Drew Brees is in the last year of his contract.  This is the first time this has happened in his Saint career.   The two sides are not negotiating a new contract extension.  All signs are pointing to the possibility that 2017 could be his last year in the Big Easy.

As an outsider looking in and with no connections worth mentioning I can only speculate based on what I’ve seen and read.  The sticking point in the last contract was not about money so much as about the length of the contract.  Saints wanted to keep it short term.  Brees wanted a long term deal.  Brees blinked.  I don’t think the Saints will budge on this point.  If Brees comes back in 2018, I think it will be on another short term contract, 1 year or perhaps 2 years.  It won’t be a 4 year or 5 year deal like he wants.  Could they compromise on some intermediate number, like 3 years?  Possibly, but they’re not talking.

Why would the Saints insist on a short term deal?  The answer to that one is fairly easy.  Brees isn’t getting any younger any time soon.  Saints don’t want to be left holding the bag if his production suddenly takes a sharp decline.  And from Brees’ perspective, he wants the guarantees a long term deal would give him should that happen, whether due to age or injury.  But just because the Saints are unwilling to take the gamble, doesn’t mean all of the other 31 teams will be similarly reticent.  Somebody is going to be willing to give him the contract he’s looking for.  Look what Houston gave Osweiler.  Franchise quarterbacks are in short supply.

So, I think we’ve established what Brees would have to give up in order to stay beyond 2017 — the long term contract.  My guess would be the Saints are willing to continue with the short term 1 or 2-year deals.  The question now becomes why would Brees give that up when it’s (probably) available to him on the free market?  Let’s examine his priorities (or at least the priorities I would think somebody in his position would have).

Brees’ priorities at this stage of his career: 1) make bank; 2) win another chip; 3) break as many records as possible.  I might or might not have these listed in correct order, but I believe these are his top 3.  On making bank, hey, I don’t begrudge him from wanting to make as much money as he can.  I would do the same in his shoes.  I’ve never once in my life ever gone to my employer and offered to take a paycut.  I doubt many of you have, either.  On winning another chip, well, of course he does.  Everybody wants to win, and he’s more competitive than most (understatement).  But it’s not just about winning another Superbowl, all this losing has got to be a real drag for Drew Brees.  Not only are the Saints not winning Superbowls anymore, they’re not even relevant on the national scene anymore.  And, like I said, he’s a competitive guy.  He has to be thinking about his legacy.   People are going to look at all the stats and say, great, but he only had the 1 chip.  Brady has 5.  Manning has 2.  Favre has 1.  If he wants to be considered best ever or 2nd best ever, he needs more than just 1 Superbowl win.  The third thing I mentioned was breaking records.  He wants to break records.  It is what it is.  Why else is he still in the game still trying to score on the final play down by 2 scores?  Reps?  No, if reps were that important the first team would have played more in preseason.

By staying in New Orleans he can absolutely keep that #3 priority.  He can set all kinds of passing records in this offense.  But #1 (making bank) is more problematic.  He can make it on a yearly basis, but the guaranteed big payoff isn’t there.  Not here.  And, saddest of all for us fans, priority #2 (winning another Superbowl) doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in New Orleans.  Saints have just been unable to field even an average defense.  It’s probably the single biggest failing of the Payton/Loomis era.  You had a future Hall of Fame quarterback lighting up the league and you couldn’t even support him with a mediocre defense.  Saints have tried, but despite their efforts to put together a decent defense, they’ve been bottom feeders on defense since 2012 (except for 2013).  Three back to back to back 7-9 seasons, and yet another 0-2 start in 2017 does nothing to bolster Brees’ confidence about getting another chip in New Orleans.

Why would the Saints want to keep Brees?  Well, that’s the dumbest question.  He’s a great player who has been both available to play and uberly productive.  Why would they be okay with letting him walk?  The answer to that would be 1) they’d prefer that to the risk of a long contract and having his production fall; and 2) they can use the cap savings of replacing his contract with a much cheaper rookie contract to try to build up the rest of the roster.

Could there be a trade?  That’s possible.  I know Brees has the no-trade clause in the contract, but that’s there to protect him from getting traded to a loser.  He can waive that clause if he approves the trade.  Saints would get a draft pick for him.  Brees would get a chance to play for another Superbowl.  It would be a win for both sides.  A trade only happens if he gets traded to a contender and if the Saints are dead in the water as the trade deadline approaches.

Could the Saints let him walk in FA and draft a quarterback?  Absolutely, that could happen.  If I know Payton (and if he’s still in charge) he’ll push his chips to the middle of the table and go all in on who he feels is the top quarterback in the draft.  If Cleveland has the top pick (or maybe the Rams) and they feel good with Kizer (or Goff) they might be willing to make a deal (and the Saints might not have to move up very far) to make it happen.  If the Saints are smart about it (which they won’t be) they can lie low in free agency in 2017 and recoup a 3rd round pick in 2018 as a compensatory pick for losing Brees.  (Saints fans are probably asking, what the heck is a compensatory pick?)   If they let Kenny Vaccaro walk, they could also recoup a compensatory pick for him.  It all depends on the contract and I think how much the player plays for his new team.

What are my predictions?  I’m only guessing here, but my guess is this is probably his last year in New Orleans.  Unless the Saints turn the season around, which doesn’t really seem likely at this point, I think he’ll realize he’s not going to be able to win another Superbowl in New Orleans.  Couple that with the Saints unwilling to offer a long term contract, all he has to keep him here is the chance to break records.

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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

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.

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).

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