There’s been a lot of debate lately, when it comes to the interior of the New Orleans Saints offensive line. Last year, it was basically a consensus that Andrus Peat was the weakest link among the hog mollies up front. Partially due to his inadequacies, and somewhat due to the strength of the rest of the line, it was a tag that stuck.
However, the rhetoric seemed to change once Peat signed his 5-year, $57.5 million contract in March, followed by the draft selection of Cesar Ruiz and release of Larry Warford. All of a sudden, it was Warford who was bad the whole time? Wait, no, I thought it was Peat. I’m confused.
I’ve always been of the mindset that Warford was a rock-solid guard in pass-protection, who maybe had a slight down tick in performance in 2019, but was still an above-average player. While Peat, on the other hand, appeared to regress over the past two years and has struggled to say healthy at the same time.
To get a clearer picture of what really was happening up front, I looked at every passing snap in the first eight weeks of the 2019 season to analyze the pass protection. The reason I cut it to only eight games, as opposed to the entire year, is because Peat got hurt in the ninth game of the season and missed most of the latter half of the campaign.
I charted quarterback pressures, hits, sacks and plays where the blocker was beaten but the QB got the ball out too quickly for it to matter (uncharted losses). Also — inspired by CSC’s own Ross Jackson and his piece on Cameron Jordan, where he timed how quickly his sacks took — I used XNote Stopwatch to time every pressure stat and see which guard was allowing pressure more quickly.
Some caveats: Screen passes where there was pressure were not included, because the play is designed for the line to let pressure through. Plays where the quarterback held the ball too long (generally 3.5-4 seconds) or invited pressure, by unnecessarily running out of the pocket or stepping up in the pocket unwisely, were not counted against the blocker. Last but not least, each sack and hit was also counted as a pressure.
Other than hits and sacks, what I consider a pressure is the pass-rusher beating an offensive lineman in any way that affects the QB enough to where he visibly reacts to it. Whether that be stepping up, back, away in the pocket, shuffling and throwing it away or seeing the pressure and immediately checking it down, there has to be evidence that the pass-rusher affected hid dropback.
I also consider it a pressure if the defender has a free lane to the QB and causes him to alter his throwing motion to get the ball around or over him. There may be a couple of plays that teeter the line between a pressure and an uncharted loss. But overall, this is the formula I attempted to stick to.
So, here’s what I found:
Peat and Warford gave up same amount of pressures
Despite Peat lining up for 24 less snaps than Warford in Weeks 1-8, I charted 14 total pressures given up by both of the Saints guards. So, Peat gave up slightly more per snap than Warford.
Of those nine pressures, five of them came on rushes to his outside shoulder, with three losses inside and one via the bull-rush. He really seems to struggle keeping his leverage strong on outside rushes, when he over-commits inside and loses his balance/base.
Warford’s worst game of this span came in Week 3 vs. the Seahawks, where he allowed four pressures, and he was honestly lucky to not have given up more. I wrote his name down in my notes six times, for either a pressure, uncharted loss or a play where he gave up ground on his block.
Two pressures came on his outside shoulder; one came inside; one came on a stunt; and on one play, he simply wasn’t ready for the snap and didn’t react to the rusher running right by him.
One common theme when watching these eight games was that Warford’s one bad game really muddied the overall picture, because he wasn’t terrible in the other seven games. Peat’s pressures and poor plays were more spread out.
Warford allowed more hits
Warford actually gave up three more hits than Peat, allowing four to Peat’s one. But hits have more to do with what the QB does with the ball after being pressured than the blocker’s performance on the play (hence, why pressures are a more stable metric).
So in reality, this metric probably makes Warford look worse than it should. Peat had plenty of pressures that easily could have ended up in hits, but he got lucky that the QB got the ball out quickly.
Peat had far more uncharted losses
This is the major difference between Warford and Peat, in my mind. In chart-able metrics like sacks, hits and pressures, the difference between Peat and Warford really isn’t great.
But the uncharted losses, where the blocker loses but the QB gets the ball out quickly enough to where it doesn’t have an effect on the play. is what exposes Peat a bit.
I counted a whopping seven uncharted losses for Peat, as opposed to one for Warford. That’s a pretty large discrepancy for an eight-game sample.
Warford had one uncharted loss against the Seahawks, while Peat averaged nearly one per game. All this means is Peat got more lucky on the blocks he lost more often frequently than Warford.
Because, think about it, after the blocker loses a block, it’s over for them. They can’t control if it ends in a pressure, hit or sack. I
t’s on the QB at that point.
In Warford’s case, he happened to be super unlucky in the sense that almost all of his losses ended up in a pressure play. Peat got off Scot-Free on numerous occasions, where he would lose immediately, but the ball was already out on a quick route.
Peat allowed slightly quicker pressure
I timed every pressure play-type, not including uncharted losses, and averaged them out to see who gave up pressure quicker. I started at the time of the snap and stopped when the QB reacted to pressure or was hit by a defender.
It turned out to be really close, but Warford barely came out in the brighter light.
Peat’s pressures given up averaged 2.41 seconds to get home, while Warford was at 2.45. It was so close to where it’s pretty much a wash, although, if it weren’t for the snap where Warford just dozed off and didn’t know the ball was snapped, it would’ve been even more in his favor.
Peat is also lucky that the uncharted losses weren’t included here, because he got beat pretty darn quickly on a lot of those.
Overall, I thought Warford had the better half of the season than Peat. The box score numbers might not show it, but he simply did not get beaten as often as Peat did.
And this is just a half of a year’s sample size, but it’s indicative of how I’ve always looked at the two. Warford might’ve had a poor season by his standards last year, but I still think a poor season by him is comparable to a good season by Peat.
Not only by this study, but my more numbers and the eye test, Warford has easily been the superior player. Pro Football Focus has Peat with over a 70 overall grade in only one of his five seasons, and two under 50.
Warford, on the other hand, has only one of his seven seasons with under a 70 overall grade. He also has two years of 80+ grading.
Based on everything I’ve seen, it’s safe to say I wouldn’t have made the moves of re-signing Peat to a big deal and cutting Warford. You can make the argument that Peat is the slightly better run-blocker, but even if that were to be true, it isn’t enough to make up for his pass pro deficiencies.
Then again, I have faith in the Saints front office, and if Peat can stay healthy, I think he can have a serviceable year in 2019. Which is all they need from him to keep up that elite play on the line.
However, whoever picks up Warford late in free agency might just be getting a steal. And the Saints just might end up regretting letting him walk.
Which guard would you rather? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @andy_b_123.