Film study: How Jarvis Landry’s ability to separate will fit with Saints, Jameis Winston

Jarvis Landry will find ways to get open.

The newest Saints wide receiver doesn’t often run by people, but he knows how to create throwing windows for his quarterback. He’s a savvy tactician who knows how to detail his routes. Every motion, every shift in speed is part of a plan to create openings for his quarterback.

Critics will say Landry doesn’t initiate enough separation, which isn’t accurate. He routinely creates passing windows for his quarterback. Now, sometimes they aren’t windows that remain open too long. The eight-year veteran uses his quickness to detach from coverage, but if the quarterback doesn’t anticipate the break, the window might close as quickly as it opens. The below video from a Browns game last season against Pittsburgh highlights this.

Landry is the type of player future hall-of-famer Drew Brees often talked about throwing open. Like Mike Thomas, Landry’s degree of openness often depends on ball placement. On a slant over the middle, even with a defender draped over his back, Landry has the hands and body control to make a play if the ball arrives in the proper place. To capitalize on those skills, Landry’s quarterback needs the accuracy required to put the pass on Landry’s right hand or shoulder so he can make plays.

Following an examination of all of Landry’s 2021 routes run, we estimate he created an average of about 1.5 yards of separation when facing press coverage. By way of comparison, Thomas created about 2.0 yards of separation against press looks during his record-breaking 2019 season. Landry dominates against zone, especially out of the slot, and knows how to make himself friendly to the quarterback by finding soft spots in the defense.

Landry did the bulk of his work last season on out routes (15 receptions), slants (eight receptions) and hitches (eight receptions). Most of those catches came over the middle or in the shorter areas outside the numbers. Only six receptions were 15 or more yards down the field.

In New Orleans, Landry will likely operate primarily out of the slot, as he has throughout his career, with Thomas lining up in his usual “X” receiver position. First-round rookie Chris Olave projects as the “Z” receiver, meaning he’ll line up a step off the line of scrimmage and can go in motion pre-snap. As always though, each receiver on the depth chart will be interchangeable and play snaps at every spot.

Seeing how everything blends in this offense will be fascinating. Historically, Thomas and Landry have thrived when getting open quickly over the middle, an area of the field Winston did not often attack last year. Circumventing those throws made sense considering the lack of weapons the Saints fielded at wide receiver, but it is fair to note Winston has always been better when throwing outside the numbers.

He boasts the league’s highest passer rating when targeting players outside of the tackle box since 2016 (117.3). That number is somewhat offset by the fact that Winston has thrown 42 of his career 91 interceptions when targeting players over the middle on passes traveling 20 yards or fewer through the air.

Perhaps throwing to weapons like Landry and Thomas will elevate Winston’s ability to stay out of trouble over the middle. He has been efficient when operating the quick passing game, completing 70% of his attempts since 2017. During that same time, Drew Brees connected on 79.5% of his attempts from the same looks. In this scheme, and with a weapon like Thomas, Winston’s efficiency could increase.

However, the Saints almost completely removed the quick passing game from the offense last year. Was this due to personnel, or did the ideology of the offense change because of the quarterback? The answer is likely a little bit of both. Eliminating this aspect of the offense would be counterintuitive with Landry and Thomas on the roster. Still, the offense also must continue to evolve to take advantage of Winston’s arm strength.

Some of those slants Thomas and Landry have run will likely become quick outs and hitches this season. Both receivers will probably attack down the field a little more on intermediate routes, which should create greater variety and allow Winston to stretch the defense horizontally and vertically. Finding ways to utilize all the weapons while also putting Winston in a position to succeed are the first significant tasks offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael must conquer without input from Sean Payton.

Fortunately, figuring out how to best arrange premium pieces is much easier than trying to manufacture offense with inferior options, which was the issue last season. There is a path to the perfect intersections between the strengths of each player. The Saints just have to find it without sending anyone too far outside their comfort zone.

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