Your Reggie Bush content

Mon Jan 14, 2008 at 06:26:32 PM EDT

Some of you may want to discuss the Reggie Bush news. In my professional opinion, one news item is a non-story, the other is pretty monstrous. In any event, There are two diaries on the right-hand sidebar for these discussions. Knock yourselves out.

Ain't dead yet

Mon Jan 14, 2008 at 11:06:04 AM EDT

My apologies for the infrequent posting, I've been crazy busy at work, Besides, even bloggers need breaks. This is gonna be a short post, but I'll get back in the swing this week.

Anyway, here's some stuff I missed while I was gone:

  • For the record, Jammal Brown was fined more for this than Vince Wilfork was fined for trying to gouge out Brandon Jacobs' eye. Guess they didn't want to upset the Pats' undefeated season by suspending him, or something.

  • In his evaluations of players, I hope Sean Payton looks at the return game with a very jaundiced eye. I know I'm not alone in saying that the Saints need to improve their kick and punt returning, by any means necessary.

Most mock drafts connect the Saints with a defensive player like Cason or Jenkins. I'm still down with that.

Mike McKenzie was really good this year

Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 10:35:31 PM EDT

A well educated Saints fan recently tried to convince me that the Saints' front office personnel were poor evaluators of talent. He made several compelling points, including that the team missed completely on the 2007 draft and free agency. And he was right -- they certainly didn't derive any value from their draft or their large-money acquisitions (cough, Jason David) this year. He admitted that the Saints had a remarkable string of luck in 2006. Nevertheless, the fan believed David so underperformed his contract the Saints should release him as soon as possible.

He was probably right.

It reminded me of an article I meant to discuss more, the Football Outsiders' revelation of the Best and Worse defensive backs (T/Y, SouthernSaint). David fared poorly, ranking as the worst corner in terms of both Success Rate and yards per pass. David's 32 percent success rate was followed by Detroit's Stanley Wilson (36) and Cincinnati's young tandem of Jonathan Joseph (39) and Leon Hall (36). David allowed a league-worst 14.5 yards per pass, which was actually more than a hole in the zone (11.9). Of David's performance, Aaron Schatz said:

Yes, Jason David is worse than throwing at a hole in the zone. Fred Thomas gave up 9.3 yards per pass last year. Egads. I guess not every player is meant to play in every defensive scheme. He still has ridiculously bad numbers that make you wonder why anyone would ever throw to a receiver covered by Mike McKenzie.

In late December, FO game-charter  Nick Walters noted the entire pass defense was rotten for much of the season.

The question of exactly how bad the New Orleans pass defense is can be answered fairly decisively: It’s the worst in the league. The only passing defense stat that goes the Saints way is covering No. 2 receivers, where they are ranked 10th. Otherwise, the Saints are worst in the league against No. 1 receivers and among the worst against tight ends, running backs, and other receivers. To be sure, last year’s pass defense wasn’t good either, but it was nowhere near the worst in the league.

In the Colts’ Tampa-2, Jason David’s deficiencies were somewhat hidden; corners almost always have safety help in that scheme. The Saints, though, like to play a Cover-1 man defense. As it turns out, that’s probably the worst possible scheme for David, as it means his every mistake is amplified. Every time he bites on a pump fake, it’s another long rundown for Harper as David trails vainly in the distance. Opposing offenses salivate at lining up their go-to receiver one-on-one with the Saints’ right corner. It just doesn’t look like the team’s going to make a change this season, though, meaning a probably limited lifespan for the Saints as a potential playoff team.

Walters found that Mike McKenzie, Roman Harper and Jason Craft graded out well. Usama Young struggled:

It doesn’t look like Harper’s the problem. There aren’t yet enough numbers from which to draw meaningful conclusions, though the ones we have are all positive — his Success Rate was 62 percent last season and 50 percent so far this year, and his yards per pass are 5.2 (2006) and 8.4 (2007). He was clearly a better option than Stoutmire last year before going down, and has been reasonably good this year.
It’s the same story with the other corner, Mike McKenzie.

There’s also Jason Craft, the nickel corner, who actually has more targets than David this year and has produced better numbers (53 percent, 6.4 yards per pass). One player who’s clearly not ready, though, is rookie Usama Young. He has poor horrible numbers in limited playing time and makes numerous errors in run defense.

