Tonight's game isn't about home field advantage

I hate the Falcons just like any black-and-gold-blooded Saints fan. I want the Saints to beat them tonight, and for Roddy White to shove his Twitter up his tweethole. This is an important game in the NFC South because it will let the two teams test each other and see how they stack up in case of a playoff meet. However, let’s be clear: this game is almost definitely NOT about home field advantage, and is not a particularly important game for the Falcons. It is rather important for the Saints, though. After the jump, I’ll explain why.Right now, the Saints are 10-4 with games remaining against Atlanta and Tampa. The Falcons are 12-2 with games remaining against New Orleans and Carolina. If Atlanta wins one of those two games, they clinch both the NFC South and the overall #1 seed. For the Saints to win the NFC South (and #1 playoff seed), they’d need to win both of their remaining games AND have the Falcons lose both of their remaining games.

The Saints’ hopes of winning the division rest on Jimmy “Pickles” Clausen’s ability to beat the Falcons. I know who I’d take in that scenario.

So, assuming that the NFC South is basically out of reach, then how does this game affect the Saints’ playoff chances? The Saints need one win in order to secure the 5th seed and earn the right to go to St. Louis for the first playoff game. So, even if they lose tonight, all the Saints have to do is beat the Bucs next week to win the valuable #5 seed. If the Saints lose both of those games, then they need both the Packers (against Chicago) and the Giants (against Washington) to lose in order to even make the playoffs.

While I don’t think the Saints will lose to the Bucs in the dome with the playoffs on the line, I’d just as soon not have next weekend’s game be interesting. I’d much rather the Saints be playing for a miracle shot at the division next week. Drama is not good this time of year, so let’s hope the Saints end the drama tonight and earn a playoff berth.

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Who Dat Report on WVUE Fox 8. Plus, other news.

My family and I were at the [Black & Gold Sports Shop][1] yesterday for some post-Christmas shopping, and the folks from WVUE were there filming a story. Lucky for me, they interviewed my dad, my sister, and I, and we all got a little bit of airtime! You can check out the video below. My dad is the guy with the Saints hat on, talking about how they need to come home. My sisters is the youngish (just kidding’happy birthday, Erin!) woman talking about how the Saints need to score a lot of touchdowns, and I’m the guy whose name they misspell as Stewart.

Anyway, that’s kind of fun.

You may have noticed there was no show before the Falcons game. Sorry about that: Skype was down for much of last week, and without Skype, I can’t record a show. So, we’re stuck without a chance to talk to our friend Adam Schultz about tonight’s game. That’s too bad, but part of the business, I suppose. We’ll be back this week to preview the Bucs game and (hopefully) the playoffs.

Go Saints!

[1]: http://www.blackandgoldsports.com/saints/

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4th and Geaux: Saints at Rams edition

The New Orleans Saints head to Atlanta this week to take on the Falcons in a game that probably isn’t as meaningful as we’d hoped it would be. Still, will this week’s bird hunting expedition be more successful than last week’s? Will the Saints be able to overcome the Falcons’ so-called home field invincibility? Will the Saints actually get the ball to their best running back this week?

It’s time for 4th and Geaux.

_Each week, I write 4th and Geaux for the good folks over at

Canal Street Chronicles. I usually try to post a rough draft here. For the final version, head to CSC on Friday mornings. This is an abbreviated 4_th and Geaux, thanks to the holidays, impending deadlines in the job that actually pays me, and a couple of other issues. Don’t worry: I’ll be back in full inanity by playoff time.

Last Week in Review

As I wrote in my game review, I felt that last week’s loss to the Ravens was actually a quasi-positive thing, as losses go. Why? Well, it comes down to expectations. If you believed that the Saints’ 10-3 record (going into last week) meant they were one of the top 3 teams in the NFL (after all, only 2 more teams had more wins than the Saints last week), then you were probably disappointed by the Saints’ performance. After all, they weren’t dominant at any point in the game, and were dominated for much of the game, especially on defense.

However, if you believed, like I did, that the Saints were closer to the middle of the NFL pack than the front, then probably saw this game as a chance for the Saints to prove their mettle against a superior opponent in a hostile, playoff-like atmosphere. In my opinion, the Saints looked pretty good considering the circumstances: while they didn’t win, they did hang with a team that is probably better than they are, and were a few breaks away from winning.

Put another way, the Saints’ performance affirmed that they are a team to be reckoned with: they can come into anyone’s stadium and give them a good game. That’s a sign of a team that, with a little luck and better execution, could put together a good playoff run, especially with the way the playoff field will likely line up this year.

Now that I think about it, I was actually more upset by several of the Saints’ victories this year (Arizona, Cincinnati, and Carolina, I’m looking your way) than I was by this loss. There’s no shame in losing a close game on the road to a superior opponent.

Now, this doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an extremely frustrating game, and one that we could have, and maybe should have, won. The offensive line was TERRIBLE at both run and pass blocking. The defense’s matador-esque tackling technique was rather ineffective. The special teams continued to be rather, uh, “special”. Despite these shortcomings, the Saints’ nearly won on the road against a Super Bowl contender. Not bad for an off week.

Sizing up the Opponent

Well, well, well, it’s Falcons time. When they met back in September, the Saints generally played well, with two glaring problems: the turnover battle (2 interceptions and a lost fumble) and special teams (The Kick Heard Round The World).

NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 26: Garrett Hartley  of the New Orleans Saints in action against the Atlanta Falcons at the Louisiana Superdome on September 26, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Please, no Hartley this time. Please.

We didn’t know at the time that the turnovers and special teams struggles would be an overture to much of what’s been frustrating about the Saints this year.

While this rematch doesn’t have the spice that it might have, there’s still plenty on the line here. This is only the third Monday Night Football game in history to feature two teams with at least 10 wins. The Saints need to win to keep ahead in the race for the critical #5 seed (which would allow them to make a trip to the NFC West in the first round of the playoffs…a valuable commodity). A win would also allow the Saints to hold on to their paper-thin hopes of winning the division.

The Falcons actually don’t need the win that badly (they need to win one more game to lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but they face Carolina next week), but would love the opportunity to sew up the division and #1 seed while asserting themselves on a national stage by beating the defending champions. These teams are fairly well-matched: Football Outsiders and Advanced NFL Stats both have the Saints rated slightly higher than the Falcons, but Sagarin and Pro Football Reference have the Falcons rated slightly higher. This should be a fun game.

Let’s go into more detail in Statpoints.

