The Minnesota Moment needed more than a solid route, a great throw, a better catch, and an acrobatic spin and sprint. It hinged also on the blind luck that came from the last line of the New Orleans defense making a mental miscalculation in the “oh sh-t” split second as the ball approached the hands of receiver Stefon Diggs.
Marcus Williams, as one source familiar with the New Orleans defensive scheme explained it to PFT, undoubtedly had been told over and over and over again to not commit pass interference in that situation. Even though the flag will tend to be tucked a little deeper in the officials’ pockets at that moment in a postseason game, Williams risked drawing a penalty if he’d blasted an airborne Diggs before the ball arrived.
By diving to the inside, Williams also was hoping to prevent Diggs from getting out of bounds. No one (other than Diggs) was thinking that the catch could become a catch-and-run to paydirt.
The problem is that Williams dove a little too early and a little too far off the target line, missing Diggs completely (the kill-shot move instead of the form tackle with extended arms was a factor in the whiff), doing nothing to impede his progress, and also wiping out teammate Ken Crawley, who may have had a chance to tackle a stumbling Diggs in the field of play, which would have ended the game.
The play design was a separate issue. There simply weren’t enough guys in the vicinity of the target spot for a potential game-winning field goal and no one playing the deep middle in order to defend against the worst-case scenario that ultimately unfolded.
The Saints rushed four players. They had a defensive back covering tight end Kyle Rudolph who ran a six-yard out. There were two defensive players in the middle of the field near the 50. A safety on the side across from Diggs was playing over the top of receiver Adam Thielen, apparently in the event that Thielen got by Marshon Lattimore in the same way Digg eluded Williams.
If the Saints had used a two-man rush and an umbrella of protection along the sidelines from the 35 to the 25 and with one or two break-glass-in-event-of-emergency safeties guarding the end zone, Williams wouldn’t have been put in a spot where, as a practical matter, he had Diggs in single coverage.
Watch the play. Crawley was covering Jarius Wright, and Williams had Diggs — with no help behind Williams. The instant Williams missed Diggs, it was game over.
That may be one of the reasons why the team isn’t blaming Williams. Pointing a finger at the player could result in someone pointing a bigger finger at defensive coordinator Dennis Allen for a defensive play design that had too many players in spots where they weren’t needed, and not enough where they were.