I thought it might be fun to go back and do a re-draft of the 2015 Saints draft.  I’ll base it all on the Career AV and other stats from pfref.com.  I’m coming into this draft with a few goals in mind: I need a pass rusher and a backup quarterback.  I also need to stock up on good young offensive and defensive linemen.  (I won’t be considering undrafted players, even though there were a few good ones, including Malcolm Butler and Willie Snead.)

Let’s start with the first pick (round 1, pick #13), which the Saints used on Andrus Peat.  (Peat is ranked #12 in Career AV, so strictly based on that, this was a very good pick.)  This was something of an emotional pick for Sean Payton, having had a long friendship with Peat’s dad.  With one of the better left tackles (Armstead) in the game and a solid performer at RT (Strief) it left a lot of fans scratching their heads (and other, even less positive reactions) when this pick was announced.

Whom should the Saints selected instead?  Well, of the players that were still available only 4 of them have better Career AV numbers to this point than Peat.  What’s more, it would have been big reaches for 2 of them: David Johnson went 86th overall and Bernardrick McKinney went 43rd overall.  The other 2 would have been reasonable picks at #13: Marcus Peters and Landon Collins.  But Peters had off the field concerns (a little matter of choking one of his coaches or some such) and the honeymoon wasn’t yet over with Kenny Vaccaro, whom the Saints had drafted 15th overall 2 years earlier in 2013, so going with Peat *was* a reasonable pick at the time.  In this hindsight 20/20 re-draft I’m going with Marcus Peters here.  He has the 4th AV  of any player in this draft and fills a big need for the team at CB.

Old pick #13: Peat, new pick #13: Marcus Peters, CB

The next pick in the first round that year (round 1, pick #31 overall), was Stephone Anthony.  (Anthony’s Career AV rank is not as bad as you might think: #52 overall.  Recall he had a decent rookie season.)  The Anthony pick hasn’t worked out, but it was a position of need.  The Saints fell in love with his measurables (height, weight, speed) and took him as the first inside linebacker in that draft.  It was a reasonable pick with the information known at the time and actually he was my personal favorite at the inside LB spot in the draft, with McKinney a close second.

There are plenty of good options here to replace the Anthony pick with.  One of them is Landon Collins, who went a couple picks later to the Giants at #33.  Another good option is a DT, Malcom Brown, who went to the Patriots a pick later at #32.  I’m sticking with the need of a good inside linebacker and going with Bernardrick McKinney, who went at #43 to the Texans.

Old pick #31: Stephone Anthony, new pick #31: Bernardrick McKinney, LB.

Next pick for the Saints came in round 2 (round 2, #44 overall) with pass rusher Hau’oli Kikaha.  His Career AV ranking is #103, not good for a player selected at #44.  Kikaha has been injured much of his career, so you might want to give the Saints some slack because of that, but considering his injury history in college (2 ACL’s) most fans will be uninclined to do so.

Saints had some good options here at #44.  The Vikings took Eric Kendricks at #45.  Kendricks’ Career AV is #19, which would have been a very solid pick at #44, but seeing as how I’m already going with McKinney at #31, I’m not going ILB again here.   I need linemen in this draft.   I’m going with Mitch Morse, the Guard Kansas City took a few picks later at 49th overall.  Morse has a Career AV of 15, which puts him at 14th best, and since I won’t be taking future guard Peat, I think it makes sense to take Morse here instead.

Old pick #44: Hau’oli Kikaha, new pick #44: Mitch Morse, OG.

Next pick for the Saints: Garrett Grayson at #75.  The Grayson pick hasn’t worked out, but most 3rd round quarterbacks don’t work out.  Some do, and I think it made sense to try to get one at that spot, but I’m not making the same mistake in my hindsight 20/20 draft.  I know the Saints need defense, and I already have some good solid picks in Peters and McKinney, but I still need a pass rusher.  I’m rolling with the 2nd best sack performer in this draft even though it goes against Saints culture to draft an LSU player, I’m going with Danielle Hunter here at #75.  Hunter has 18.5 sacks, 2nd only to Vic Beasley in this draft.