Saints Statpoints

Saints’ offense vs. Falcons’ defense

This matchup favors the Saints. Even in this off year, the Saints have a top 10 offense in the NFL (7th according to Football Outsiders, 9th according to Advanced NFL Stats) and the Falcons are not a particularly strong defensive team. If the Saints’ offense executes, they should be able to score some points.

The Falcons are pretty balanced on defense: they’re middle-of-the-road in both passing and running defense. They do have a weakness against #1 receivers, though: they give up about 72 yards per game to #1 receivers, one of the worst rates in the league. Even if you adjust for situations, opponent strength, etc., the Falcons are still in the bottom third of the league against primary receivers. That could leave a few things open for one of the Saints’ receivers, although their offense is so diverse that it’s hard to tell which one. Lance Moore was the best receiver in the first Saints-Falcons matchup (149 yards, 2 touchdowns), but it could easily be Colston or Meachem this week.

Looking at the individual units, there are some good signs for the Saints. The Falcons’ defensive line has has only generated 25 sacks this year (which places them in the bottom 10 or so in the league). The Falcons’ d-line does better against the run (8th in the league per Football Outsiders), but their linebackers and secondary are really weak in run support, causing the Falcons to yield a below-average 4.6 yards per carry on the ground. The Saints aren’t a good running team, but if they can get a lead, the Falcons’ defense might be susceptible to clock-eating runs later in the game.

It’s not exactly offense, but special teams concerns me. The Falcons’ opponents have had the worst average starting field position in the league, and Football Outsiders rates the Falcons’ special teams as the third-best unit in the league, compared to 25th-best for the Saints*. In a game that could be close, the Saints’ poor special teams could come back to haunt them. Again.

*I recognize that field position isn’t solely a function of special teams play. However, special teams can flip the field position, making up for poor offensive or defensive performance

Saints’ defense vs. Falcons’ offense

The Falcons’ offense is a strong unit, but certainly not elite. They probably rank somewhere between the Saints’ offense and league average. Football Outsiders has them ranked 12th overall, Advanced NFL Stats has them ranked 17th overall.

There are 3 stars* on the Falcons’ offense: quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, and receiver Roddy White. Let’s look at the season that each of them is having and speculate a bit about how they match up against the Saints.

*You could make an argument for including the still-dangerous Tony Gonzalez, too. In fact, Gonzalez was the Falcons’ best receiver in the first Saints-Falcons game.

Matt Ryan is the budding star of this offense, and someone who gives me a bit of heartburn when I think about how good he might become. By any reasonable measure, Ryan’s been a top-10 quarterback this year, and he’s played a bit beyond his young age. I’m not looking forward to watching him develop. Ryan seems to have been equally good whether or not he’s being blitzed, so I’m not sure that the crazy Gregg Williams blitzy thing will work that well. Of course, Ryan’s excellence against the blitz may be a function of his offensive line: the Falcons’ sack rate (adjusted for situation) is 4th-best in the league.

Simply put, Matt Ryan is one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, and his offensive line helps keep him clean and gives him time to throw. That’s not good for the Saints, who are one of the bottom 10 teams in the league at generating pass rush. The onus will be on the secondary to cover the receivers as well as possible, hopefully creating a few turnovers while doing so. Fortunately, Ryan does not have a lot of weapons on offense. If he did, the Falcons would be truly scary.

Roddy White tops the NFL in receiving yards and has a solid 8 touchdowns. While he has certainly done a good job of getting open and catching the balls thrown to him (he has a 65% catch rate, which is about what you’d expect for a #1 receiver), there is one factor in his success that has been largely ignored: Roddy White’s has been the most thrown-to receiver in the league.

White has had 167 passes thrown to him, which is the most in the league. The only other player close is Reggie Wayne with 159; the next group has around 120-130 targets. The next highest Falcon receiver is Michael Jenkins, who has been thrown 56 passes this year. While Tony Gonzalez makes up for this discrepancy somewhat, the Falcons are one of the most one-dimensional pass offenses in the league, and certainly the most one-dimensional of the Super Bowl contenders.* It shows in Matt Ryan’s passing stats: White may lead the league in receiving yards, but Ryan is only 11th in passing yards.

*For fun, look at the number of passes thrown to different receivers by Drew “Tee Ball” Brees: 127 to Colston, 78 to Mighty Mite Lance Moore, 51 to Meachem, and 51 to NeverSee Henderson. Of course, the Saints throw more than the Falcons do, but even once you account for it, the Saints’ passing game is much more diverse than the Falcons.

The Saints did a pretty good job against White in the first matchup (holding him to 69 receiving yards in a game that went to overtime), and will need to do so again.

Michael Turner is a pretty good back who is having a pretty good year. He’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry, which is not particularly good for a top back. While the Saints gave up uberyardage to the good, but not great, Ray Rice last week, that was hopefully aberrational. Assuming the Saints’ defense has been appropriately shamed in practice this week, I think they should be able to contain Turner. A lot of it depends on the Saints’ offense, though: if the Falcons get an early lead and are able to keep feeding the ball to Turner, the Saints’ defensive line very well might wear out, and the matador-style tackling might return.

That was way too long’could you just give me a one-paragraph summary and prediction?

Sure. This is a more important game for the Saints, but it’s still important for the Falcons. The teams are pretty evenly matched, so the Saints should have a chance if they can take the fairweather Falcons fans out of the game early, score some points, and let the defense go to work. I’m most concerned about what will happen to the Saints if they don’t score early, and let Michael Turner become a factor. We saw how Ray Rice did under similar circumstances last week. Although it’s close, I think the Saints will win this game, based on superior quarterbacking, superior coaching, and superior experience. If so, I wonder if Roddy White will respond on Twitter?

_You can listen to Stuart each week on [The New Orleans Saints head to Atlanta this week to take on the Falcons in a game that probably isn’t as meaningful as we’d hoped it would be. Still, will this week’s bird hunting expedition be more successful than last week’s? Will the Saints be able to overcome the Falcons’ so-called home field invincibility? Will the Saints actually get the ball to their best running back this week?

It’s time for 4th and Geaux.

_Each week, I write 4th and Geaux for the good folks over at

Canal Street Chronicles. I usually try to post a rough draft here. For the final version, head to CSC on Friday mornings. This is an abbreviated 4_th and Geaux, thanks to the holidays, impending deadlines in the job that actually pays me, and a couple of other issues. Don’t worry: I’ll be back in full inanity by playoff time.