FO actually rated McKenzie the fourth-best corner in the league ranked by success rate (64 percent, double David's) and seventh best in yards per attempt (5.5). Walters wrote that:

On some series — such as early against Carolina in Week 12 — the differences between McKenzie and David in both pass coverage and simple tackling were starkly contrasted. McKenzie’s coverage is usually tight, while David is usually chasing; McKenzie is also usually actually watching his man, whereas David likes to watch the quarterback.

For the record, McKenzie, David and Harper tied in interceptions with three. David and Harper tied several other players in forcing two fumbles.

Get used to it

Thu Jan 03, 2008 at 11:16:58 PM EDT

According to Peter King, the Saints have 39 players under contract for next season, with $ 31.69 million free. Let's discuss how to spend that caproom.

Starting with draft talk again, this time spinning forward with a sampling of the opinions on strategies for the Saints, possessors of the 10th-overall pick. I would add that this is a relatively bountiful draft at the cornerback spot. Trading down and banking more picks is certainly always an option.

When asked about draft strategies, Sean Payton said defense is the Saints' focus:

If you look at where we're at and how we're built, it's an area where we feel we can help ourselves and bring some young players or veteran players into that mix. I think it's an area that we want to upgrade and try to address and bring in guys that can help improve that side of the ball.

New Orleans - Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio St.

The Saints have not solved their corner issues, so they try again. This time, they may have found the answer. The history of OSU corners is impressive, and the Saints hope they have the latest addition.

Jenkins is a name paired with the Saints pretty regularly. Most pundits see his name being called somewhere toward middle of the first round.

Figuring the Saints need immediate help in the secondary, at linebacker and at defensive tackle, there are a number of prospects from whom to choose, three who'll be playing in Monday night's BCS championship game at the Superdome.

Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State inside linebacker James Laurinaitis and LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey are the highest-rated players at their respective positions in some early rankings of future NFL players.

Two other corners worth noting are Arizona's Antoine Cason (6-1, 192) and South Florida's Mike Jenkins (6-0, 200). Cason could be projected as an NFL safety, but he has proven he can keep pace with deep-threat receivers and he's physical enough to hang with today's bigger wideouts. Mike Jenkins has good speed and awareness and most important, excels in man coverage.

Laurainitis, 6-3, 240, is taller than Simoneau (6-0, 245), is good in pass coverage, reacts quickly and pursues ball carriers with precise angles. He can afford to get stronger, but is an instinctive player. He's a two-time All-American and winner of the 2007 Butkus Award.

Two Southern California linebackers also are highly regarded, inside linebacker Rey Maualuga (6-2, 251, an underclassman) and outside linebacker Keith Rivers (6-2, 236).

The article continues, talking about defensive tackle help available. Any of these players would certainly suffice, though I lean toward the corner help.

New Orleans Saints -- Terrell Thomas, CB, USC

One of the worst deals of the past off-season was New Orleans signing 5'8" CB Jason David, a restricted free agent from the Colts, to a 4-year/$15.8 million dollar deal. The guy played in the Tampa Two in Indy, but that didn't stop the Saints from forking over big cash in a deal that they figured, rightfully so, the Colts wouldn't match. Often, players from Super Bowl champions get big paydays elsewhere, but when they are put into a system that doesn't suit them well it can be problematic.

The result of the David deal for the Saints is that New Orleans was 30th against the pass in 2007. David looked terrible in man coverage, almost to an embarrassing level. It was been bad enough to make many Saints fans forget about Fred Thomas getting burned bad in 2006. To point, David has missed three full games this year: all Saints wins.

The answer may be Terrell Thomas, a 6'1" 200 pound corner from USC who has both the size, and speed, to make an immediate impact. While OLB might also be a consideration (in particular Thomas' USC teammate Keith Rivers), Sean Peyton brought over OLBs Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita from Dallas in 2006, and I suspect that they'll be held over in the starting OLB spots next year. Also, there will be a wealth of free agent outside linebackers this year, to the point where it could skew the draft.

Wow, pulling no punches on the David signing. Both Thomas and Jenkins are listed at around 6'1".

Spontaneous tangential discussion of the free-agent class:

Though some NFL talent scouts label the upcoming free-agent class as nothing more than ordinary, there is extraordinary talent that might be available for the right price. And most of it is on defense.

