Imagine my surprise to read the CSC blogs after the win last Sunday, expecting some harsh words for the defensive fail in the 4th quarter and happy words for the defense succeed in OT, and I find a lot of fan comments ripping Sean Peyton because he didn’t run the ball enough. Adjectives like "inept", "stubborn", and "predictable." And although I don’t believe in putting anyone on a pedestal (coughJoePaternocough), I don’t believe in yelling "OFF WITH HIS HEAD" the first time I see something I might not agree with.
So, I decided to put together some stats and possible explanations why Stumpy calls the plays the way that he does.
Obligatory Statistics The rest of us may worship at the intersection of Routes 3, 7, and 12, but statisticians believe in the number 30—it takes a minimum sample size of 30 to eliminate micro-risk and get reliable statistics. This is why mutual funds always have at least 30 stocks/bonds. Also, one must be able to either account for or eliminate other variables such as weather, injuries, types of defense, etc. There are techniques of working with smaller sample size, but they become less reliable, and even more subject to variances related to individual sample elements. But just for S&G, I did a Chi^2 test and Coefficient of Correlation test on a number of variables for the first 10 games this year. The number of sacks was added to the number of pass attempts to calculate YPA, but turnovers were not considered. I do have another job. Some interesting results:
- The modified pass/run ratio is 63/37, about 4% out of the range that some feel is appropriate historically.
- The average Yards Per Carry (YPC) was 4.6. The average Yards per Pass Attempt was 6.9, or 50% more than YPC. So if these two variables were independent, then passing gets you more offense. BOGO-1/2 price.
- The Standard Sample Deviation (which is a measure of variation from the average) for scoring was 12.4-points, or 40% of average scoring. STDs for YPA was 1.2 (18%), and for YPC was 1.4 (31%). The result here for YPA is fascinating, as it indicates you tend the get the same value no matter how well the game is going.
- For Number of Rushes vs YPC, Chi^2 was 1.00 and Cor/Coef was 0.74. So much for passing keeping the rushing defense honest.
- For Number of Rushes vs Scoring, Chi^2 = 0.16 and Cor/Coef = 0.54. This is very weak, if any, correlation. (Chi^2 =1 for strong correlation, =0 for none).
- For YPC versus scoring, Chi^2 = 0.86 and Cor/Coef = 0.47. So if the Saints are rushing well, they’re likely scoring a lot also.
- For YPA versus scoring, Chi^2 = 0.77 and Cor/Coef = 0.42. Again we see that the passing game tends more towards being an independent variable.
- By the way, once SP coached 30 games, he became, by definition, predictable. Even if he started off both Tampax Bay games this year running the ball.
When did SP live with Don Coryell? I know he coached at SDSU about the time that Air Coryell got fired from our farm team, but I didn’t know they got married. This Saints team reminds me so much of the Bolts in the mid-eighties: Brees/Fouts, Graham/Winslow, Moore/Joiner, Hendersen/Jefferson, PT/Muncie. But he does emphasize the pass with his current personnel, and sets up the run (when possible) with the pass. Live with it. The stats say the Saints pass better than they run. The three most comfortable games for the Saints this year (Chicago, Indy, Tampax-2) were the only three with less than 40 pass attempts (how’s that for data-mining?).
The Gods Must Be Crazy 2. When long-term statistical averages start changing on you (Gee! Seems like the Saints don’t get out to those comfortable leads they used to), look for things that seem to be affecting all the games, like rule changes. We have a couple this year that have nothing to do with SP:
(a) 11 lost coin tosses in a row. For a pass-first team, this moves the opportunity for getting a lead and running the ball to a point later in the game, and tends to reduce the number of rushes per game.
(b) Gee the weather has been nice! Four dome games, sunny skies and calm winds otherwise. Perfect for a track meet. If the Saints want to get ready for cold weather games, they better start practicing in a freezer. But fair weather does favor the passing game. And it makes FPK/oops Kasay/ look better (but not skinnier).
Keepin’ ‘em honest. I hear this all the time, but I would challenge the truthiness of it. The statistics show a very strong correlation between number of rushes and yards per carry, but exactly opposite of what you would expect—the fewer the rushes, the lower the YPC. If the passing game was keepin’ ‘em honest, wouldn’t this be the opposite? In reality, I think there are very few plays where a reasonable defense doesn’t know whether it will be pass or rush. Last two minutes of the half in a close game? Pass. Last two minutes of a close/losing game? Pass. 3rd & 1? Rush. 3rd & 7? Pass. Graham on the line? Pass. Thomas on the line? Likely a rush. O-line not in 3-point stances? Pass. Empty backfield? Pass.
It wuz the injuries, I tells ya! For the first time in a while, the Saints have had less personnel on IR than the number of games played. Colston has been the only injured receiver, at a position where the team has good depth. The running backs have had more problems (Tusk on the PUP list, Ingram with the bad heel and rookie-itis, and PT a bit slow to mend from last year’s ankle problems), but I don’t feel they’ve been severe enough to shut down the running game. But maybe enough to drop the running percentage a couple points and out of the 60/40 range. I think the injuries to Strief and Thomas have hurt more, particularly when trying to run wide. Some have asked why PT did not get more rushes this last game. Is it possible that after the injury to Baconator, PT was kept in more to help block?
Why can’t SP see what all us experts at CSC can see? Actually, I think he sees a lot more. He’s got some of the best seats in the house, and he’s not watching the game with a boob-tube border around the line of scrimmage like us out-of-town TV-watching fans. He’s got eyes in the sky (well, the press-box) getting a better downward view. And he’s watched a ton of game film taken from the endzone (take a look at where they put the scissors-lifts at the practice field). And he’s got a team of coaches pulling in information from the players and the action.
Don’t blame me, it was Drew’s Fault! Brees does get the last opportunity to check down to a run (unless of course it’s an empty backfield).
Play-calling is like chess on steroids (or Spy vs Spy). Everything is intelligence, counter-intelligence, and reaction ad nauseum. It starts with scouting individual players in college and for the draft, then reviewing game film (sometimes years back for division opponents). It continues with in-game review, including watching from the press-box level and sending down play selection recommendations, including 8x10 glossies of the action (well, maybe cheap zeroxes). So all the play calls are essentially conditional probabilities, and normal statistical measures just don’t apply.
Drew da Man! When the score is close and the game is on the line, you want your best player doing what he does best. For the Saints, this is Drew Brees. Passing the Ball. While it’s true he’s a bit challenged in the height, rushing, and shovel pass departments, he’s the most accurate quarterback I’ve ever seen. Wanta see the pass/rush ratio turn the other way? Put in Chase Daniel.
In summary, I feel there are a number of reasonable explanations for why the number of SP’s run calls have been on the skinny side. A guy who coughs up $200K of his own money to bring in a DC to run that side of the game does not seem to be to be that much of a megalomaniac. I’m sure if the staff thinks he’s off base, he will listen and adjust if necessary. I think it’s more likely that opposing teams are taking away the run from him because they have no prayer of taking away the pass, and he’s just taking what he’s given. Maybe if I buy a wide-screen TV I can see more of the field and verify this???
PS: I’m really not apologizing for Stumpy. He makes $6 to $8-mill a year, he can get all the free vicodin he wants now, and he won't even tell us when his starting MLB gets scoped, so he can hire his own apologist.
PSS: Bonus points awarded for recognizing the Wilderness Road reference.
PSSS: I added several PS to make sure I got over the 750-word count that management wants for a post versus a shot.