Old pick #75: Garrett Grayson, new pick #75: Danielle Hunter, DE

Three picks later the Saints took PJ Williams with the 78th pick.  The jury is still out on PJ, but the reality is the Saints haven’t gotten much production out of this pick yet, due to injuries.  Plus, I’ve already hit paydirt with Marcus Peters in this draft.  I’m going to instead go with the #1 best player in this entire draft here with the 78th pick: David Johnson.  It’s not a position of need necessarily, but he’s just too good to pass up here.  Cardinals originally got him at #86 in the steal of the draft, but I’m swooping in and grabbing him at #78.

Old pick #78: Garrett Grayson, new pick #78: David Johnson

Next up for the Saints: Davis Tull in the 5th round, #148 overall.  The Tull pick has been a complete bust, not making that same mistake again.  I’ve got some options here.  The Dolphins would take Jay Ajayi with the very next pick at #149, but I already have David Johnson and Mark Ingram.  I’d love to take Stefon Diggs, but he was snatched up a couple picks earlier at #146.   I’m going to go with David Parry, NT out of Stanford here.  He’s going to fit nicely into my defensive rotation on the line.

Old pick #148: Davis Tull, new pick #148 David Parry, NT

Next up, Tyeler Davison, whom the Saints took at #154 in the 5th round.  Love this pick and I’m sticking with it, despite already taking a DT just a few picks earlier.  I’m stocking up on young D-Linemen in this draft.

Old pick #154: Tyeler Davison, new pick #154: Tyeler Davison.

Next up, Saints took Damian Swann at #167.  I already have my stud CB, and Swann hasn’t really worked out, partly due to injuries, but I’m looking at some other options here instead.  I’m continuing to stock up on young linemen, this time taking Denzelle Good, Offensive Tackle, out of Mars Hill, whom the Colts took at #255.  Maybe he’s not beating out Strief or Armstead, (or maybe he does) but he gives me some good depth at the Tackle spot at the very least (has started 15 games for the Colts).

Old pick #167: Damian Swann, new pick #167: Denzelle Good, OT

In their final pick (7th round, #230 overall) of the 2015 draft the Saints took Marcus Murphy, which hasn’t work out.  I’m going with the backup quarterback I won’t have now that I’ve elected to not take Grayson in the 3rd.  I’m going with Trevor Siemian, current Broncos starter.  Broncos originally got him with the 250th overall pick, but I don’t feel like I’m reaching taking him here at #230.  Could be my quarterback of the future, but will give me a solid backup in the meantime.

Old pick #230: Marcus Murphy, new pick #230: Trevor Siemian, QB

So, there you have it, my hindsight 20/20 2015 Saints draft do-over.  I might not look good coming out of this draft, but in a couple years I’ll be looking like a stinking genius.  I’ve got my shutdown CB in Marcus Peters, my inside LB in Bernardrick McKinney, a couple good young offensive linemen in Mitch Morse and Denzelle Good, my stud pass rusher in Danielle Hunter, a great RB in David Johnson, a couple good young defensive linemen in David Parry and Tyeler Davison, and a good young backup QB in Trevor Siemian.  The only holdover is Tyeler Davison.  Andrus Peat was a solid pick, too, but I have an even better option on the board with Marcus Peters.

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If you’re thinking the title of this post refers to 2 plays that might have changed the outcome of a game or games, think again.  Saints were never 1 play or 2 plays away from winning in either game this season.  No, the 2 plays the title refers to are the 2 plays the Saints have run so far this season with a lead on the scoreboard.  All stats from pfref.com.

The Saints have run a total of 2 plays with the lead this year, but neither play was an offensive play, they were both kickoffs and both from week 1.  The Saints took a 3-0 lead over the Vikings, and then kicked off.  After that, they took a 6-3 lead, and then kicked off.  That’s it.  Those are the 2 plays.  The Saints have run 149 plays all together, regardless of the scoreboard margin.  147 of them, if we do the math, were run when the score was either tied or when the Saints were trailing.  Of these 149 plays, there were 84 passes (including 2 sacks), 38 rushes, 6 punts, 9 kickoffs, 2 onside kicks, 7 field goals, 3 extra points, and a crawfish in a fig tree.

To put this into context, in 2009, by the time the books were closed on the 2nd game of the year the Saints had run 132 plays with the lead in those games.  In case you’re wondering, no, the Saints do not have the fewest plays run with a lead in 2017, that honor goes to San Francisco, who only has 1 play run with a lead so far.  Miami only has 7 plays run with the lead, but Miami has only played 1 game.  (Oh, and they won that game.)