Last Week in Review

As I wrote in my game review, I felt that last week’s loss to the Ravens was actually a quasi-positive thing, as losses go. Why? Well, it comes down to expectations. If you believed that the Saints’ 10-3 record (going into last week) meant they were one of the top 3 teams in the NFL (after all, only 2 more teams had more wins than the Saints last week), then you were probably disappointed by the Saints’ performance. After all, they weren’t dominant at any point in the game, and were dominated for much of the game, especially on defense.

However, if you believed, like I did, that the Saints were closer to the middle of the NFL pack than the front, then probably saw this game as a chance for the Saints to prove their mettle against a superior opponent in a hostile, playoff-like atmosphere. In my opinion, the Saints looked pretty good considering the circumstances: while they didn’t win, they did hang with a team that is probably better than they are, and were a few breaks away from winning.

Put another way, the Saints’ performance affirmed that they are a team to be reckoned with: they can come into anyone’s stadium and give them a good game. That’s a sign of a team that, with a little luck and better execution, could put together a good playoff run, especially with the way the playoff field will likely line up this year.

Now that I think about it, I was actually more upset by several of the Saints’ victories this year (Arizona, Cincinnati, and Carolina, I’m looking your way) than I was by this loss. There’s no shame in losing a close game on the road to a superior opponent.

Now, this doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an extremely frustrating game, and one that we could have, and maybe should have, won. The offensive line was TERRIBLE at both run and pass blocking. The defense’s matador-esque tackling technique was rather ineffective. The special teams continued to be rather, uh, “special”. Despite these shortcomings, the Saints’ nearly won on the road against a Super Bowl contender. Not bad for an off week.

Sizing up the Opponent

Well, well, well, it’s Falcons time. When they met back in September, the Saints generally played well, with two glaring problems: the turnover battle (2 interceptions and a lost fumble) and special teams (The Kick Heard Round The World).

NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 26: Garrett Hartley  of the New Orleans Saints in action against the Atlanta Falcons at the Louisiana Superdome on September 26, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Please, no Hartley this time. Please.

We didn’t know at the time that the turnovers and special teams struggles would be an overture to much of what’s been frustrating about the Saints this year.

While this rematch doesn’t have the spice that it might have, there’s still plenty on the line here. This is only the third Monday Night Football game in history to feature two teams with at least 10 wins. The Saints need to win to keep ahead in the race for the critical #5 seed (which would allow them to make a trip to the NFC West in the first round of the playoffs…a valuable commodity). A win would also allow the Saints to hold on to their paper-thin hopes of winning the division.

The Falcons actually don’t need the win that badly (they need to win one more game to lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, but they face Carolina next week), but would love the opportunity to sew up the division and #1 seed while asserting themselves on a national stage by beating the defending champions. These teams are fairly well-matched: Football Outsiders and Advanced NFL Stats both have the Saints rated slightly higher than the Falcons, but Sagarin and Pro Football Reference have the Falcons rated slightly higher. This should be a fun game.

Let’s go into more detail in Statpoints.

Saints Statpoints

Saints’ offense vs. Falcons’ defense

This matchup favors the Saints. Even in this off year, the Saints have a top 10 offense in the NFL (7th according to Football Outsiders, 9th according to Advanced NFL Stats) and the Falcons are not a particularly strong defensive team. If the Saints’ offense executes, they should be able to score some points.

The Falcons are pretty balanced on defense: they’re middle-of-the-road in both passing and running defense. They do have a weakness against #1 receivers, though: they give up about 72 yards per game to #1 receivers, one of the worst rates in the league. Even if you adjust for situations, opponent strength, etc., the Falcons are still in the bottom third of the league against primary receivers. That could leave a few things open for one of the Saints’ receivers, although their offense is so diverse that it’s hard to tell which one. Lance Moore was the best receiver in the first Saints-Falcons matchup (149 yards, 2 touchdowns), but it could easily be Colston or Meachem this week.

Looking at the individual units, there are some good signs for the Saints. The Falcons’ defensive line has has only generated 25 sacks this year (which places them in the bottom 10 or so in the league). The Falcons’ d-line does better against the run (8th in the league per Football Outsiders), but their linebackers and secondary are really weak in run support, causing the Falcons to yield a below-average 4.6 yards per carry on the ground. The Saints aren’t a good running team, but if they can get a lead, the Falcons’ defense might be susceptible to clock-eating runs later in the game.

It’s not exactly offense, but special teams concerns me. The Falcons’ opponents have had the worst average starting field position in the league, and Football Outsiders rates the Falcons’ special teams as the third-best unit in the league, compared to 25th-best for the Saints*. In a game that could be close, the Saints’ poor special teams could come back to haunt them. Again.

*I recognize that field position isn’t solely a function of special teams play. However, special teams can flip the field position, making up for poor offensive or defensive performance

Saints’ defense vs. Falcons’ offense

The Falcons’ offense is a strong unit, but certainly not elite. They probably rank somewhere between the Saints’ offense and league average. Football Outsiders has them ranked 12th overall, Advanced NFL Stats has them ranked 17th overall.

There are 3 stars* on the Falcons’ offense: quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, and receiver Roddy White. Let’s look at the season that each of them is having and speculate a bit about how they match up against the Saints.

*You could make an argument for including the still-dangerous Tony Gonzalez, too. In fact, Gonzalez was the Falcons’ best receiver in the first Saints-Falcons game.

Matt Ryan is the budding star of this offense, and someone who gives me a bit of heartburn when I think about how good he might become. By any reasonable measure, Ryan’s been a top-10 quarterback this year, and he’s played a bit beyond his young age. I’m not looking forward to watching him develop. Ryan seems to have been equally good whether or not he’s being blitzed, so I’m not sure that the crazy Gregg Williams blitzy thing will work that well. Of course, Ryan’s excellence against the blitz may be a function of his offensive line: the Falcons’ sack rate (adjusted for situation) is 4th-best in the league.

Simply put, Matt Ryan is one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, and his offensive line helps keep him clean and gives him time to throw. That’s not good for the Saints, who are one of the bottom 10 teams in the league at generating pass rush. The onus will be on the secondary to cover the receivers as well as possible, hopefully creating a few turnovers while doing so. Fortunately, Ryan does not have a lot of weapons on offense. If he did, the Falcons would be truly scary.

