Saints 31, Bucs 6

When it happens, it happens, eh?

After 5 weeks of mediocrity, the Saints offense showed up yesterday, dismantling a punchless Bucs team. This game surprised me, because this year’s Saints team hasn’t played like last year’s Saints team, hasn’t been lucky like last year’s Saints team, and hasn’t won like last year’s Saints team. So, I fully expected a close game against the feisty Bucs, and wouldn’t have been surprised to see the Saints lose.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink discussing how important the passing game was to set up the run, but in this game, the running and passing happened in such explosions that it was hard to determine which was setting up which. Just look at the Saints’ first drive:

1-10-NO 6 C.Ivory up the middle pushed ob at NO 24 for 18 yards

1-10-NO 24 L.Betts up the middle to NO 28 for 4 yards

2-6-NO 28 C.Ivory right tackle to NO 35 for 7 yards

1-10-NO 35 D.Brees pass short left to R.Meachem pushed ob at NO 47 for 12 yards

1-10-NO 47 D.Brees pass deep middle to L.Moore to TB 37 for 16 yards

1-10-TB 37 D.Brees pass short right to D.Thomas to TB 31 for 6 yards

2-4-TB 31 PENALTY on NO-J.Evans, False Start, 5 yards

2-9-TB 36 PENALTY on NO-D.Brees, Delay of Game, 5 yards

2-14-TB 41 D.Brees pass deep right to L.Moore for 41 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

A great drive, other than the penalties. Of course, the Saints have opened each game this year with a great drive. The question I was asking myself at this point: how good would the second drive be? Would the Saints offense stall after a fast start yet again?

No, they wouldn’t. The second drive was also excellent, 14 yards rushing, 66 yards passing, and another touchdown. The Saints were up 14-0, and the game was solidly in hand since Tampa wasn’t doing much against our defense.

Let me repeat: the game was substantially changed by the first two possessions, as the Saints were at a huge advantage. How big? Well, according to AdvancedNFLStats.com, the Saints had a 90% chance of winning the game after that second touchdown.

By then, the Saints had run the ball 7 times for 43 yards and a 6.1 average. That’s good. However, they’d also passed it 9 times for 141 yards and 15.7 yards per attempt. That’s even better. I take two points from this start:

  1. The Saints’ running game was great in the first two drives.
  2. The Saints’ passing game was even greater in the first two drives.

So, we have two facts which are, I think, inarguable. Part of the fun of analysis is coming up with a theory that explains the facts. Let’s look at two theories:

The first three runs stuck fear in the Bucs’ hearts. Under this theory, the Saints’ running game was so strong from the beginning that it forced the Bucs to move a bunch of guys into covering the run, opening up huge holes for the passing game.

If you buy this theory, then you’re implicitly stating that the Bucs changed their whole game plan based on the first 3 plays. That might be what happened, but I doubt it. I don’t suspect that 3 plays caused massive panic on the Tampa sidelines. I don’t have the game on tape, though, and was driving during the first half while listening to Jim and Hokie call the game on the radio. It’s possible that, had I seen these first two drives, I might have seen the Bucs move more men into the box, scrap the Tampa 2, etc., because they became suddenly worried about the running game.

The Saints’ offense was just better than the Bucs defense in all phases. Under this theory, the Saints just outmatched the Bucs in both the passing and the running game, and they were able to move the ball so effectively because they were just a better team on that day.

If you listened to last week’s show, you might remember that Bucs blogger Eric Schmidt said he was concerned about the Bucs’ defensive line. I mentioned in the same segment (and in my game preview for [Canal Street Chronicles][3]) that I thought the Bucs should worry about their secondary, since their safety situation is awful and Ronde Barber is ancient. Well, if you subscribe to this second theory, then you’re implicitly believing that the Saints were able to take advantage of both of those deficiencies to run and pass the ball efficiently.

While these theories aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, you can probably guess that I lean more toward the second theory, that the Saints were just better than the Bucs yesterday.

My point in going through this exercise: Most of the post-game commentary I’ve read has focused on Chris Ivory’s “breakout” performance, and how the running game was the crucial component of this victory. And while I agree that Ivory had a great game, I think it bears remembering that in those first two Saints drives, the two drives that changed the tenor of the entire game, Brew Drees’ passing game was even better than the running game. So, in our hurry to anoint a new small-school hero as the quick fix to what ailed the Saints, let’s not forget the even bigger contribution from our hall-of-fame caliber quarterback.

Other Notes

Look for this week’s show to be released on Thursday, as usual. Until then, thanks for reading!

[3]: http://www.canalstreetchronicles.com/2010/10/16/1750373/previewing-the-saints-bucs-game