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.

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