Roddy White tops the NFL in receiving yards and has a solid 8 touchdowns. While he has certainly done a good job of getting open and catching the balls thrown to him (he has a 65% catch rate, which is about what you’d expect for a #1 receiver), there is one factor in his success that has been largely ignored: Roddy White’s has been the most thrown-to receiver in the league.

White has had 167 passes thrown to him, which is the most in the league. The only other player close is Reggie Wayne with 159; the next group has around 120-130 targets. The next highest Falcon receiver is Michael Jenkins, who has been thrown 56 passes this year. While Tony Gonzalez makes up for this discrepancy somewhat, the Falcons are one of the most one-dimensional pass offenses in the league, and certainly the most one-dimensional of the Super Bowl contenders.* It shows in Matt Ryan’s passing stats: White may lead the league in receiving yards, but Ryan is only 11th in passing yards.

*For fun, look at the number of passes thrown to different receivers by Drew “Tee Ball” Brees: 127 to Colston, 78 to Mighty Mite Lance Moore, 51 to Meachem, and 51 to NeverSee Henderson. Of course, the Saints throw more than the Falcons do, but even once you account for it, the Saints’ passing game is much more diverse than the Falcons.

The Saints did a pretty good job against White in the first matchup (holding him to 69 receiving yards in a game that went to overtime), and will need to do so again.

Michael Turner is a pretty good back who is having a pretty good year. He’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry, which is not particularly good for a top back. While the Saints gave up uberyardage to the good, but not great, Ray Rice last week, that was hopefully aberrational. Assuming the Saints’ defense has been appropriately shamed in practice this week, I think they should be able to contain Turner. A lot of it depends on the Saints’ offense, though: if the Falcons get an early lead and are able to keep feeding the ball to Turner, the Saints’ defensive line very well might wear out, and the matador-style tackling might return.

That was way too long’could you just give me a one-paragraph summary and prediction?

Sure. This is a more important game for the Saints, but it’s still important for the Falcons. The teams are pretty evenly matched, so the Saints should have a chance if they can take the fairweather Falcons fans out of the game early, score some points, and let the defense go to work. I’m most concerned about what will happen to the Saints if they don’t score early, and let Michael Turner become a factor. We saw how Ray Rice did under similar circumstances last week. Although it’s close, I think the Saints will win this game, based on superior quarterbacking, superior coaching, and superior experience. If so, I wonder if Roddy White will respond on Twitter?

You can listen to Stuart each week on][6] NFC South Report, or follow him on [Twitter][8].

[8]: http://www.twitter.com/whodat9000

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Packers' onside kick might look familiar to Saints fans

Last night, the Packers faced the dominant Patriots without Aaron Rogers, their starting quarterback. The Mike McCarthy-led Packers opened the game with an onside kick, which they recovered, setting the tone for a game that the Packers nearly won. After the jump, I’ve posted a comment that I made on another site about just why that kick might’ve looked familiar to Saints fans. And it has nothing to do with the Superbowl/Ambush onside kick.

Jump back 10 years, to the 2000 season, the first of the Haslett era. The Saints started hot, riding new free agent pickup Jeff Blake to a 7-3 start, one of the best in franchise history. The Saints hosted the Oakland Raiders in the 11th game, only to have Jeff Blake get hurt early in the game (deflating the Superdome and, I can tell you as a beer man at that game, totally killing beer sales). Blake was replaced by Aaron Brooks, an unheard of second-year player whom the Saints had acquired from the Packers for a mid-round draft pick. Brooks couldn’t do much against the Raiders, and the Saints lost to fall to 7-4. With Blake out for the season and star running back Ricky Williams sidelined, too, things looked bleak for the Saints.

ST. LOUIS - SEPTEMBER 26: Quarterback Aaron Brooks #2 of the New Orleans Saints evades defensive tackle Damione Lewis #92 of the St. Louis Rams during the game at the Edward Jones Dome on September 26, 2004 in St. Louis, Missouri. Saints defeated the Rams 28-25 in overtime. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The next week, the Saints travelled to St. Louis to face the defending champion St. Louis Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf. Nobody gave the Saints much of a chance, because there was no way that Brooks and the Saints’ offense could keep pace with Martz’s offense. Before the game started, the cameras showed Aaron Brooks in the tunnel, cracking jokes and laughing despite the burden of playing the Rams (this trait would endear him to fans for a while, and then enrage those same fans a few years later). The Saints lost the coin toss, but opened with a surprise onside kick, which they recovered. While the Saints didn’t score on that drive, it set a tone for the game and helped establish a game plan that would keep the Rams off balance, helping the Saints to a 31-24 victory, a critical one en route to the franchise’s first-ever playoff win.

The onside kick was, in many ways, the key to the game. The Saints' offensive coordinator that year? Current Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.

(should I end this with “and now you know the rest of the story”?)

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Finding some positives in the Saints' loss

The New Orleans Saints lost to a better team yesterday. The Ravens have been better all season, and were certainly better on the field yesterday. There’s no shame in losing to a better team on the road.

Coaches will tell you they don’t believe in moral victories, and that’s fine. Coaches don’t get paid for moral victories. As fans, though, we tend to watch games for signs of hope (or despair!), looking for something–anything!–that might convince us that everything will work out, and that this year just might be our year. Each game is an exercise in tea leaf reading, and we hope that fortune will favor us in the future.

So, what signs can we take from yesterday’s game? Well, most of the signs confirm what I already suspected: the Saints are not part of the “cream of the cream” in the NFL. However, there were a few things that got me excited. Look for them after the jump for a few positives from the game.

The Saints can play with the best teams in the NFL. The Saints have played a bunch of terrible teams this year, but they’ve played three teams that rank somewhere among the NFL’s best: the Falcons, the Steelers, and the Ravens. While the Saints only won one of those games (a fairly handy victory over the Steelers), they were competitive in all of them, coming within a field goal of tying the Falcons game and having a chance to drive to victory in the Ravens game.

The Saints’ competitiveness against good teams is a good sign for the playoffs, because it means they’ll have a chance to win any game. The Saints may not be the best team this year, but nobody will want to play them. They aren’t an easy “out”. If the Saints can string together a couple of excellent games, they could very easily wind up in the NFC Championship game in Atlanta, which would be both an insane experience and a total crapshoot for the NFC crown.