To wit:

Asante Samuel, cornerback, New England: When the Patriots signed him to a one-year deal they included a provision that makes it unlikely they would protect him as their franchise player again. OK, then, that means one of two things happens: Either he gains a whopping extension with the Patriots, or he takes the money and runs. A year ago he had a league-best 10 interceptions; this season he has six, tied for second in the AFC. The point is: He's made a name for himself by making plays and shutting down receivers. Cornerbacks are quick to fly off the shelves in free agency, and they usually command top dollar. Samuel, who turns 27 next month, is the best free agent at his position and won't last long -- if, in fact, he makes it to the open market.

Asante Samuel is a really good player. He intercepted six passes without benefit of a training camp. And he's a good cover corner. Plus, with the acrimony between Samuel and the Patriots last season, his return isn't guaranteed. Expect Samuel to seek something like the eight-year, $80 million deal Nate Clements signed last offseason.

Lance Briggs, linebacker, Chicago: Bears' general manager Jerry Angelo recently said he "never shut the door" on Briggs returning to the club and will "wait to see how things play out." The smart money says Briggs doesn't return to Chicago, even though he told the Chicago Tribune's Fred Mitchell he'd be happy to retire as a Bear. Sure, and I'd be happy to live in Fort Wayne. But the question is: What would make him happier?. My guess is that it's a long-term deal somewhere other than Chicago. Briggs' value is in his consistency and his productivity. He had more than 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons, and he'll make it there again this season. If there's a problem for Briggs it's only this: In Chicago he's overshadowed by teammate Brian Urlacher, though it was Briggs, not Urlacher, who was named to this year's Pro Bowl. Good reason: He had a better season.

Briggs would certainly upgrade the linebacking corps. A group of Fujita, Simoneau and Briggs would certainly be productive.

Alan Faneca, guard, Pittsburgh: A five-time All-Pro choice, Faneca almost certainly won't return to Pittsburgh. He pretty much said as much when he reported to camp this summer and refused to talk about an extension. Faneca not only believes he deserves better than what he has in Pittsburgh, but he charged the team with reneging on a promise to take care of him financially if he waited to redo his contract. So Faneca waited, and nothing happened. Now he will wait on everyone else. Faneca is the top offensive lineman in this year's class and one of the top offensive linemen to hit the market in years. At 31, he should have more than a handful of high-caliber seasons left, and durability is never a question with the guy. He hasn't missed a game since 2001.

I'm just throwing this guy out there. He's a left guard, a position the Saints could certainly look to upgrade. He's also a local guy -- LSU, of course. I'd imagine he will try to top Steve Hutchinson's contract from 2006 -- seven years, $49 million.

Marcus Trufant, cornerback, Seattle: His contract will void based on playing time, and that's not good for Seattle. Trufant was the Seahawks' best and most trusted defensive back this season -- and that was reflected by his choice over Charles Woodson to the Pro Bowl. Trufant is having the best of his five NFL seasons, with a three-interception effort against Arizona his most notable achievement. With a career-high seven interceptions, he's second only to San Diego's Antonio Cromartie, but that's only part of the story here. He leads the Seahawks in passes defensed, and his 77 tackles are second to Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Trufant's success comes after he returned to left cornerback, where he started his first two seasons, and after the Seahawks hired Jim Mora as their secondary coach. With Mora's guidance, Trufant is more aggressive, more confident and better. He's more attractive to potential suitors, too.

Perhaps a more sensible financial option than Samuels. He's still a Pro Bowler and won't come cheap.

Albert Haynesworth, defensive tackle, Tennessee: He will be at or near the top of everyone's list for two reasons: 1) Because of the position he plays and 2) because of how he plays it. Haynesworth has been so dominant this year, routinely blowing up opponent after opponent, that he's the leading candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year. He jams the middle. He can rush the passer. He bats down passes. In short, he can do it all. Or, at least, he could this season. "Contract year," is how one GM characterized it. "I'd be careful with him," he said, "because of character issues." Hayesworth, who was suspended five games last season, has been a model citizen, staying out of trouble and producing at an All-Pro level. He has as many sacks (six) as his last three seasons combined and more quarterback pressures (20) than at anytime since his rookie year. Critics wonder if it lasts. All I know is that if I'm the Titans I'd like the opportunity to find out.

Yes, he stomped on Andre Gurode's bare head, but that's just the type of borderline-criminal tenacity and grit this defense needs. Plus, he's a force in the middle.

You're creative people, think of your own title.

Thu Jan 03, 2008 at 12:12:51 AM EDT

What did the Saints get when they drafted Robert Meachem?

