By Kevin Braig
El Stat Cid
The title “El Cid”
literally means “The Master.”
Based on his game plan for New Orleans 45-28 demolition of Detroit in the NFC wild-card game, that title now belongs to Saints’ head coach Sean Payton in the context of NFL playoff games.
New Orleans’ offense rang up a pro football playoff record 626 yards en route to a divisional round meeting next week with the 49ers in San Francisco. The Saints’ never punted and undoubtedly would have topped 50 points and probably would have topped 60 points if they had not turned the ball over twice in the first half and taken a knee in the Detroit red zone on their last possession.
“We were pulling out all the stops,” New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said
“We just focus on winning. We’re not focused on yards and records,” Payton said
. “I’m serious when I say that.”
Payton may not have been focused on yards or records, but New Orleans' record offensive output broke one of the most venerable team records in all of sports, San Diego’s 610 yards that the Chargers generated in a 51-10 defeat of the Boston Patriots in the 1963 AFL Championship Game
The original playoff El Cid, San Diego’s Sid Gillman, devised the game plan for that game, which he named “Feast or Famine.” The triumph was Gillman’s signature victory.
During the 1963 regular season, Boston's defense had twice stymied the San Diego with an array of blitzes. For the championship game, Gillman designed a game plan that countered the Patriots’ blitzes by putting either tight end Dave Kocourek or running back Paul Lowe in motion. The motion caused Boston to adjust to stop the Chargers’ sweep and made the Patriots susceptible to trap plays for fullback Keith Lincoln.
Gillman also aligned his team in an “East Formation” with Kocourek lined up as a weak-side tight end and flanker Lance Alworth and split end Don Norton on the opposite side of the field. The formation forced Boston’s safety into man-to-man coverage on the speedy Alworth.
The Chargers averaged 10.2 yard per play as Lincoln set an AFL/NFL playoff record with 349 all-purpose yards and scored twice. Alworth caught a 48-yard touchdown pass. Afterward, Gillman almost could not believe how perfectly his design had worked.
“No game plan works that
well,” Gillman reportedly said. “The big play was the fake toss [sweep] and trap to Lincoln. That’s sort of what broke the whole thing open.”
Gillman’s game plan was not that exotic, as former Philadelphia quarterback and current ESPN broadcaster Ron Jaworski discovered when he broke down the game tape for his book, The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays.
“I was expecting to see a wild aerial game with exotic gadget calls,” Jaworski wrote. “What I got instead was a fairly basic passing attack that included some bread and butter plays Sid had us run with the Eagles nearly twenty years later! The plays themselves weren’t exactly groundbreaking, but Sid’s timing in calling them and their pre-snap design were revelations.”
Payton's game plan and tactics against Detroit possessed similar traits. With a lot of help from offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who has called some plays on game day this year since Payton injured his knee in a sideline collision during a game at Tampa Bay, Payton carved up the Lions through Brees.
No individual New Orleans’ player put up eye-popping numbers like the Chargers’ Lincoln did in 1963. But five of Brees’ receivers caught passes for over 55 yards and three of his runners rambled for more than 47 yards as the Saints dominated in the air and on the ground.
The balanced offensive performance against Detroit made this record much more of a team record than Brees’ earlier, more ballyhooed record that Payton seemed to have forgotten when making his post-game remarks.
Just a few weeks ago, Payton was ordering Brees to throw passes into the Atlanta end zone late in the fourth quarter of a game the Saints already had long ago won so Brees could break Dan Marino’s 1984 record for most passing yards in a season.
That was an individual player record.
In contrast, the total yardage in a playoff game record is as much about play design as it is about playmaking. The record reflects not only on the contribution of Brees and his teammates, but also the contribution of Payton, Carmichael, and the other Saints’ coaches.
This was a major record that fell. This record survived Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. This record survived Randy Moss' rookie year. This record survived Mike Martz, Kurt Warner and the "Greatest Show on Turf." This record survived Tom Brady's record-breaking 2007 campaign and it also survived Peyton Manning's 19 playoff games.
That Payton would ignore these facts and keep the focus exclusively on his troops does not diminish the accomplishment of Payton and the Saints or surprise the ol’ QuantCoach.
Indeed, you would not expect anything else from El Cid.