It just feels different this year.  In those other years there were plays here, plays there, that you could write off as fluke plays that cost the team the game.  We all remember all too well the blocked field goals and PAT’s from last year that cost the Saints up to 3 games, maybe less, but maybe 3 games.  And there were gray area calls by the officials we might reasonably question that maybe cost a win here or there.  A loose ball bounces to the other team instead of to one of your guys.  Maybe you get an inopportune penalty or something.  That kind of thing, close games where you lose, but you can point to a play here, a player there, and wonder what might have been *if* that play had gone the other way for you.  Not this year.

Can the Saints turn things around?  It’s certainly possible.  On paper, (if we could just get a paper field installed in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome…) the Saints have some good players.  Brees could get hot and the defense could actually start figuring out some of their assignments, maybe even stop running into each other, anything is possible.  But the Saints need to get it into gear.  History shows Tom Benson makes changes when he starts seeing empty seats in the stadium.  In the NFL you have 2 things you can sell to your fans: wins, and the hope for wins.  Right now the Saints have neither to offer.

All stats from @PFREF.

It was kind of an unusual game in that there weren’t many drives.  Saints had 9 drives, Vikings had 8 drives.  Part of this was neither team had a turnover in the game, and part of it was neither defense did a great job stopping the other team between the 20’s.  Saints had 19 first downs (14 passing, 3 rushing, 2 via penalties), which was very average, but then this Saints offense is a very average one on the road.  Vikings had 23 first downs (14 passing, 5 rushing, and 4 via penalties).  (Touchdowns also count as 1st downs.)  For comparisons sake, average team last year had 20.25 1st downs per game.

Average drive length was 3:35 for the Saints and 3:28 for the Vikings, both figures in the top 5 for the week.  In 2016, the average length of the average drive was only 2:39 and the average team had 11.4 drives per game.  So, because of the lengths of the drives in this game (and no turnovers) the teams had about 3 fewer drives each as compared to the average game last year.

Yet, despite the lack of possessions, both offenses were able to put up some pretty decent numbers.  Yards per play numbers are top 5 for both teams.  Vikings put up 470 yards of offense, Saints 344.  (Average team had 350.4 yards per game in 2016).  So, the Saints total yardage numbers were slightly below average while the Vikings put up some monster numbers.

Scoring percentage tells us what percentage of drives ended in some kind of a score (can be either TD or FG).  Vikings led the league in week 1 with a 66.7% scoring percentage.  But the Saints, surprisingly, were 2nd best with 62.5%.  Oakland was the only other team over 60% and Dallas the only other team over 50%, to put those numbers into perspective.  The problem the Saints had wasn’t in scoring percentage, it was in settling for field goals instead of getting touchdowns.

Plays per drive, the Saints had 7.9, the Vikings 7.2, both of which were top 5 for the week.  The Saints offense was able to sustain drives, but was unable to seal the deal in the redzone.

Yards per drive, the Vikings (not surprisingly) led the league with 52.2 yards per drive.  But the Saints (surprisingly) were 3rd best at 43.0.  (In 2016, the average drive length was 30.6 yards.)

Points per drive, the Vikings led the league with 3.33 points per drive, the Saints had 2.38, good enough for 5th best in week 1.

I should point out there was a drive near the end of the game where the Vikings basically gave up a lot of easy underneath completions.  They were in a prevent type defense and were content to let the Saints march down the field while keeping them in bounds and letting the clock run.  It’s called winning the football game.  This is the drive where the Saints got their only touchdown.  They tried an onside kick, which didn’t work, and the Vikings ran out the clock on the next drive.  Vikings no doubt would have scored again had they wanted/needed to, and I think it’s safe to say they could have kept the Saints out of the end zone had they wanted/needed to.  Just trying to keep it real.

There was also the Vikings’ drive near the end of the first half where the Saints strategically used their timeouts to try to get the ball back.  The strategy backfired when the Saints defense failed to hold on 3rd and short, and the Vikings went on to score a touchdown.  Bad strategy?  Good strategy that just didn’t work that time?  I don’t know, to be honest.  I just know it didn’t work.  Vikings almost certainly would have been content to just run the clock out in that situation backed up at their own 5 with 1:35 remaining.

