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Tuesday Morning Reading and other Stuff

Some notes, then a post that's not really finished, but I had a blockage that I needed to rid myself of before I could continue.

  • Tyler Palko's development will continue on the Saints' practice squad. Also making the squad: fullback Kevin Dudley, linebacker (and 7th-round pick) Marvin Mitchell and CSC favorite Chris Reis. St. Louis claimed Antonio Pittman, who should provide depth behind Steven Jackson.
  • As noted by reader nolastyle, the Saints brought back TE Ronnie Ghent, giving the team five TEs. Going into a game against the undersized Colts defense -- one that will presumably involve the Saints running the ball more frequently than usual -- one can only assume that they intend to use plenty of multi-TE sets.
  • A hyperlink to my interview from a couple of weekends ago is somewhere on this poorly-designed matrix (lovely how the pseudo-phonetic spelling of my name that I gave them was somehow mistaken as the actual spelling). I listened to enough of it to make sure that my voice didn't sound like a 12-year-old's, then shut it down. Yar.
  • A direct quote from this article: "Fre Flo Do means living on the path through which freedom flows. Reggie is regarded as one of the most spatially aware and dynamic athletes." Don't get too excited: Billy Blanks said the same stuff about Rickey Williams in 2000.
  • And now, for a comparison that may rankle some of you (and not just because it's poorly written). ...

I just got my copy of Football Prospectus, and I was surprised to see the 2007 Saints being compared to the 2000 St. Louis Rams. The comparison was in regards to the KUBIAK system's projection for the Saints' 2007 season, and was providing some historical grounding; apparently, the Saints' projection resembles the 2000 Rams' results. Aaron Schatz explains:

The 2007 prognisis for the Saints looks very similar to another recent year-after-miracle team, the 2000 Rams. The 2000 Rams had the fourth-highest offensive DVOA ever ... but went 10-6 because their defense disintigrated, falling from 3rd to 26th.

Ironically, as Schatz notes, the team that derailed the 2000 Rams' season: the New Orleans Saints.

I find this comparison interesting, because I've been kicking around a similar comparison in my head all offseason, between the 2006 Saints and the 1999 Rams. Those Rams, as you may remember, went 13-3, on the heels of a 4-12 season in 1998. Buoyed by the addition of Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt, as well as the emergence of Kurt Warner, the 1999 Rams scored a mind boggling 546 points, and secured the franchise's first Super Bowl.

Pts Scored Pts Allowed O. Pass O. Run Total D. Pass D. Run Total TO Forced TO Diff
1999 Rams 546 242 4580 2059 6639 3687 1189 4876 35 11
2006 Saints 413 322 4626 1761 6387 3122 2063 5185 19 -2
Difference 133 -80 -46 298 252 565 -874 -309 16 13

The 213-point differential between the two teams notwithstanding, why compare them to the 2006 Saints?

For one thing, both teams model the quintissential worst-to-first story in the modern NFL. As mentioned, the Rams increased their win total by 9, the Saints by 7. While the Rams outscored the Saints by 133 points, their offense wasn't really more dominiant in terms of yardage. Over the course of the 16-game season, the Rams outgained the Saints by a mere 252 yards, an average of roughly 16 per game. So what accounts for the difference in points? The 1999 Rams forced 35 turnovers, with a team-differential of +11. The 2006 Saints, on the other hand, only forced 19 turnovers, with a team-differential of -2. This seems to make sense; after all, how else would a team score so many more points without gaining more yardage.

So what does this mean?

In 2000, the Rams' turnover difference stabilized: they frequently coughed up the ball on offense, causing them to actually have a negative margin. In fact, their most memorable play of the season was a fumbled punt in their NFC playoff game against the Saints. But more than that, the Rams were relying on an aging secondary, including graybeards Todd Lyght and Keith Lyle. Whereas their 29 picks in 1999 helped to mask the weakness of their secondary, to the tune of 19 passing touchdowns allowed, their 19 picks in 2000 indicated a procipitous drop in play. Sure enough, they allowed a staggering 32 passing touchdowns in 2000.

The Saints enter the 2007 season with a seemingly re-vamped secondary -- one new starting corner and a (mostly) new safety. But they are still relying on some aging players whose performances in 2006 were not indicative of their degenerative career paths. While Fred Thomas was the goat in the 2006 secondary, both Jason Craft and Mike McKenzie are primed for disappointing 2007s. Quoth Schatz:

Jason Craft had a spectacular year as the nickel corner, but that doesn't fit in with the rest of his career at all and is thus unlikely to be repeated. It was great to see Mike McKenzie return to the high level of play he established back in Green Bay, but he had not played that well in three years, so his performance may not be sustainable either

I would add to this analysis the fact that both McKenzie and Craft are on the wrong-side of thirty, so some decline is to be expected.

This makes the development of Josh Bullocks and Usama Young of paramount importance. If the Saints can have a plus free safety and an athletic cornerback, they can mitigate the dropoff of their older players. The continued dominance of Charles Grant and Will Smith is equally important, since they will pressure opposing quarterbacks, forcing them to throw the ball before their receivers can create separation. Finally, McKenzie and Jason Craft must continue to buck their statistical projections, at least until younger alternatives may be found.

They will receive a stiff test on Thursday.