What are garbage time stats?  It’s when Team A has the game won in the 4th quarter, drops back their defenders deep down the field to prevent the type of big play that would let Team B back into the game, all the while conceding relatively short gains.  The idea here is you don’t get beat with big chunk plays.  Instead, you allow the short completions, and then come up and try to make the tackle in bounds.  Team B might go down and eventually get a score, but Team A wins the game by forcing Team B to use up too much clock.

Some critics have accused the Saints offense of getting a lot of garbage time stats.  While there is merit in the notion that the Saints offense is the beneficiary of these types of stats, I wanted to see a comparison of the Saints offense to the rest of the league while the game was still on the line.  Using the play finder tool at pfref.com, I was able to filter out all 4th quarter plays.  *All* the stats in this post will be from 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarter *only* from the 2016 season.  By eliminating 4th quarter stats, we eliminate the chances of garbage time stats skewing the data.  (There’s not enough data yet to do this for 2017, only 2 games at the time of this writing.)

Offensive plays 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarters, 2016

Tm Plays Yds/Play 1st% TO% TD FG 1D
ATL 978 5.45 30.0% .4% 47 27 293
DAL 899 5.11 28.6% .7% 37 18 257
NOR 972 5.06 26.5% .7% 35 21 258
CHI 819 5.01 25.8% 1.7% 22 13 211
WAS 905 4.99 25.0% .8% 27 24 226
TEN 907 4.88 24.1% .8% 35 12 219
NWE 989 4.81 25.0% .2% 42 17 247
KAN 874 4.71 23.7% .7% 27 14 207
GNB 947 4.7 25.0% .5% 35 18 237
SDG 918 4.67 25.4% 1.3% 37 18 233
PIT 904 4.66 23.6% 1.4% 27 19 213
MIA 845 4.64 22.8% 1.3% 29 12 193
IND 926 4.57 24.9% 1.2% 29 22 231
BUF 908 4.57 24.6% .3% 32 15 223
CIN 954 4.52 24.7% .4% 29 21 236
SEA 892 4.47 22.5% .9% 25 23 201
DET 878 4.46 25.4% .5% 23 18 223
TAM 963 4.45 24.2% 1.3% 26 18 233
OAK 948 4.39 21.9% .5% 29 24 208
NYJ 886 4.36 22.0% 1.4% 19 18 195
ARI 954 4.27 24.0% .7% 32 15 229
PHI 939 4.26 24.4% 1.2% 25 21 229
CLE 869 4.21 22.3% .9% 20 18 194
BAL 985 4.19 21.9% 1.1% 20 29 216
NYG 906 4.17 21.2% .8% 23 15 192
MIN 882 4.16 22.6% .3% 18 20 199
CAR 975 4.13 22.4% 1.2% 28 22 218
JAX 954 4.08 21.4% 1.2% 19 22 204
DEN 884 4.03 19.8% .9% 18 16 175
SFO 905 3.99 21.5% .7% 23 14 195
HOU 921 3.71 20.5% 1.5% 16 22 189
LAR 863 3.67 18.9% 1.5% 15 15 163

The above table gives us the offensive plays (but also includes kickoffs, field goals, extra points, punts, and 2-point tries in addition to the rushing and passing plays).  It was sorted according to yards per play.  The Saints offense had the 3rd best yards per play average in 2016.  They were also 3rd best in terms of the 1st%, which is the percentage of those plays that were first downs (or touchdowns).  In TD’s, Saints were 5th best, and in 1st downs, 2nd best.  Again, these are all 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarter stats.  No garbage time stats padding happens in those first 3 quarters.

Now let’s turn our attention (yes, we do have to do this) to the defense.   Similar to the above table, the following table is from 2016, and only includes stats from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarters, but these are the defensive stats.  The reason we need to look at defensive stats, too, is because defenses are giving up more yards in garbage time.  I think by limiting our view into only 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarter stats we can get a truer measure of a defense’s effectiveness.

Defensive plays 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarters, 2016

Tm Plays Yds/Play 1st% TO% TD FG 1D
HOU 901 3.77 19.4% 1.0% 21 16 175
ARI 939 3.89 21.2% 1.0% 26 18 199
DEN 964 3.93 20.7% 1.0% 22 20 200
SEA 930 4 22.3% .6% 22 12 207
LAR 966 4.04 21.9% .5% 30 12 212
JAX 939 4.1 21.2% .4% 27 27 199
BAL 905 4.11 21.0% 1.4% 25 10 190
MIN 919 4.13 22.3% 1.3% 22 19 205
NWE 902 4.14 22.1% 1.3% 18 15 199
DAL 914 4.28 23.4% .4% 21 21 214
PIT 910 4.33 22.0% .8% 21 24 200
NYG 968 4.33 20.9% 1.0% 20 23 202
KAN 944 4.37 23.9% 1.3% 23 18 226
CIN 915 4.37 23.1% 1.1% 24 18 211
SDG 926 4.39 23.7% 1.1% 27 22 219
ATL 903 4.4 23.6% .8% 27 15 213
CAR 949 4.41 23.4% 1.2% 24 17 222
NYJ 953 4.45 23.5% .4% 32 23 224
TEN 954 4.46 23.0% .7% 25 22 219
CHI 971 4.48 23.5% .5% 27 27 228
WAS 904 4.58 26.0% .6% 29 17 235
TAM 934 4.59 24.1% 1.2% 31 20 225
PHI 894 4.62 23.0% .9% 28 21 206
MIA 942 4.62 23.6% 1.1% 28 20 222
GNB 882 4.66 24.9% 1.5% 28 20 220
IND 920 4.7 25.1% .8% 29 20 231
SFO 1035 4.7 24.0% .7% 41 17 248
BUF 928 4.7 26.2% .6% 34 18 243
CLE 987 4.84 26.2% .9% 41 13 259
NOR 966 4.84 26.8% .7% 35 22 259
DET 866 4.87 26.1% .5% 28 17 226
OAK 915 4.91 22.8% 1.2% 33 17 209

In the above defensive table the rows are sorted according to yards per play allowed, least to most, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd quarter stats only.  Saints defense allowed the 3rd highest yards per play at 4.84 (actually tied with that juggernaut Browns defense).  Saints defense was the worst in 1st% at 26.8%, meaning 26.8% of all plays run resulted in either a 1st down or a touch down.  The 35 TD’s allowed was 3rd most of any team.

Conclusion

Even when filtering out potential garbage time (4th quarter) stats, the Saints offense in 2016 was still a legitimate top 5 offense in the league.  And the defense, sadly, was still a bottom 5 defense.  Do the Saints rack up some garbage time stats in some of their games?  Absolutely, but so do other teams.  Will this all still hold true after 2017 is in the books?  I don’t know.  After we get a few more games in I’ll probably take another look at this using 2017 stats.

nfl 2016 yards per play qtrs 1 to 3 only

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