I’m not here to blast Payton for the strategy because I actually think there could be some merit in it.  I’m just saying without that unorthodox strategy, the numbers would have been different in this game.  Still likely would have been a loss because, quite frankly, the Saints were outclassed.  Next time might be different, but in that game they were clearly the inferior team.  Maybe that was really the Saints’ only chance to win, gamble on getting a stop and maybe get another field goal before the end of the half.  Had it worked, would have been a 10-point swing (-7 for Vikings, +3 for Saints) in a game that ended up decided by 10 points.  Desperate times calling for desperate measures, and all of that.  But the Saints were only down by 4 at the time, so…

I think it would be interesting to do a statistical analysis of that strategy, but unfortunately the drive finder query tool at pfref is not filtering out 3rd and 4th quarter drives, making it difficult to figure out exactly what the percentages were in getting the ball at your own 5 with 1:35 left on the clock in the 2nd quarter.

The Saints offense did not look good against Minnesota in week 1.  The final numbers weren’t horrible by any stretch, but there was some garbage time stats padding going on in that 4th quarter when the Vikings were basically conceding the underneath stuff.  I’ve analyzed garbage time stats padding in the past, so go back and read some of those posts if you’re interested in my take on it.  I’ll probably revisit this topic again at some point.

But what I wanted to write about today is how the Saints offense is a different offense on the road versus playing at home.   Let’s look at a few stats from pfref.com.

New Orleans Saints offensive drive outcomes 2012-2016, home versus away games

home games away games
Outcome Total Pct Outcome Total Pct
Touchdown 147 34.30% Touchdown 107 24.50%
Punt 146 34.00% Punt 171 39.10%
Field Goal 49 11.40% Field Goal 58 13.30%
Interception 32 7.50% Interception 43 9.80%
Fumble 17 4.00% Fumble 20 4.60%
Missed FG 17 4.00% Missed FG 9 2.10%
Downs 10 2.30% Downs 16 3.70%
End of Half 6 1.40% End of Half 6 1.40%
End of Game 3 0.70% End of Game 5 1.10%
Safety 1 0.20% Safety 0 0.00%
Blocked FG 1 0.20% Blocked FG 2 0.50%
All Turnovers 49 11.40% All Turnovers 63 14.40%
All Scores 196 45.70% All Scores 165 37.80%
Games 40 Games 40
Drives 429 Drives 437
Yards 16698 Yards 15600
Time 1203:41:00 Time 1211:56:00
Plays 2697 Plays 2746
Yds/Drive 38.92 Yds/Drive 35.7
Time/Drive 02:48:00 AM Time/Drive 02:46:00 AM
Plays/Drive 6.3 Plays/Drive 6.3
Avg Start Own 26.8 Avg Start Own 25.9
Avg Score Up by .5 Avg Score Down by 3

The above table shows the drive outcomes, home games on the left, road games on the right.  Just to clarify what is being presented, 147 drives ended in TD’s in home games (34.3%), but only 107 drives ended in TD’s in road games (24.5%).  That’s 40 more TD’s scored in home games than in road games despite having only 429 drives at home versus having 437 drives on the road.  Clearly, the Saints are far more efficient at scoring TD’s in home games than they are in away games.

Entire NFL offensive drive outcomes 2012-2016, home versus away games

home games away games
Outcome Total Pct Outcome Total Pct
Punt 5880 40.90% Punt 6197 42.80%
Touchdown 3220 22.40% Touchdown 2828 19.50%
Field Goal 2137 14.90% Field Goal 2091 14.40%
Interception 1139 7.90% Interception 1132 7.80%
Fumble 682 4.70% Fumble 694 4.80%
Downs 472 3.30% Downs 588 4.10%
Missed FG 357 2.50% Missed FG 358 2.50%
End of Half 262 1.80% End of Half 272 1.90%
End of Game 137 1.00% End of Game 197 1.40%
Blocked Punt 30 0.20% Safety 53 0.40%
Safety 26 0.20% Blocked Punt 41 0.30%
Blocked FG 21 0.10% Blocked FG 32 0.20%
Fumble, Safety 2 0.00% Fumble, Safety 9 0.10%
All Turnovers 1821 12.70% All Turnovers 1826 12.60%
All Scores 5357 37.30% All Scores 4919 33.90%
Games 1280 Games 1280
Drives 14365 Drives 14492
Yards 455195 Yards 433350
Time 38200:33:00 Time 37941:24:00
Plays 83420 Plays 83387
Yds/Drive 31.69 Yds/Drive 29.9
Time/Drive 02:39:00 AM Time/Drive 02:37:00 AM
Plays/Drive 5.8 Plays/Drive 5.8
Avg Start Own 28.4 Avg Start Own 27.9
Avg Score Up by .1 Avg Score Down by 2.7

