have.

Type of Error: Physical – Coverage

Win Probability After Play: 30%


This series started with the Chargers favored to win 63% of the time. By the end of it, they had ceded 33% of their win probability and were never able to recover. I hope you enjoyed this article, and please drop any comments / criticisms / questions down below. Join me next week as we rewatch the Chargers set a Monday Night Football record!