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 19: Fans of the New Orleans Saints cheer against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Saints 30-24. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

The Saints’ offensive diversity is trouble for defenses, even good defenses. The Saints did not have a good day, offensively. Drew Brees was harassed by the Ravens’ pass rush (a troubling sign’because the Ravens’ pass rush hasn’t been that good for most of the year), Marques Colston dropped some key passes, Robert Meachem dropped some key passes, and the running game was nonexistent. Still, because the Saints have so many offensive weapons, they were able to score 24 points against a team that was only giving up about 18 points per game. This Ravens defense isn’t the 2000 Ravens defense, but it’s still a good group.

Going Forward: Areas for improvement

So, while the Saints got outplayed by a better team yesterday, their performance showed that you can’t count them out this year. What could they have done to have won yesterday? There are a couple things that jumped out at me:

Field position was a big factor in this game. The Saints’ average drive started on their own 27, the Ravens’ started on their own 34. While 7 yards might not seem like much, the [expected value][2] of starting at your own 27 is roughly 0.75 points*. The expected value of starting on your own 34 is roughly 1 point. When you consider that each team had 12 drives, that’s a (12*0.25 = 3) 3-point difference just based on field position. In a 6-point game, that’s huge.

*That is, if you start every drive on your 27 yard line, you can expect to average about 0.75 points per drive. Obviously, you won’t score on some drives, will score on others, etc., but you’ll likely average about 0.75 points per drive.

The field position battle turns on offense, defense, and special teams, and the Saints didn’t excel in any of those phases. However, special teams is a time when a team can make up for offensive or defensive deficiencies and turn field position around, and they failed to do that. In fact, the Ravens’ average punt return was about twice as long as the Saints’ average. That hurts.

Pass protection breakdowns hindered the Saints’ offense all day. The Saints are a team that is built similar to the Colts: they’re designed to jump to an early lead and let their defense play to create turnovers. The Saints’ defense generally won’t be able to stand up to a grind-em-out type of game against a good team, and it showed yesterday. And while it’s easy to pin blame on the defense (they did yield WAY TOO MANY RUSHING YARDS), it’s like trying to blame a thoroughbred for not being able to pull a heavy load. They just aren’t made to do it.

Yesterday, the offense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Brees was under constant pressure, had trouble finding lanes against the Ravens’ huge defensive lines (did you see the batted balls yesterday?), and wasn’t able to pass the ball effectively (don’t let the high passer rating fool you). The lack of running game didn’t help, either. The Saints have to keep Brees clean if they’re going to beat good teams. They didn’t yesterday, and the offense wasn’t able to get the lead they need to allow the defense to perform.

I would probably put left tackle high on my list of offseason needs if I were in charge of the Saints. Drew Brees has made several people on the offensive line look a lot better than they actually are, and that isn’t a sustainable plan.

Regardless, I emerge from yesterday’s game feeling pretty good, but that’s because I thought the Saints would lose by 2 touchdowns. If you thought the Saints were a top-5 team in the NFL, then you were probably upset by yesterday’s game. I think the team is starting to show its colors as a good team, not elite, but one that’s capable of beating any one on any day. That may or may not a recipe for a trip to Dallas, but it sure makes for a nice Super Bowl title defense season.

[2]: http://www.advancednflstats.com/2008/08/expected-points.html

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Hidden Numbers #1: Drive Success Rate

Everyone knows that the New Orleans Saints have a dynamic offense and opportunistic defense. However, what does that really mean? Periodically, I’ll try to find a “hidden number”: some statistic or indicator that shows just where the Saints excel (or where they don’t). These things might not always be obvious, but they do contribute to wins and losses. After the jump, we’ll tackle the Saints’ penchant for having successful drives.

Successful Drives

One of the goals of football is, obviously, to score points. Another goal is to prevent the other team from scoring points. One way to achieve both of these goals simultaneously is to have sustained drives, preferably leading to points. After all, long, point-scoring drives add to your team’s score while preventing the other team from adding to their score. Not bad, eh?

One way of measuring the effectiveness of an offense at doing just that is “drive success rate”. Drive success rate, as defined by [Football Outsiders][1], is the percent chance that any set of 4 downs results in a first down or a touchdown. In other words, for each set of downs, a team is successful if it gets a first down or touchdown, and is unsuccessful if it punts, turns the ball over, or gets a field goal.

For example, if the Saints get the ball on their 20-yard line after a kickoff and run a screen to Pierre Thomas for 14 yards and a first down, that’s a success. It’s now 1st and 10 on the 34. If the Saints run the ball twice and then pass it 40 yards downfield for another 1st down, that’s another success. Now, it’s 1st and 10 at the opponents’ 20 yard line. If the Saints stall on the next set of downs, but are able to kick the field goal (obviously, I’m assuming Hartley is out), then they get 3 points, but weren’t successful on that set of downs.

So, in our example drive, the Saints’ drive success rate was 67%: they had 3 first downs, 2 of which were successful. Divide 2 successes by 3 sets of downs, and you get 67%.

Generally speaking, the more successful your offensive drives are (and the less successful your opponents’ drives are), the better your team will do.

This is an area where the Saints’ offense excels: this year, the Saints have a 74% drive success rate. That’s third in the NFL, behind the Indianapolis Colts (75.1%‘they almost always lead this category) and the New England Patriots (77.4%, which is the highest in the league since the 2008 Patriots unbelievable 81.2%). The NFL average is usually around 68 or 69%.

Looking at some of the Saints’ per-drive numbers, you’ll see they’re gread in many areas. The Saints rank near the top of the NFL in yards per drive (averaging over 36), points per drive (2.3), and touchdowns per drive (0.263), and fewest punts per drive (0.2). Simply put, the offense has been very good at moving the ball down the field.

So, why hasn’t the offense been as explosive as last year’s? Looking at the drive statistics, there are a couple of hidden indicators related to drive success. The first: interceptions. The Saints rank 31st in interceptions per drive, averaging .131 interceptions per drive. That means that, every 8 or so possessions results in an interception. That’s not so good.

The second reason is average field position. The Saints rank 23rd in starting field position, starting their average drive at about the 29 yard line. That measn means the offense often finds itself digging out of a hole. While to offense is great a digging out of holes, doing so adds a degree of difficulty makes things like throwing interceptions more likely. The Saints’ special teams really haven’t done them any favors this year.

Still, the Saints’ offense is excellent at sustaining drives, one of the best in the league. That’s one of the many reasons that they keep defensive coordinators up at night.

An earlier version of this post appeared at Canal Street Chronicles

[1]: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/drivestats

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4th and Geaux: Saints at Ravens edition

Each week, I write a column for Canal Street Chronicles called 4th and Geaux. I post the rough draft to this site; visit CSC for the final version each Friday.