There are some interesting numbers here when comparing the Saints offense to the rest of the league averages.  Saints road TD% is higher than the average home TD% — 24.5% versus 22.4%.  That’s remarkable to me, but even though it’s better than average on the road, it’s still even much more effective at home — 34.3%.

Another interesting comparison is INT%.  Saints are *less* likely to have an INT end a drive at home (7.5%) than the average team (7.9%), but *more* likely to have an INT on the road (9.8%) than the average team (7.8%).

The offense did not look very good against Minnesota, but we’ve seen some offensive stinkers in the past, particularly in road games.  I personally think the offense will be just fine this year.  It’s the defense that worries me more than the offense.  We’ll know more after next week.

Is there an advantage to deferring?  Should you try to get the ball first to start the game?  Is it a wash?  That’s the question I try to answer in this post.  All stats are from pfref.com.

My favorite NFL stats site has a great query tool for looking up information, but unfortunately they don’t include an option as to whether the team that won the coin toss elected to take the ball or to defer, so I had to try to come up with a cleverer query in order to select only those drives where the team took the opening kickoff (either by the other team deferring or winning the toss and electing to take the ball).

The query

Using the drive finder query tool at http://pfref.com/tiny/grcC2 I tried to narrow down the drives to only those that meet the following criteria:

  1. It was the team’s first drive of the game.
  2. The ball was acquired via kickoff.
  3. The score was tied.
  4. The drive started in the 1st quarter.
  5. The drive ended in the 1st quarter or 2nd quarter.
  6. Time remaining was 14:45 or greater.

My thinking is

#1 above would narrow it down considerably and speed up the search.

#2 above would exclude drives that started because of any of the following:

Downs, Interception, Punt, Blocked FG, Missed FG, Fumble, Muffed Punt, Blocked Punt, Onside kick, Own kickoff, or Muffed kickoff.

#3 above would narrow the scope of the search.

#4 above would eliminate drives that started with the 3rd quarter opening kickoff.

#5 above would also eliminate 2nd half drives

#6 narrows it down to kickoffs at the beginning of the quarter, but allows for time spent during the kick return or in the event of re-kicking because of a penalty.

Problems with the query

Using that query, we get a total of 4512 games (from 1999-2016) in which the team ended up taking the opening kickoff.  Let’s examine what the results mean before we break it down into wins, losses, and ties.  We only get drives (and hence games) in which the team received the opening kickoff (inferring they would be kicking off in the 2nd half), but what we don’t get are those games where opening kickoff was an onside kick, or where the opening kickoff was muffed or fumbled, or where the kicking team recovered their own kickoff (receiving team failed to field the kickoff or even touch it even though it wasn’t an onside kick).  So, we’re missing some of the games in this type of a query, and problematically, those missing games are those where the team that should have gotten the ball to start the game didn’t get the ball and yet still had to kickoff to start the 2nd half.

Query results

Now that I’ve totally confused you, let’s see how those 4512 games went for those teams taking the 1st quarter kickoff.  Of those 4512 games the team getting the opening kickoff (and not getting tricked with onside kicks or failing to cover the kickoff, or muffing/fumbling it), won 2219, lost 2286, and tied 7.  That makes the record 2219-2286-7 (.493) for teams that take the opening kickoff.  It’s a losing record, but only by 0.7%, which could be within the margin of error.

Margin of error

What do I mean by “margin of error”?  Well, I mean even if you flip a fair coin 5000 times you can’t expect to get *exactly* 2500 heads and 2500 tails.  It can vary from that result and yet still be within a reasonable distance of 50%.  In this case, the result was 49.3% wins, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a statistical advantage for always deferring to take the ball in the 2nd half.

