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Steve Sarkisian, beefy dudes running routes, and the value of the element of surprise

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Steve Sarkisian didn’t lose his mind, even if it might have seemed like it in real time.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday night, the Very Weirdest Game of the 2017 Season for both the Falcons and Saints, many odd things happened. I need not re-hash all of them here, but this tweet sums up just how ludicrous everything seemed in real time.

The play I want to talk about is the second one. On 2nd and goal from the one yard line, the Falcons had just unsucessfully run the ball with Devonta Freeman in an attempt to pick up the short touchdown. With the Saints struggling to fight the run all night, I’m certain they were expecting Free to run...well, free, when the Falcons again lined up Ty Sambrailo and Dontari Poe.

But no, Steve Sarkisian had done something mad and sort of wonderful. When the touchdown plunge didn’t work with Poe and Sambrailo on the field, he had freed himself up to try something a little insane. He had freed himself up to have Dontari Poe and Ty Sambrailo run routes, and that’s precisely what he did.

I cannot find the video for this play yet, which is making me extremely sad, but you have to appreciate that this came closer to working than it should have. The pass wasn’t perfectly on target, the defender was pretty tight on Sambrailo, and Sambrailo is not, you know, an NFL tight end or anything. But the basic principle here

Too often, Sark has been creative in the wrong way, or even predictably creative. His screens to Taylor Gabriel had become something of a running joke, his jet sweep with Taylor Gabriel on fourth down against the Patriots was criminal, and he’s been guilty of trying the exact wrong play on third down and fourth down too many times this year. But he’s also utilized Poe as a fullback at the goal line, had Mohamed Sanu throw a touchdown pass to Julio Jones, and put his swing tackle and 330 pound defensive tackle out there running routes. Those things are genuinely creative and odd, and if nothing else, they present novel looks for defenses and sow confusion in their ranks.

That brings us back to the Sambrailo play. On the next play, though, Sambrailo was in again and in motion behind the line of scrimmage, and he threw a nice block to help spring Devonta Freeman for the touchdown. The Saints had to know a run was coming, but is it in the back of your head that Sambrailo might be running free again while you key in on Free? It would be in the back of mine, for certain.

When these two teams meet up again in two weeks, and Poe and Sambrailo inevitably get on the field in a goal line package, New Orleans will not be 100% sure why they’re there and what they’re going to do. That plus the priceless reactions from Falcons fans during that game made this weird play in this weird season worthwhile.