__Last week, the New Orleans Saints partied like it was 2009, jumping to an early lead on offense, creating turnovers on defense, and coming away with a win in a game that never really felt close. The performance wasn’t perfect, as the offense cooled down pretty quickly after a hot start, and some of the receivers apparently forgot how to, you know, receive. Still, this was a rare Saints game this year that didn’t leave my hair looking like Roman Harper’s by the end, so I’ll take it.

This week, the Saints travel to a colder place to take on a much better team in the Baltimore Ravens. Will the Saints be able to move the ball against the Ravens’ strong-but-aging defense? Will the Saints defense be able to hold off the Ravens’ corps of aging receivers? Is any unit on the Ravens not aging?

It’s time for 4th and Geaux.

Note: This is an abbreviated 4

th and Geaux, thanks to the holidays, impending deadlines in the job that actually pays me, and a couple of other issues. Don’t worry: I’ll be back in full inanity soon.

The power of positive thinking!

Last week, I spilled gallons of virtual ink writing about how I was going to end all negative thoughts about the Saints. I went out of my way to show that this is the golden age of Saints teams, and that we should quit griping. I channeled Hamlet, sort of: “Oh, from this time forth, my thoughts be positive, or be nothing worth!”.

So, lots of positive blah blah blah last week. And guess what: it worked! The Saints had an easy victory (though one that should have been a lot easier…wait, that’s kind of negative…never mind) against the Rams. Sure, the Rams stink, but still. We haven’t had many easy victories this year, so I’ll take what I can get.

It appears that when I am in a positive mood, the Saints win. That’s much better than the week before, when I was in a negative mood and the Saints…won. Or, the week before that, when I was feeling rather dour and the Saints…won. It’s a whole lot better than the week before that, even, when I was feeling a little gassy and the Saints…won.

Hmm…seems like no matter what I do, the Saints win. Sweet!

Despite the lack of readily apparent correlation between my mood and the outcome of Saints games, I’m choosing to remain positive again this week. I am positively sure that, should the Saints offense play like they did in the second half of last week, they’ll have trouble winning the game. I am also positively sure that, if the Saints offense plays like they did in the first quarter of last week, they’ll leave Baltimore on a 7-game winning streak. The question is, which will it be? Let’s look ahead to this week to try to figure it out.

Last Week in Review

The Saints had a weird game plan last week. According to the NFL Game Book, Drew Brees threw 15 passes in the first quarter, the first 14 of which were short passes. The 15th pass was the deep touchdown to Marques Colston.

While the “swarming gnats” offense is not unusual for the Saints, I’m surprised that it took Brees so long to look downfield, especially against the Rams’ banged up secondary. Perhaps no one was open deep (wouldn’t be the first time this year), or maybe they were working the short passes to open things up downfield. Regardless, it was an interesting thing to see.

The strategy worked pretty well for the Saints, at least at first. But a funny thing happened on the way to the blowout: the Saints receivers stopped catching passes, and Drew Brees started throwing interceptions.

Coming into the Rams game, Robert Meachem led the league by catching 74% of the balls thrown his way. Lance Moore, Marques Colston, and Devery Henderson weren’t far behind. In fact, the Saints were the only team with 4 receivers catching over 60% of the balls thrown toward them.

Last week: not so much. Meachem missed all 3 of the balls thrown his way. Colston caught 5 of the 13 passes targeted for him, and NeverSee Henderson missed the single pass thrown to him. Only Lance Moore was his usual self, catching 5 of the 6 passes thrown to him.

Now, missed passes aren’t necessarily drops. They also can be the result of a crappy job by the QB. However, they are a sign of an offense that is out of sync. And it showed: last week, the Saints offense had one of their worst performances of the year according to the adjusted yards per attempt statistic: the Saints offense averaged only 2.27 aYPA. That’s not an efficient performance.

The lack of efficiency showed on the scoreboard. The Saints’ offense scored 24 points against a banged-up and crappy Rams’ defense; not a particularly great performance. If they’d been playing the Ravens’ defense, things might have gotten ugly.

But the outcome wasn’t ugly, thanks to the Saints’ defense. The defense intercepted Sam Bradford twice (including Malcolm Jenkins’ interception return for a touchdown) and sacked him 3 times, costing the Rams 49 yards. That’s a lot of yards to lose on sacks. In fact, Bradford only passed for 231 yards, so those extra yards would’ve been nice to have. Sorry ‘bout that, Sam.

In all, the Rams game reminded me a lot of last season: the offense got a lead, then sputtered a bit, only to be saved by the defense. Let’s hope the Saints continue their impression of 2009 for the next, say, 8 weeks or so.

Sizing up the Opponent

Things will be tougher for the Saints this week, as Baltimore is a significantly better team than the Rams. In fact, Baltimore is probably a better team than the Saints, especially when they’re playing in Baltimore and it’s 30 degrees outside. The Ravens’ defense is clearly better than the Saints’, even though most of the Ravens’ star players might qualify for AARP cards. The Ravens’ offense isn’t as good as the Saints’, but it’s still probably in the upper half of the league. The Ravens’ special teams has been excellent this year, one of the best 2 or 3 in the league, which is a big advantage over the Saints’ pathetic unit, especially if this game is closely contested.

Let’s go into more detail in Statpoints.

Saints Statpoints

Saints offense vs. Ravens defense

This is the key matchup in the game. The Ravens defense is predicated on a couple of things: huge d-linemen taking up space; Ray Lewis running around like a mad man, unblocked thanks to the fat boys up front; and Ed Reed making up for a suspect secondary with unparalleled ball hawking skills. This game will likely turn on how well the Saints’ can use their passing game to thwart the middle of the Ravens’ defense. It would also be nice if the Saints could get a few deep passes of against the aforementioned secondary.

The Saints should have a chance to do just that: the Ravens’ defense is in the bottom third of the league in creating sacks, which means Brees will likely have time to throw the ball. What concerns me is this: the Ravens play kind of an amorphous defense, using a hybrid scheme with a lot of zone blitzes. Since Brees has been turning the ball over like it’s pancakes this year (his last interception-free game was week 4!), the Ravens defense could have a field day if he and the receivers aren’t sharp.

Overall, though, I think you’ll see the Saints spread the ball around early, trying to take advantage of the Ravens’ secondary while keeping Ray Lewis et al. guessing and running around on ancient legs. Hopefully, this will open up the deeper passes as the game progresses.

