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Game 3: Saints vs. Titans

Saints (-4) vs. Titans: 8:30 PM EST, New Orleans Superdome, ESPN
Stats through Week 2
Off. YPG (Rank) Off. PPG (Rank) Def. YPG (Rank) Def. PPG (Rank)
Saints 318 (16) 12 (27) 391 (27) 36 (30)
Titans 331.5 (14) 16.5 (21) 326 (17) 16 (11)
A lead, a lead, my kingdom for a lead

What a difference 6 quarters make. The Saints enter Monday's game against the Titans having lead for precisely 5 minutes, 21 seconds during their first-two games, a brief stretch that happened shortly before the end of first half of the Indianapolis game, giving the Saints 6 consecutive losing quarters in a row. Over a 64-quarter season, 6 consecutive poor quarters is not a tremendous concern, but because this stretch comprises 75% of the data upon which we may evaluate the Saints' season thusfar, the concern seems warranted. Still, the mass exodus from New Orleans' bandwagon has been slightly excessive.

After all, 6 quarters do not a season make, nor do they allow for concrete opinions to form.

So why do we all feel so crappy?

There is no real attempt at disguising the Titans' offense; they don't try to hide the fact that they will run the ball and control the clock. Their 42.5 rushing attempts and 211.5 yards/game both rank tops in the NFL. 64% of their offensive yards are gained on the ground, an anachronistic number, to be sure. They convert 50% of their 3rd downs.

The Titans' gameplan will be to control the ball and the clock, to minimize the impact of the Superdome crowd. If the Saints jump to an early lead, the crowd will remain interested, while the Titans will be forced to throw the ball more and will risk exposing a young quarterback.

The Ookie Rules

Vince Young is not a great passer yet, but if he appears to have regressed as a thrower this season, it is because his weapons don't strike fear in offenses defenses like they did in 2006. During the offseason, the Titans lost Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade, the team's two best statistical receivers in 2006. As a result, not only are the Titans throwing the ball much more infrequently, they are doing it far less effectively.

In fact, through two games, Young's performance resembles another quarterback who received more respect for his scrambling ability than his passing ability:  Michael Vick. Like Vick, Young is operating without a true receiving threat. Like Vick's Falcons, Young's Titans seem content to gain most of their yardage on the ground. In fact, thusfar, the Titans' run/pass split has been far more pronounced than the Falcons' most extreme season, 2006:

2007 Titans vs. 2006 Falcons
Total YPG Rush YPG % YPG by Rush PPG
07 Titans 331.5 211.5 63.8 16.5
06 Falcons 331.9 183.7 55.35 18.3
Michael Vick expresses his displeasure with the Georgia Dome crowd

The similarities between the offenses also extend to how they are defensed. Both quarterbacks force the defense to use a player to "spy" the quarterback, to account for him on every play, thus effectively eliminating him from the play. This opens holes for the running backs and blockers to exploit, freeing up running plays. I dub this defense the "Ookie Rules."

So how did the Saints fare against the 2006 Falcons and did their Ookie Rules effectively shut the Falcons' running game down?

During the first Falcons game, the Saints leaped to a 20-3 halftime lead, forcing the Falcons to throw the ball 31 times. The Falcons ran 21 times for 117 yards, a fine 5.1 YPC average, but Vick accounted for 57 of these yards on six carries. The Falcons never found the end zone.

The Saints led 21-6 at halftime of the second Falcons game, but Atlanta still carried the ball 45 times for an astonishing 281 yards. Vick himself accounted for 166 of these yards on 12 carries. But the Falcons only scored 1 touchdown on the ground in a 31-13 loss. This was also the day that Vick flipped the Georgia Dome the bird.

So the final verdict on the Saints' Ookie Rules: 2 games, 66 carries, 199 YPG, but only one touchdown, as Vick so succinctly pointed out. Vick carried 18 times, for 223 of the 398 yards. Despite the spy, the Saints effectively shut most of the Falcons down, but Vick was incredibly effective running.

The sizable leads helped to stagnate the Falcons -- combine the second halves of the two games, and the Falcons ran 62 plays for 221 yards and 7 points. In fact, jumping to a sizable lead should almost certainly be included as part of the Ookie Rules. Vick threw 55 times, completing 20, for 221 yards.

There's no telling whether this will hold true for Young, but eliminating his running game with an early lead would go a long way toward shutting his offense down.

Homecomings, Miscellany

Former Tulane receiver Roydell Williams returns to the Dome, where he played college ball. Center Kevin Mawae played at some local university whose name escapes me right now.

Vince Young plays the other team that passed on him in the 2006 Draft. LenDale White plays against his former college teammate Reggie Bush.

I think that the standings for the Soothsayer challenge are up-to-date. This would be a good place to make your picks.

Finally, be sure to check out Music City Miracles, SBN's Tennessee Titans blog.