The plot thickens

I put together a simple computer simulation in which the computer simulates flipping a count 4505 times (this ignore the 7 ties in the 4512 games, 4512-7 = 4505) to see how often and by what amount the expected result of 4505 / 2 = 2252.5 heads differs from the actual results in those trials.  We would expect 2252.5 wins (+/- 0.5), but we actually got 2219 wins, a difference of 33.5.  How common is a difference of 33.5 or more in 10,000 trials of flipping a coin 4505 times each trial?  Glad you asked, even if you didn’t.  Take a look at the following plot:

deferring plot (10000 trials)

The above plot was produced by simulating the random flipping of a fair coin 4505 times per trial for 10,000 trials.  Each little dot represents the amount by which the number of heads in each trial differed from the expected amount (2252.5).  So, for example, roughly in the middle of the plot at the bottom is an outlier where on that particular trial of 4505 flips we had about 140 fewer heads than would have been expected, but this is the extreme outlier among 10,000 trials.

Recall that the actual difference in the expected number of wins versus the actual number of wins was 33.5, which falls well within the dark band in the middle of the plot between I’m gonna say -35 and +35.

For those interested, the above plot was produced with the following Mathematica 5.1 code:

flip[] := Random[Integer, 1];
doFlips[trials_] := Block[{results = {}, heads = 0},
      
      results = {};
      Do[
        heads = 0;
        Do[
            heads += flip[];
            , {ii, 1, 4505}]
          AppendTo[results, heads - 2252.5];
        , {jj, 1, trials}];
      
      Return[results];
      ];
];

ListPlot[doFlips[10000]]

Conclusion

I’m going to conclude there is no statistical advantage to deferring.  Even though the teams that took the opening kickoff (either didn’t defer or the other team deferred) only won about 49.3% of the time, that falls well within the margin of error for this sample size (4512 games).

I’ve been curious to try to figure out how to compare Brees’ winning percentage to other quarterbacks, adjusted for the quality (or lack thereof) of his supporting defense.  I’m a Saints fan, but I also try to keep it real.  I fully realize and acknowledge the fact that the Saints defense in recent years has been, well, lacking.  (I’m being generous.)

What do I mean my “defensive support”?  Glad you asked (even if you didn’t).  Defenses can support their quarterback by doing things like stopping the other team from driving up and down the field (total yards allowed), keeping teams out of the end zone (points allowed), and forcing turnovers to get the ball back to the quarterback (defensive takeaways).  But in trying to come up with a single metric or formula to put all of those factors in and have it spit out a single value I realized it was going to be subjective.  For example, how much weight should be given to yards allowed versus turnovers forced versus points allowed?  Should they be given equal weight?  Should points allowed trump all the others?  In the end, I’ve decided to come up with 3 different rankings, show what they are, and let the reader use critical thinking (and provide my own thoughts to the results).

All stats used in this blog entry are courtesy of my go to site for NFL stats, pfref.com.   If you’d like to keep up with my ramblings and musings, be sure to subscribe to this blog here on wordpress, so you can get the posts in your e-mail inbox.  That’s the best way to keep up with it, or you can also follow me on Twitter (@mean__mark — two underscores because somebody else already had the single underscore).

All the data in the following table is for years 2006-2016, which is 11 years worth of stats.  I chose those years because that’s when Brees came to New Orleans.  Not that many quarterbacks playing today were around in 2006.  Brady, (Eli) Manning, and Rivers come to mind, but just about everybody else started playing after that.  Rodgers became the starter in Green Bay in 2008.  This is really Brees compared to the rest of the league as much as anything, although fairly direct comparisons can be made with other long time starters.

First, let’s show all the data sorted by total yards allowed (most to least) over the span of these 11 seasons.

Most Yards Allowed (2006-2016)