That's the first question that comes to mind as I start to sort through the wreckage of the Saints' season. When theirs was the only first-round pick not to play this season, the Saints -- and the pick -- look bad. ...

This isn't to say Robert Meachem is a bust, because it's too early to call him that. He could be an excellent player in this league, we simply don't know. Perhaps the question I'm seeking to answer is rather "What did the Saints miss out on when they decided to redshirt Robert Meachem."

Of course, this makes me want to analyze the receiving corps as a whole.

So let's start the offseason analysis right there. With Cliff's Notes at the end (because there's a lot there).

Rec.Rec/gameYds.Yds./gameYPCTDTD Pct.1st Dwn1st Dwn. Pct.
Team440 (1)27.5 (1)4423 (3)276.4 (3)10.1 (30)28 (9)6.36  

Pretty straightforward stats here: receptions, of course, because we're discussing the passing game; per game averages in catches and yards; touchdowns; number of first downs; percentage of catches that are touchdowns and first downs. The team's NFL rankings are in parentheses.

The team ranked first in receptions and yards because, well, they threw the ball a hell of a lot. The Saints led the league in attempts with 652. Drew Brees' 652 attempts (or 655, if you don't believe ESPN) ranks third all time (or tied for second). It was that kinda year, I guess.

I don't have all the team splits or rankings for things like TD and first down pct. I'm looking around for them.

Let's go through the receivers one by one:

Colston: Monster. Colston ranked in the NFL's top 10 in catches (9), yards (9) and touchdowns (9). In the very advanced stats he finished with a 34.7 DPAR, ranked fifth between some guy named Welker and another named C. Johnson, Cin. In DVOA he graded out to 20.2 percent, 13th overall above Johnson (16.3 percent, 19th), Torry Holt (13.2 percent, 25th) and Larry Fitzgerald (9.9 percent, 29th).

Colston is in the second of a three-year contract he was tendered as a seventh-round pick. In my humble opinion, signing him to an extension should be the No. 1 priority of the offseason.

Bush: What will become of Reggie Bush? Can this season be considered a success? In any event, he didn't keep Meachem off the field, though I wouldn't have minded seeing the Saints dress Meachem instead of Jamal Branch when Reggie went down, since they weren't really planning on running the ball anyway. I'm 40 percent kidding, 60 percent wrong.

Patten: Unexpected to say the least. When Devery Henderson faltered, Patten seized the opportunity to become the second receiver. The TD Rate is a bit low, but he kept the chains moving.  The numbers are impressive, though calling him an excellent replacement for Joe Horn is a stretch, I think.

For fun Joe Horn's yards per catch and TD percentages:

Joe Horn as a Saint

Holy crap, that's a receiver! And look at what Horn was able to accomplish in a limited time with the Saints in 2006, when he was injured and washed up. After seeing those 2006 numbers, I'm actually a bit disappointed I didn't get to see Horn play a full season under Sean Payton.

Anyway, In terms of yards per catch and first down rate, Patten did an adequate job of replacing Horn. For his cost (cheap) and the expectations for him (low), he was one of few very pleasant surprises on this team. He was signed to a one-year contract, I imagine without an option, though I don't know for sure. He's bound to make a bunch of money in free agency when some team (Falcons, Jaguars are my predictions) signs him for more than he's probably worth. Hopefully not the Saints.

Moore: I suppose Lance Moore's contributions should be seen as a bonus, though one would like to see him gain more yardage on each catch -- Billy Miller isn't included, though he finished with a higher YPC average than Moore. His contrubutions in the return game aside, there's really nothing here that Robert Meachem couldn't have done.

Moore (HA!) fun, here's Lance's production by half seasons:

GamesCatchesYds.YPCTD1st Dwn.1st Dwn. Pct.
1 to 82021310.711470
9 to 1612897.41866.67

Moore seemed to start out strong but falter as the year went on, though he was never a particularly great option in terms of gaining yards.

Henderson: It was a rough year for Devery, who was dropped (HA!) from the starting rotation because he couldn't secure the ball properly. When he successfully closed his hands around the ball, he was an incredibly efficient receiver, gaining first down or touchdown on an astounding 19 of his 20 catches. That's 95 percent. That's damned impressive, in my humble opinion. If he could've only caught 60 passes. ...

