As the great Jerry Pepper (superior to the Great Waldo Pepper, I assure you) is fond of intoning, “Getting better and better, every day, in every little way…”
As y’all remember, Claude has this bizarre idea that football is a team game, and as a shorthand likes to focus on two of his favorite stats: Touchdown Drives, and Short Drives.
If you want to win, you want to have Touchdown Drives, where you move the ball 60 yards in six plays or more, sticking the knife into your opponent sufficiently slowly that they can’t kid themselves into thinking it was a fluke play or a missed tackle: in other words, you got your ass beat, and you have to go back to the bench feeling owned.
You also want to have Short Drives on defense: you shut the other team’s offense down in six plays or less, giving up less than 30 yards so the field doesn’t get shifted too much or their O gets any rhythm; back to the bench they go, with their OL sitting together staring into space while the QB stares at photographs (or, if he is Cam Newton, sits there with a towel over his head).
We’ve been using this metric for a while to determine superior play and dominance, because it filters out fluky scores and turnovers. Now, nobody’s saying big-play ability and turnover margin aren’t incredibly important, but over time, fumble bounces even out, and teams move to take away the big play, so…..we love these two metrics.
In the Teddy Era, the Saints have swung ever so surely towards dominance. Let’s compare Touchdown Drives and Short Drives for the last five games. Now, to make the data meaningful, we’ve tossed out the kneel-down drives and the stat-padding numbers that come after the Saints had already clinched various games, such as being up on Seattle 33-14 with 4:19 left., or up on the Bears 36-10 with 4:33 left. (Why show any film of how we’d handle a two-minute drill anyway?) For the meat of the matter:
| TD Drives |
| Short Drives |
| TD Drives |
| Short Drives |
Slowly but surely over the last few weeks, the Saints OL and DL have been taking over games better and better like twin boa constrictors. In the last three weeks (which includes two road games), we’ve given up 1 TD Drive against 21 Short Drives, while racking up 7 TD drives against just 12 Short Drives.
Opponents cannot move down the field and score, or really even move down the field, but we can. Increasingly, they can’t move at all, and punt the Saints into at least half-decent field position; likewise, increasingly, the Saints either move the ball and score a TD (or at least a FG) or advance the ball so that The Punting God Morstead can trap the other offense inside its own 20-yard line again.
To not overstate this, and to be fair, we couldn’t score a TD against the Cowboys, but we did have field goal drives of nine plays for 52 yards, eight plays for 43 yards, and 15 plays for 67 yards. Payton was playing everything close to the vest that night and we couldn’t find the end zone, but….we were in charge. And since then we’ve gotten better on both sides of the ball.
Also, to be fair, one has to account for turnovers, but the delta isn’t what you think it is. The Saints have a 7-3 edge in turnovers over the last five games, which is significant but less than one a game and not a giant outlier. We submit that the turnovers contribute to the margins of victory, and the overall feeling of helplessness of the opponents, but it’s the five-and-outs, and the Saints ability to grind down the field, that’s killing them. In English, this is not a series of turnover-luck driven flukes.
Saints opponents, thy name is Sisyphus. Which is Greek for “you’re getting you ass kicked in, and The Gods have decreed that there’s nothing you can do about it, so just shut up and take it.”
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I don’t know how the other folks do “strength of schedule” but I am a big fan of the Parcells “you are what your record says you are.”
The Saints are 6-1, and their seven opponents are a combined 25-22. Of course, first, you have to back out the Saints games, so the opponents are actually 24-16 against the rest of the league. You take away the four games the Saints opponents have played against each other, that group as a whole is 20-12. In other words, the Saints are 6-1 against seven straight teams that would, on average, go 10-6 for the year. And there has rarely been a moment in any of those games after the first quarter where Claude was not thinking: fuck, we got this.
* * * * *
People keep asking, “Dude, if you played ball, what would be your walkup music, coming up to the plate, or out of the bullpen? ‘Enter Sandman??’ ‘Hell’s Bells??’ ‘Seven Nation Army’??”
After careful consideration, it would have to be the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.” No other choice, really.
* * * * *
There will be yet another playoff atmosphere for the best home fans in American professional sports on Sunday, and they will be rewarded.
The Cardinals may be 3-3-1 and on a three-game win streak, but those three wins are by a combined 10 points against the hapless Bengals, Falcons and Giants.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are
— 20th in the league in passer rating;
— slightly above average in rushing yards per carry, but a chunk of that is QB Kyler Murray scrambling, and we don’t let that happen;
— 30th in overall defense;
— 30th in opponent’s passer rating
— 28th in opponent’s yards per carry.
Meanwhile, in the last five weeks Sean Payton has badly outcoached veteran NFL coaches Pete Carroll, Jason Garrett, Bruce Arians and Doug Marrone, and absolutely pantsed Matt Nagy last weekend. And now, I give you Kliff Kingsbury.
The 2019 Scorched Earth Tour rolls on. Kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out.