The Saints’ offense will be able to score on almost any defense if Drew Brees has time. They’re simply too ****good and too deep to be held completely in check. However, the Ravens’ defense is still a solid group, anchored by several future Hall-of-Famers. Not only that, but I suspect that those future Hall-of-Famers will be extra-hyped this week, facing the Super Bowl champs in a game with playoff implications. The Ravens will come to play this week.

I don’t think the Saints will put up a ton of points unless they’re really playing well. They’ll probably need to score in the mid 20s to win this game, which could be tough.

Saints defense vs. Ravens offense

The Ravens run a pretty conservative scheme, even as they’re trying to become more of a passing offense. Their bevy of once-great receivers is headed by Anquan Boldin, who might be the toughest man in the NFL, and includes former Saint Donte Stallworth. This is a potentially dangerous group: Boldin and Derrick Mason are having great years (both ranked in the top 25 in Football Outsiders’ receiver stats), and Stallworth is still one of the faster receivers in the league. If offensive coordinator Cam Cameron opens up the offense a bit, and Joe Flacco has a good game, the Ravens could put some points up against the Saints defense.

So, the Saints defense would do well to get to Flacco early and often and not give him time to pass (no kidding). The Ravens’ offensive line has been rather permissive this year (ranked in the bottom third of the league in terms of giving up sacks), but I don’t have a lot of confidence that the Saints’ will be able to generate pass rush without blitzing. The key, then, will be to blitz successfully (brilliant analysis, I know), and use the havoc to create turnovers.

I haven’t mentioned the Ravens’ running game. Ray Rice, their primary runner, is a solid running back having a solid year behind a good run-blocking line. The line is particularly good at two things: (1) not letting Rice get stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage (almost every run is a positive run), and (2) opening holes for Rice on the right side of the line. Rice is also a receiving threat, so the Saints need to watch out for that.

Since points will likely be scarce for the Saints’ offense, the Saints’ defense could really do the team a favor by holding the Ravens below 20 points. I think they can do it.

Beer of the Week: Because sober analysis requires good beer

While Maryland has a couple of nice craft breweries, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to look a bit north to Milton, Delaware, home of Dogfish Head Brewery, one of the most adventurous and famous craft breweries in the country. Dogfish Head is mainly known for it’s 90-minute IPA, which is usually quite highly rated (though not my favorite). They also make a bunch of other beers, none of which I’d had before, so I thought it’d be fun to pick up a few and see how they were. So, this week, a 2-pack of reviews, and I’ll have a couple more in the can for when we meet the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

First up is Raison D’Etre, a Belgian-style ale brewed with raisins, among other things.

Raison pours a deep, dark amber-red, with a nice, whitish head that dissipates a bit too quickly. The nose is sweet and slightly alcoholic (but not too much), with dark fruits (a little raisin, but not a ton) and candied sugar. The taste is more raisin-y, and really too sweet for me, but the complexity of the taste prevents it from being cloying. The beer might benefit from being a bit more carbonated. This is a pretty heavy beer (good with strong cheeses and steak), so I could probably only drink 2 of these in a session. Overall, quite interesting, but not something I’ll stock a lot of.

Next, we have Midas Touch, which is based on the oldest known fermented beverage in the world, using a recipe allegedly found in Midas’ tomb. This isn’t a classic “beer”…in fact it’s closer to a wine. So, if you don’t like beer, but do like wine, maybe you should try this brew.

Midas pours a beautiful golden color with a white, thin head. The aroma has a strong grape juice component, enough that I was worried at first. There’s just a little grain on the smell, and a bit of honey as well. While the beer smelled like grape juice, it certainly didn’t taste that way. The taste is very un beer-like, and much closer to a wine. There are grapes and honey on the taste, with the honey really driving home on the finish. A little biscuit at the end, too, which really saves the drink for me. This is definitely not a session beer, but it’s pleasant enough, and surprisingly complex for something so sweet.

Overall, a couple of fun brews from Dogfish Head. Neither of these are going to be regulars in the Carlton household, but I’ll probably keep them on my list for occasional revisiting.

That was way too long’could you just give me a one-paragraph summary and prediction?

Sure. This will be a tough game for the Saints, because the Ravens’ defense is good despite their advancing age. The Saints will get full effort from the Ravens, who are battling the Steelers for playoff position. The Ravens’ defense does have some holes, though: they don’t generate a strong pass rush and aren’t great in the secondary (beyond Ed Reed), which means the swarming gnats offense my do us well. If this game is close, the Ravens’ superior special teams could be a problem for the Saints. Hopefully it won’t be close, but I’m afraid that it will be. So, while I’m not sure the Saints will win, I do believe they can win, especially if they play more like they did against the Steelers and less like they did against the Browns.

You can listen to Stuart each week on The Who Dat Report and the [NFC South Report][6], or follow him on Twitter.

[6]: hhtp://www.nfcsouthreport.com

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Ranking the NFC Playoff Contenders

Since the playoffs are approaching, I thought it’d be interesting to see how the NFC playoff contenders line up. After the jump, we’ll look at who those playoff contenders are and how they stack up.

NFC South

Division Leader: Atlanta Falcons

Playoff Contenders: New Orleans Saints (in division hunt and current wildcard leader), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (competing for 2nd wildcard spot)

NFC East

Division Leader: Philadelphia Eagles

Playoff Contenders: New York Giants (in division hunt and currently in second wildcard position)

NFC North

Division Leader: Chicago Bears

Playoff Contenders: Green Bay Packers (in division hunt and competing for 2nd wildcard spot)

NFC West

Division Leader: St. Louis Rams

Playoff Contenders: Seattle Seahawks (in division hunt), San Francisco 49ers (in division hunt)

While there are other teams that are mathematically still alive, the 6 NFC playoff positions will likely be filled from the 10 teams listed above.

The question is: how good are these teams? To get a consensus of opinion, I created a quick table ranking the teams relative to each other according to 4 advanced statistical measures*: Football Outsiders’ weighted DVOA (abbreviated wDVOA in the table), Advanced NFL Stats’ Generic Win Probability (GWP), Jeff Sagarin’s Pure Points Ratings (SAG), and Pro Football Reference’s [Simple Rating System (SRS)][4].

*These don’t take Thursday night’s San Francisco game into account

I calculated the average of each rating to arrive at a ranking. Taking an average isn’t perfect, because it assigns equal weight to each of the statistical measures. I don’t think the measures should be equally weighted, because I think some of them are better than others. However, the average at least gives a rough idea of the general consensus.