Points opponent defensive
Rk Tm W-L% allowed total yards takeaways
1 CLE 0.295 4097 63463 265
2 NOR 0.574 4202 63136 249
3 DET 0.375 4462 62782 270
4 ATL 0.545 3940 62610 285
5 OAK 0.352 4433 61986 253
6 STL / LAR 0.31 4245 61761 268
7 WAS 0.406 4128 61534 243
8 KAN 0.46 3787 61533 283
9 TEN 0.46 4080 61295 270
10 BUF 0.415 4041 61019 286
11 TAM 0.381 4137 60997 300
12 IND 0.636 3937 60969 262
13 NYG 0.545 4034 60863 312
14 JAX 0.347 4226 60685 237
15 MIA 0.438 3867 60517 244
16 CHI 0.494 3948 60270 327
17 DAL 0.574 3937 60054 264
18 NWE 0.784 3307 59953 327
19 PHI 0.537 3946 59905 297
20 GNB 0.651 3756 59833 318
21 ARI 0.52 3976 59785 319
22 SFO 0.48 3765 59284 276
23 MIN 0.491 3860 58538 275
24 SDG 0.551 3820 58527 281
25 CIN 0.526 3652 58480 298
26 DEN 0.585 3982 58425 268
27 CAR 0.514 3814 58211 312
28 HOU 0.5 3889 57705 257
29 SEA 0.56 3435 56717 292
30 NYJ 0.477 3795 55924 263
31 BAL 0.585 3346 54685 295
32 PIT 0.631 3288 53277 269

So, we see the Saints have allowed the most total yards of any team except for the Browns over the past 11 years.  But take note of the Saints’ winning percentage compared to the rest of the teams that have experienced similar defensive woes.  Saints and Falcons are the only 2 teams in the “top 10” with winning records.  Now, let’s do the same thing with points allowed.

Most Points Allowed (2006-2016)

Points opponent defensive
Rk Tm W-L% allowed total yards takeaways
1 DET 0.375 4462 62782 270
2 OAK 0.352 4433 61986 253
3 STL / LAR 0.31 4245 61761 268
4 JAX 0.347 4226 60685 237
5 NOR 0.574 4202 63136 249
6 TAM 0.381 4137 60997 300
7 WAS 0.406 4128 61534 243
8 CLE 0.295 4097 63463 265
9 TEN 0.46 4080 61295 270
10 BUF 0.415 4041 61019 286
11 NYG 0.545 4034 60863 312
12 DEN 0.585 3982 58425 268
13 ARI 0.52 3976 59785 319
14 CHI 0.494 3948 60270 327
15 PHI 0.537 3946 59905 297
16 ATL 0.545 3940 62610 285
17 IND 0.636 3937 60969 262
18 DAL 0.574 3937 60054 264
19 HOU 0.5 3889 57705 257
20 MIA 0.438 3867 60517 244
21 MIN 0.491 3860 58538 275
22 SDG 0.551 3820 58527 281
23 CAR 0.514 3814 58211 312
24 NYJ 0.477 3795 55924 263
25 KAN 0.46 3787 61533 283
26 SFO 0.48 3765 59284 276
27 GNB 0.651 3756 59833 318
28 CIN 0.526 3652 58480 298
29 SEA 0.56 3435 56717 292
30 BAL 0.585 3346 54685 295
31 NWE 0.784 3307 59953 327
32 PIT 0.631 3288 53277 269

The above table shows the Saints have allowed the 5th most points of any team over the last 11 seasons.  Yet, again, which other team in that “top 10” has a winning record?  None.  Up next: defensive takeaways.

Fewest Defensive Takeaways (2006-2016)

Rk Tm W-L% allowed total yards takeaways
Points opponent defensive
1 JAX 0.347 4226 60685 237
2 WAS 0.406 4128 61534 243
3 MIA 0.438 3867 60517 244
4 NOR 0.574 4202 63136 249
5 OAK 0.352 4433 61986 253
6 HOU 0.5 3889 57705 257
7 IND 0.636 3937 60969 262
8 NYJ 0.477 3795 55924 263
9 DAL 0.574 3937 60054 264
10 CLE 0.295 4097 63463 265
11 STL / LAR 0.31 4245 61761 268
12 DEN 0.585 3982 58425 268
13 PIT 0.631 3288 53277 269
14 DET 0.375 4462 62782 270
15 TEN 0.46 4080 61295 270
16 MIN 0.491 3860 58538 275
17 SFO 0.48 3765 59284 276
18 SDG 0.551 3820 58527 281
19 KAN 0.46 3787 61533 283
20 ATL 0.545 3940 62610 285
21 BUF 0.415 4041 61019 286
22 SEA 0.56 3435 56717 292
23 BAL 0.585 3346 54685 295
24 PHI 0.537 3946 59905 297
25 CIN 0.526 3652 58480 298
26 TAM 0.381 4137 60997 300
27 NYG 0.545 4034 60863 312
28 CAR 0.514 3814 58211 312
29 GNB 0.651 3756 59833 318
30 ARI 0.52 3976 59785 319
31 CHI 0.494 3948 60270 327
32 NWE 0.784 3307 59953 327

