In a 31-19 win over the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas crossed 1,000 yards as he did last year in his rookie season, and reached an impressive milestone. Thomas became only the second player in NFL history to record 90-plus receptions in each of their first two seasons, joining New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. His 94 receptions rank third in the NFL this season, and he ranks sixth in receiving yards with 1,085.
New Orleans looked to Thomas in several critical moments against the Jets. Thomas caught a screen pass to convert on a fourth-down attempt early in the game, and had four receptions and a touchdown on a much needed Saints scoring drive in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with nine catches, 94 receiving yards, and a touchdown.
Here’s a breakdown of the biggest catches made by Michael Thomas in week 15.
New Orleans Saints Week 15 Film Analysis: Michael Thomas
Six-Yard Reception, 3:19 Remaining in First Quarter
After the Saints had to settle for a field goal on their first possession, head coach Sean Payton decided he wanted more on their second drive and went for it on fourth down in the red zone. New Orleans lined up in an empty five-receiver formation, signaling to the Jets that a run was out of the question.
The play call was a tunnel screen, with Thomas as the outside left receiver. He went in motion to the inside before the snap, and quarterback Drew Brees threw to him just as he passed behind Brandon Coleman, the middle receiver. Coleman sealed off the cornerback to give Thomas a running lane.
Thomas averted a linebacker as he cut downfield, and he had a shot at the end zone as Willie Snead made a block near the goal line. Snead attempted to cut off Jets safety Marcus Maye as well, but Maye was able to get around the block and stopped Thomas just short of the end zone.
17-Yard Reception, 11:32 Remaining in Fourth Quarter
After failing to score on their previous seven possessions, the Saints needed a big play on third and seven to avoid another scoreless drive. They lined up in a shotgun formation with three receivers bunched to the right, and one on the left. The Jets blitzed five men and had only two defenders in zone coverage down the middle.
Thomas ran a dig route from the outside right as Coleman and Tommylee Lewis went deep to clear out the free safety and outside cornerbacks. Alvin Kamara, the inside receiver, ran a crossing route which lured the underneath defenders closer to the line of scrimmage.
Brees didn’t look at Thomas until he crossed the center of the field, so the underneath safety was unaware that the receiver had passed behind him. No defender was within five yards of Thomas as Brees hit him in stride, and kept the drive alive.
20-Yard Reception, 10:50 Remaining in Fourth Quarter
On the next play, New Orleans came out with Thomas in the slot on the left side and Lewis outside of him. They ran the scissors concept with Lewis running a post route, and Thomas crossing underneath him on a corner route. Brees faked a handoff to running back Mark Ingram, which froze New York’s zone defenders underneath.
Thomas avoided a bump by Maye, and continued diagonally downfield as if he were running a seam route. As Thomas cut to the sideline, Maye caught up with him and had a chance to break up the pass. However, Brees threw to the back shoulder of his receiver to make the catch a little easier. Thomas made a leaping reception, and kept the ball away from his body as Maye brought him down.
Two plays later, Thomas made a catch on a crossing route and moved New Orleans down to the Jets 10-yard line.
Four-Yard Touchdown Reception, 7:42 Remaining in Fourth Quarter
On the same drive, New Orleans lined up with Lewis and Thomas on the left side again, but this time Thomas was the outside receiver. The Saints ran a pick play, and the Jets were not in good position to defend it. Cornerback Morris Claiborne lined up five yards across from Thomas, and Lewis faced press coverage from his defender. Both linebackers stayed close to the line of scrimmage in their coverage, leaving a lot of open space in the middle.
Rather than blatantly cutting off the cornerback, which draws a penalty if done more than a yard away from the line of scrimmage, Lewis ran a quick slant while pressing his shoulder into the defender. Thomas cut underneath Lewis, and Claiborne was unable to get around Lewis fast enough to make a play. Thomas caught the pass and made it across the goal line before he was touched.
Despite the impressive season so far by Thomas, he did not finish among the top 10 receivers in fan voting results for the Pro Bowl. Playing for a small market team, and having just five touchdowns on the season are likely reasons for the lack of recognition, However if he continues to take over games like he did against the Jets, fans will surely start noticing him.