Devery is also eligible for free agency. Based on the resources the team has spent on developing him and his relatively strong production when he secured the ball, I think the Saints should try to re-sign him, should the price remain reasonably low. After all, Devery is so efficient when he catches the ball, I'm tempted to say Meachem couldn't have matched most of these numbers, the 20 catches -- and ludicrous number of drops, we hope -- notwithstanding.

Copper: It's hard to quantify Copper's contribution to special teams, though the Saints special teams were, on the whole, atrocious. When the ball was thrown his way, he caught it. Meachem would've done the same thing.

Cliff's Notes: Colston is a monster. Reggie is more of an unknown than Bigfoot. Patten was unexpectedly good, though not better than Joe Horn. Moore wasn't anything to write home about. Henderson was incredible when he caught the ball. Copper wasn't particularly compelling. Cliff's Notes are for cheaters.

Hence: I think the Saints' coaching staff failed to use Robert Meachem properly this season. While I'm not sure Meachem could have impacted the lineup like Henderson, he could certainly have beaten what Moore and Copper did. While injury certainly played a factor, the circumstances surrounding Meachem's redshirt season remain somewhat murky. Regardless, the Saints must work in the offseason to incorporate a receiver of Meachem's athletic ability in the offense more. Meachem must work in the offseason to turn himself into a viable option for the receiving rotation in 2008 and beyond, lest he risk being declared a bust (he's definitively not one now).

When Henderson faltered early in the season Patten received the lion's share of the reps, with Moore sprinkled in. As the season progressed, Henderson worked his way back into the coaches' good graces, though he didn't necessarily redeem himself with his play. With the struggles -- and irrelevance -- of the receivers below Patten, it's difficult to justify sitting a healthy Meachem for the entire season. Clearly, the Saints weren't good enough to win while receiving no value from their first-round pick this season.

Saints 25, Bears 33

Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 04:24:19 PM EDT

It's time to start talking about the offseason.

Since it's probably fresh in your mind, what's your draft/free agency wishlist?

Mine starts with corner and safety.

Nice game by Pierre Thomas.

Who the f*ck is Chris Barclay?, or, Game No. 17 Open Thread: Saints @ Bears

Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 01:00:50 AM EDT

Chris Barkley appears without the knowledge of the Associated Press

Some of you may be asking yourselves who the Saints' new running backs are. They recently inked two runners, Chris Barclay (pictured) and Artose Pinner, second-year and fifth-year players, respectively.

Barclay joins us from Wake Forest, where he excelledt from 2002-05. He stands 5-foot-10, weighing 180 pounds. had this to say about Barclay's college career:

Standout running back at Wake Forest, holding school records for rushing, scoring, and all-purpose yards... Was the fifth-leading rusher in ACC history when he ended his college career in 2005... Named ACC Player of the Year in 2005... First-team All-ACC in 2004 and 2005.

Pinner, a Kentucky native, was a fourth-round pick by Detroit in 2003. He also stands 5-foot-10 but is stockier than Barclay at 230. Pinner's career reminds me a bit of Stecker's -- he's always been good enough to find work as a serial backup running back and special teamer, with occasional bouts of extreme scrappiness.

This asshole first showed up in the Chicago Tribune.

The real story here is that Pierre Thomas will get a chance to carry the ball this week. With Stecker and Bush have sat during practice, Thomas has presumably played with the first teamers. Thomas has a chance to audition for playing time in 2008 against Chicago. The Bears' rush defense ranks toward the bottom of the league in both yardage per game (124) and touchdowns (17). Thomas has an opportunity to make a statement, though not Football Outsiders' All-Rookie Team. No Saints made that (big surprise).

In other news, Bears fans were poor hosts to Saints fans last season. I dunno, this story just seems a bit invented. In every group of people there will be assholes. Having known plenty of asshole sports fans -- and been one on occasion -- I know the majority of Bears fans were polite and cordial, and were probably offended by their behavior, also. Gather any large group of people and somebody's bound to be an idiot.

But, yeah, f*ck this guy. Let's hope the Saints finish off what the O' Leary's cow started.

And, of course, there is the playoff implication of this game. We all know the drill by now -- if the Saints beat the Bears in the Noon Central game and the Vikings (at Denver) and the Redskins lose at home to Dallas, the Saints win the NFC's 6th seed. Anything else, it's over.

The Saints are wounded, playing on the road in a cold-as-f*ck Soldier Field (21 degrees), though no precipitation. They are a wounded team in need of a miracle. This'll probably double as the gameday open thread, because I'm not sure how else to say it. For those of you not intersted in the game, I give you Chocolate Rain. Hey, it's been a long season; I'm running out of stuff.