The above table is sorted by defensive takeaways, from least to most, so the “top 10” is really the “bottom 10”, just as is the case in the all the above tables (hence the quotation marks).  We see, yet again, the Saints defense coming up short.  They have the 4th fewest takeaways of any team in the league over the last 11 years (and this is with the amazing turnover-forcing takeaway-machine of a defense they had in 2009).  Only, this time there are 3 teams (Dallas, Indy, and New Orleans) with winning records in that “top 10”.  Not surprisingly, all 3 teams have had good quarterback play with Manning/Luck, Romo/Prescott, and Brees.

Conclusion

I think it’s safe to say there’s a strong case to be made for Brees’ effectiveness as a winner of games despite not getting much help out of his defense.   The Saints have allowed the 2nd most yards, but still managed a winning record (something only 2 of the teams with the 10 most yards allowed were able to do).  And when you look at points allowed, the Saints were the *only* team among the 10 worst defenses to have a winning record.  That speaks volumes for how this offense has been carrying this team.  And in the final stat, defensive takeaways, we see more of the same.  Saints have 4th fewest takeaways, and are the only team in that bottom 5 of that category with a winning record (and 1 of only 3 teams in that bottom 10 with a winning record).  This is doing more with less personified, in my humble (biased) opinion.

I’ve always thought Brees did a really good job spreading the ball around, but recently a fellow fan gave his opinion that Brees… well, I’ll just quote it here:

“2.) Drew Brees has a habit of throwing to the same guy over and over again. He did it when he had Jimmy Graham. When Cooks and Fleener wasn’t catching the ball cause of bump and run coverage – he kept throwing to Snead. ”  — fellow die hard Saints fan

I’m not picking on my fellow fan, I just wanted to try to get to the facts as to which of us was right.  So often in the modern world (and probably was the case in the ancient world, too) perception does not match reality.  Is that the case here?  Let’s look at the data.  (All stats from pfref.com.)

I decided to test this by taking the receiver with the most receiving yards that year and dividing that by the quarterback’s passing yards to find out what percentage of his passing yardage went to his top target.  The lower that percentage, the better that quarterback is at spreading the ball around.  It’s not a perfect way of doing it, but it’s relatively easy to do.  (This is just a somewhat random sampling of some of the better quarterbacks, not an exhaustive list, and not necessarily the leaders in this stat.)

Quarterback (2016) Passing Yards Top Receiver Yards Percentage
Brees 5208 1173 0.2252304147
Prescott 3667 833 0.2271611672
Stafford 4377 1077 0.2460589445
Mariota 3426 945 0.2758318739
Rodgers 4428 1257 0.2838753388
Ryan 4944 1409 0.2849919094
Carr 3937 1153 0.2928625857
Brady 3554 1106 0.3111986494
Roethlisberger 3819 1284 0.3362136685
Luck 4240 1448 0.341509434
Brees 2011 5476 1310 0.2392257122
Brees 2012 5177 1154 0.2229090207
Brees 2013 5162 1215 0.2353738861
Brees 2014 4952 931 0.1880048465
Brees 2015 4870 1138 0.2336755647

What the above table shows is Brees is actually the best in the business at spreading the ball around.  His top receiver only accounted for 22.5% of his passing yards in 2016.  The only player who came close to that was Dak Prescott (but Dez Bryant was hampered by injuries) at 22.7%. (Beasley was actually their yardage leader.)

Note also at the bottom of the table I have Brees’ numbers from the previous 5 seasons, just in case 2016 was an aberration.  Even in Jimmy Graham’s biggest years (2011 and 2013) Brees was still only going to him for 23.5% and 23.9% of his passing yards.  Even in those years that percentage is below 24%, which none of the quarterbacks in the study in 2016 could match (except for Prescott, and Stafford comes close).

I only included a sampling of what I thought were the top quarterbacks in 2016.  It could be Rivers or Wilson or somebody else was even better than Brees at spreading the ball around, but the goal here was to see whether Brees was locking in on his top receiver too much, as opposed to whether he was the best in the business at spreading the ball around.  I think the sampling of quarterbacks used in this study is sufficient to show Brees has *not* been forcing the ball to his top receiver.

NFL percent of passing yardage to top target

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