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Previewing the Saints-Bucs Game

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Can Brew Drees and Robert Meachem find that deep pass magic again? The game may turn on whether they can.
Can Brew Drees and Robert Meachem find that deep pass magic again? The game may turn on whether they can.

Welcome to my new weekly Saints preview column. Each week, I'll look at the Saints' upcoming matchup from a few different angles so that you're ready to go when gametime comes. Sometimes it'll be short, sometimes long, it just depends on how much I have to say that week. Ain't the internet great?

A note on statistics

I'm going to be looking at the Saints games using a variety of statistics, some familiar, and some less familiar. Football is hard to analyze statistically, but there are some good, smart folks out there who are doing the best they can. While I have taken WAY TOO MANY statistics courses in graduate school, I am not a statistical expert by any means. If you think I've screwed something up (IMPOSSIBLE!), then let me know in the comments. If you don't understand something, then let me know in the comments. If you'd like to send me money, then let me know in the comments.

I recognize that statistical analysis isn't the end-all, be-all, but I do think it can shed light on games. If you disagree, then this ain't your column. Feel free to read something else...I won't be offended.

Enough preamble; let's hit it.

Saints Offense vs. Bucs Defense

Each week, I calculate the Saints' yards per passing attempt over at WhoDatReport.com. Why yards per passing attempt? Because it's a good, easy-to-calculate, and easy-to-understand measure of offensive efficiency that directly correlates to winning. In other words, teams with a higher YPA tend to win more. Similarly, teams that hold their opponents to a lower YPA tend to win more. There are other stats that are just as good, even better, and we'll look at those from time-to-time, as well.

I calculate yards per attempt a little different than some others do: I count sacks as passing attempts for negative yards and subtract 60 yards for each interception. I call this adjusted yards per attempt, which I abbreviate aYPA. Let's look at an example:

Last week, Brew Drees attempted 39 passes for 279 yards, was sacked 1 time for -6 yards, and threw 3(!) interceptions. His traditional YPA was 279 / 39 = 7.15, which doesn't look bad.

His adjusted YPA tells a different story. To calculate aYPA, we subtract sack yardage and 60 yards per interception from the total yards, which gives us 279 -6 -180 = 93 yards. We then add the number of sacks to the number of attempts to get 39 + 1 = 40 passing attempts. Brew's aYPA, then, was 93 / 40 = 2.33, which paints a much uglier picture. Ideally, you want an aYPA over 7 or 8, which the Saints haven't had this year.

This year, from an aYPA perspective, the Saints' offense has been bad. Their average aYPA is a mediocre 5.11. I've made a pretty graph on their weekly trend, and it isn't good.Why so bad? My working theory is that the Saints' deep passing game hasn't been there this year. Whether or not that's because opponents have been doing a good job defending the deep pass or because we've done a poor job of getting open, I'm not sure. I just know that the Saints' offense is much less efficient this year.

The dropped passes sure haven't helped, either.

Here's the scary part of this week's matchup: the Bucs' defense has held their opponents average of 2.69 aYPA this year. That's really good, and doesn't bode well for the Saints.

Now, there are a couple of mitigating factors to the Bucs' stellar defensive performance. These factors are called Carson Palmer, Charlie Batch, Matt Moore, and Jake Delhomme. The Bucs have played some terrible quarterbacks, which has contributed to their good defensive statistics.

Still, it'd be nice if they weren't playing so well.

So, what am I looking for this week? I'm looking for the Saints' offense to hit some deep passes this week, opening up the running game and the short-to-medium passing game. Remember, NFL teams tend to pass to set up the run, and not vice-versa (I'll explain in future columns). That's especially true when you have our running game, which is...stinky.

So, we need the big pass to open up the rest of our offense. I think we can do it, and here's why:

I spoke with Bucs blogger Eric Schmidt on this week's Who Dat Report, and he told me that the weak spot on the Bucs' defense right now is the defensive line. That's a good weak spot from the Saints' perspective, because the Saints' offensive line has been crappy this year.

In addition to a poor defensive line, though, I think the Bucs' secondary is exploitable. Ronde Barber (the Saints Slayer) is approximately 163 years old...in fact, I think I saw his name signed to the Declaration of Independence. On top of that their free safety, Sabby Piscatelli, is terrible. I mean really terrible. How bad? Well, let's just say Josh Bullocks thinks he stinks.

So, given our receivers and hall-of-fame level quarterback, I think we can take advantage of the Bucs' secondary, even if they play defense to limit the deep pass.

At least, I hope we can.

Beer of the Week: Because sober analysis requires good beer

When I can, I like to sample a beer or two from the Saints' opponents' city. I'll stick a quick review in the column because I can.

This week: Cigar City Brewing's Jai Alai IPA.

Jai Alai is a very good, American-style IPA, heavy on the citrus, and less bitter than a lot of IPAs. It's pretty well-balanced, but on the medium-to-heavy side. Very attractive looking, for what that's worth. This would go well with crab cakes, which is appropriate, given that it's from Tampa. At 8% ABV, 2 of these is plenty for the afternoon. Hopefully the Saints' play this week won't force me to drink more...

Saints defense vs. Bucs offense

This column is already running a bit long, so I won't have as much to say about the Saints' D vs. the Bucs' O. The Bucs have averaged 5.04 aYPA this year, which is just a shade worse than the Saints' offense. The Saints' defense has given up an average aYPA of 4.72, which is pretty good.

Frankly, I'm just not that worried about the Bucs offense against our defense. Their best receiver is Mike Williams, who has been great for a rookie, but is still just a rookie. They also have a big stable of mediocre running backs. I am worried a bit about LeGarrette Blount, who is a pretty big dude, and could wear down our defensive line if the Bucs get a lead.

So, let's not let them get a lead.

That was way too long...could you just give me a one-paragraph summary and prediction?

Sure. Basically, the Saints offense has been mediocre, and the Bucs defense has been good against some mediocre teams. However, I think the Bucs' secondary is exploitable, especially if their mediocre defensive line can't generate a good pass rush. If the Saints are going to start looking like last year's Saints, this is a good week to do it. If not, then we could be in for a long, frustrating year. Also, try Jai Alai IPA, it's pretty good.

So, there's your first Who Dat Report preview. I'm brainstorming names for this column; if you have any ideas, stick 'em in the comments, and we'll roll out the new name next week.

Thanks for reading, and go Saints!