SB Nation has a Chicago Bears blog, Windy City Gridiron. It's a good site, definitely worth a read.

Plans for McKenzie

Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 11:11:11 AM EDT

Hope everybody had a merry Christmas. I know I did. Let's jump right back in.

As you've probably heard, Mike McKenzie is done for the year with a torn knee ligament. The question is not what the Saints do for the rest of this season, because the answer is clearly to start Usama Young. The question is what to do with McKenzie once next season starts. I have an idea.

Raise your hand if you remember former Southern great Aeneas Williams.

In 2000, after a potentially Hall of Fame career as a corner in Arizona, Williams moved to safety with the Rams. The move was like a second life for Williams, whose top speed and agility had been compromised by age and injury, but whose savvy and experience allowed him to make the Pro Bowl at his new position.

Now, consider Troy Vincent, another former Pro Bowl corner, who moved to safety in 2004. At the time, this is what was written about the move:

The beauty of Vincent at safety is he gives the Bills coverage options that most teams can only fantasize about. If the Bills want to blitz a corner and have Vincent man up on a receiver, they can do so without a drop-off.

Wouldn't that be nice?

There are a few factors that lead me to believe McKenzie would be a good fit at safety:

First, his size. McKenzie is about 6-0, 200 pounds, on the larger end for a corner but pretty prototypical for a free safety.

Second, his tackling ability. McKenzie is already the best tackler in the secondary. This would actually put him in a better position to support the run.

Third, whom he would displace. I've made no secret of my disdain for the play of Josh Bullocks, who I think has the tools to be a good safety but is too undisciplined. Judging by the bump in the defense's overall level of play when Kevin Kaesviharn was in games, I'd say Bullocks may be Public Enemy No. 2 on the defense.

There would surely be growing pains in the secondary, particularly if the Saints can't acquire a corner to replace McKenzie. But given some experience at safety, I'm sure this move would turn a negative into a positive for the defense and give McKenzie's career life well into his mid 30s.

Saints lose to eagles, pulse very faint

Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 04:13:27 PM EDT

The Vikings play Washington tonight. The Saints need a Redskins victory to stay alive.

That game was akin to the Body Bag Game. Guys were dropping all over the place. I don't know what the injury report looks like, but it includes Colston (chest), McKenzie (leg?), Branch (broken leg).

At the start of the season, if you had told me that the Saints would be playing for their season without Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, Mike McKenzie and Marques Colston, I wouldn't have given them a shot.

Donovan McNabb did what so many quarterbacks have done this season -- exploit the Saints' secondary. As southernsaint noted in the gameday thread, FO rated Jason David the worst corner in the NFL. I'd throw Josh Bullocks under that bus, as well.

It's probably time to start talking about the draft.

It feels pretty rotten to be a Saints fan right now.

Merry Christmas.

Update [2007-12-23 16:36:2 by Sunil]:: Here's a little early Christmas present for y'all.

Game No. 15 Open Thread: Saints vs. Eagles

Sun Dec 23, 2007 at 10:23:58 AM EDT

Vegas has the Saints favored by three. There's the Dome-field advantage right there. Make this one count, guys.

The Saints ran for over 200 yards the last time these teams met -- something I don't expect them to repeat. However, they must maintain some semblance of a running game to keep the Eagles' defense honest. I wouldn't mind seeing some short passes to running backs because they are essentially long handoffs and strech the defense laterally.

Reggie is questionable, Marques is probably and E.J. is doubtful.. If this weren't an elimination playoff game, this means that Reggie would probably be doubtful (25/75), Marques would probably be questionable (50/50) and E.J. would just be out. I didn't know Marques' back was that bad. That's something that definitely bears watching.

Anyway, the stakes have all been laid out. We all know what the Saints need to do to win this game. They need to play like they did against Jacksonville, not like they did against Indianapolis. Minnesota hosts Washington in the night game -- the Saints need to win to keep the pressure on them.

As sports fans (and especially Saints fans), all we can really ask of our teams is that they play meaningful games at the end of the season; these certainly qualify. After the terrible start the Saints had this season, to be sitting at 7-7 with a legitimate chance to make the playoffs is a bit of an early Christmas present. I am often a pessimist, but I am especially impressed with the heart, the dedication and the will this team showed to be right here, right now, with a chance to advance further. This season hasn't necessarily been a success, but it shows me this is a different team than the Folding Hasletts of 2001-05.