Team Average rank wDVOA rank GWP rank SAG rank SRS rank
Packers 1.75 3 2 1 1
Giants 2.5 1 1 4 4
Eagles 2.75 2 3 3 3
Falcons 3.75 5 6 2 2
Saints 4.75 4 5 5 5
Bears 5.75 7 4 6 6
Bucs 6.75 6 7 7 7
49ers 8.25 8 8 9 8
Rams 9 9 10 8 9
Seahawks 9.75 10 9 10 10

According to the various advanced statistics, the Packers seem to be the consensus best team in the NFL (the rankings don’t account for potential missed games by the concussed Aaron Rodgers). What’s odd about that is, if the Packers don’t win this week, they might not even make the playoffs!

It’s interesting to compare these advanced statistical rankings to the various power rankings around the web. First, let’s look at how the teams stack up in power rankings by some of the big sports websites:

Team Average ESPN SI-Banks SI-King National Football Post CBSSports.com FoxSports.com
Falcons 1.17 1 1 2 1 1 1
Saints 1.83 2 2 1 2 2 2
Eagles 3.17 3 3 3 3 4 3
Giants 4.17 4 4 4 4 5 4
Bears 5 5 6 6 5 3 5
Packers 5.67 6 5 5 6 6 6
Bucs 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Rams 8 8 8 . 8 8 8
49ers 9.2 9 9 . 9 10 9
Seahawks 9.8 10 10 . 10 9 10

Now, let’s compare the rankings between the two:

Team Statistical Ranking Human Ranking
Packers 1.75 5.67
Giants 2.5 4.17
Eagles 2.75 3.17
Falcons 3.75 1.17
Saints 4.75 1.83
Bears 5.75 5
Bucs 6.75 7
49ers 8.25 9.2
Rams 9 8
Seahawks 9.75 9.8

The biggest disagreement between the statistical measures and the power rankings were over the Packers, which the statistics liked a lot more than the humans, and the Falcons and Saints, which the humans liked a lot more than the statistics.

The humans seem much more influenced by the absolute number of wins a team has. In fact, the correlation between number of wins and average human power ranking was about 96%, compared to about a 73% correlation between the statistical rankings and win total. This could mean that the humans are unduly influenced by win totals and don’t do a good job of taking strength of schedule into account. It might also mean that the human rankings do a better job of describing how a team is doing right now, because most of the statistical measures use data from throughout the season.

I tend to favor looking at things statistically and overriding with judgment when necessary. To that end, I suspect that the Packers are not the best team in the NFC, especially given Aaron Rodgers’ uncertain situation. I do think my beloved Saints and the hated Falcons are a bit overrated, thanks to the easy schedule they’ve played.

Regardless, it’ll be fascinating to watch these playoffs. Will anyone be able to beat Atlanta in the Georgia Dome? Will the Saints be able to win in cold conditions? I can’t wait to find out.

[4]: http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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Who Dat Report Week 15

Play

Running time: approximately 47 minutes

The Who Dat Report is up for week 15, when the Saints travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens. I refrained from spending the whole time talking about The Wire: you’re welcome.

Thanks so much for listening; the show is increasing in both quality and audience size each week, and you are the number 1 reason for that.

Are you interested in helping out The Who Dat Report? You can do so in a couple of ways. The most direct way is to become a producer of The Who Dat Report by visiting http://www.whodatreport.com/support. If you don’t choose to support The Who Dat Report financially, you can still help by subscribing to the show in iTunes, rating the show in iTunes (may I recommend 5 stars?), and liking us on Facebook.

I still need to update the show notes, but I won’t be able to get to that right now. However, I had to be sure to post this picture of the fearsome Ray Lewis:

[][1]

[1]: http://www.whodatreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Ray-Lewis-Snuggie.jpg

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Saints 31, Rams 13

The Saints defense picked a good time to show up, preventing what should have been a blowout from turning into a rather embarrassing performance. Still, there’s a bit of work to do. Here’s a brief game review:

Generally speaking, the Saints dominated this game. There wasn’t much doubt that the Saints would win from the get-go. How solid was the outcome? Check out the Win Probability Graph from Advanced NFL Stats‘the Saints rarely dipped below 80% likely to win. Nice.

Digging deeper, there are a few troubling signs. After a great start, the Saints offense did not have a particularly good day, scoring only 24 points against a bottom-tier defense. The offense turned the ball over 3 times (2 interceptions and Roby’s completely understandable fumble on the kickoff return that sent him to the hospital), which severely limited their offensive efficiency.

In fact, the Saints offensive adjusted Yards Per Attempt was a meager 2.27, the second worst game of the season (behind the Cleveland game and in a virtual tie with the Arizona game). The primary reason for the low aYPA was Brees’ 2 interceptions, but his 62.5% completion percentage was a little low (for him). Brees had particular trouble hooking up with Marques Colston (who had only 5 catches of 13 passes thrown his way) and Robert Meachem (0 for 3).

These numbers are surprising: Meachem’s caught an NFL-high 74% of passes thrown to him this year, and Colston isn’t that far behind at 69%. I don’t have the game on tape, but I seem to remember a few drops. If either the Brees-Colston or Brees-Meachem combo had been better yesterday, the Saints offense likely would have had a much better day.

However, the defense covered for the offense nicely. They racked up 2 interceptions of their own (including one that Jenkins returned for a touchdown that essentially ended the game in the first half), sacked Sam Bradford 3 times, and forced a couple of fumbles. Overall, a dominating performance: they held the Rams’ punchless offense to 1.77 aYPA.

The end result: the Saints were much better than the Rams, despite having an uneven day on offense. It’s nice to play bad teams, eh?

Going Forward

All-in-all, a pretty good performance by the Saints, and the winning streak continues. I’d like to see more from our offense, especially as Reginald and Pierre Thomas get back into the swing of things. Next week, the Saints travel to Baltimore, and if the offense doesn’t play better than it played yesterday, the Ravens defense might make things unpleasant.

The Saints remain well-positioned for a playoff berth. While winning the NFC South is looking less and less likely, they remain in line to get the valuable #5 seed, which means a trip to St. Louis or Seattle for a first round playoff game. That would be nice.

While I don’t believe the Saints will beat the Ravens next week, yesterday’s win (combined with a Packers loss) helped create a little cushion in the wildcard race. Hopefully we’ll be able to earn that #5 seed and take advantage of a weak NFC West in the first round of the playoffs.

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