Heart, dedication and will: If these are what the Saints bring to the field the next two weeks, there could be something special beyond.

It's Friday, do you know where your weekend is?

Fri Dec 21, 2007 at 12:21:03 PM EDT

Anyway, below you will find a breakdown of the Saints' opponents by offensive, defensive, special teams and overall DVOA on the season (also, where these numbers rank). Those are the first eight columns; I'll deal with the final two columns in a second. As always, mad props to the Football Outsiders for having the best statistical analyses available (if you don't know, now you know ...).

What I was trying to answer was fairly simple: Are the Saints a good team?

The usual caveats about the fallibility of small sample sizes applies, though not as strongly as one would think, since the rough edges tend to smooth out over a season.

IND27.2%2- 13.2%2- 5.0%2935.4%288.30%61.10%
TB11%9- 12.0%3- 0.4%1622.7%676.70%65.70%
TEN- 5.9%13- 11.1%4- 2.5%222.60%1352.60%58.50%
CAR- 17.7%281.60%18- 6.2%30- 25.5%29- 12%5%
SEA3.90%14- 8.7%62.20%1214.80%9-13%- 16%
ATL- 16.3%279.80%25- 6.2%30- 28.1%27- 29.9%- 13.6%
SF- 30.6%3214.90%315.60%4- 39.9%32- 65.2%- 34.6%
JAC18.6%5- 2.0%142.70%1023.20%5- 27.1% -45.7%
STL- 20%308.20%23- 6.6%32- 34.8%3218.80%38.80%
HOU2.90%169.80%242.50%11- 4.4%2053.10%50.20%
CAR- 17.7%281.60%18- 6.2%30- 25.5%29- 83.4%- 65.7%
TB11.0%9- 12.0%3- 0.4%1622.70%622.50%11.50%
ATL- 16.3%279.80%25- 6.2%30- 28.1%27- 40.1%- 23.8%
ARI- 2.8%196.00%20- 2.8%24- 11.6%22- 35.1%- 32.3%
AVG- 3.76210.19%18-2.1119- 5.45%210.44%5.89%
PHI8.6%11- 3.4%12- 4.4%187.70%11NANA

The final two columns -- and the two bottom rows -- are what I'm going to talk about today. As you can see, the Saints' average opponent would rank 21st in offensive DVOA, 18th in defensive DVOA, 19th in special team's DVOA and 21st in overall DVOA. That's not gonna win them and strenght-of-schedule points. Luckily, this ain't the NCAA Tournament.

Now the final two columns. The V NO column is pretty straightforward -- it's the team's raw DVOA score in the week they played the Saints. As you can see, it roughly corresponds to how the game went -- the Saints got hammered by Indy, so their DVOA was hugely above average (on the average play, the Colts were 88.3 percent better than the average team). But the Saints hammered San Francisco, so the 49ers' DVOA score for that week was - 65.2 percent. For what it's worth, the Saints' DVOA in the Indy game was hugely negative and hugely positive in the San Francisco game. In that way, DVOA resembles a zero-sum game, though it isn't exactly.

The final column takes the difference between the DVOA of that team against the Saints and their DVOA on the season. The way that I approached the question of Are the Saints a good team was to ask Do teams play better or worse against the Saints, relative to their play on the season.

If my math is correct, and that's a big if, what we should find is that on average, teams play 5.89 percent better against the Saints than on the season as a whole. That is, the difference between the average Overall DVOA and the average V NO DVOA is 5.89 (percent).

Obviously, there is a psychological component to this -- the Saints are a high profile team and often play in nationally televised games. But I think there is some creedence to the idea that the Saints are probably overrated relative to their performance this season.

I also think that the negative numbers toward the bottom of the chart -- the Carolina, Atlanta and Arizona weeks in particular -- are promising, even if they were wins against good teams.

For fun, I threw in Philadelphia's stats. They are pretty good, but then, so were the Jaguars.

Once again, thanks to the Football Outsiders for letting me use their data. They are invaluable to me as a blogger and a must read for any football fan who wants to look beyond the dancing robots and blithering heads.

Caption this photo

Thu Dec 20, 2007 at 09:59:04 AM EDT

As a brief reprieve, let's have some fun with this photo.

The original page, for inspiration

My captions are in the comments section.

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