How In The ****??

Claude Coupee
GSEZ Correspondent

Welcome back to another installment of our favorite long-running series, How In the Hell. Particularly apropos right now, mais oui?

Claude, how in the hell did we done lost two big home playoff game in a row? What happen to our Dome Field Advantage??

— Mike G., Houma

Cher, like K&B, James Booker (*sniff*), affordable rents, Schwegmann’s, Dave Bartholomew, and a hipster-free environment in Faubourg Marigny and on Frenchmen Street, you have yet one more entry in “Noo Awlinz T’ings Dat Ain’t Dere No Mo’.

It’s done gone.

            Seriously, is there anybody who still thinks we have a material home-field advantage in big games?  Here are the last 11 “big” home games over 2017-2019, starting with our win over the then 9-5 Falcons in late 2017:

Saints 31, Falcons 21

Saints 31, Panthers 26 (2017 wild card round)

Bucs 48, Saints 40 (2018 season opener, first game after the 2017 road playoff loss that shall not be named)

Saints 45, Rams 35 (2018 regular season)

(I omitted the 48-7 win over the Eagles in 2018; they were defending SB champs but half-dead and utterly reeling at the time.)

Saints 31, Steelers 28 (2018 regular season)

Saints 20, Eagles 14 (2018 wild card round, down 0-14 early and barely hung on at the end; I’ll give you this one that being at home was huge)

Rams 26, Saints 23 (2018 NFCCG; loss in OT)

Saints 30, Houston 28 (2019 opener, blown lead and miracle win)

Saints 12, Cowboys 10 (2019 regular season and at the Cowboys were 3-0 and looked strong)

49ers 48, Saints 46 (as we now know it, the actual end of our season and perhaps the Brees era)

Vikings 26, Saints 20 (*just shaking my damn head*)

            Bear in mind, now, the Saints were an NFL-best 37-11 over 2017-2019.  They SHOULD be winning a lot of these games.  However, in those 11 “big” home games:

— That’s a 7-4 record, but only net plus-19 in points, and only 5-4, plus-4 points in 2018-19, during which the Saints were overall a combined 26-6. 

— The last five wins were all one-score games; in all five games, the opponent was driving in Saints territory in the last two minutes to take the lead, and we had to hang on, and in the Houston game we actually gave up the lead in two plays and Brees & Lutz had to bail us out.

— In the last three losses, the 49ers game and the two playoff games, we led by at least a touchdown at some point and couldn’t hold it.  In all three, we gave up the losing drive at the end and lost on the last play of the game.

— In seven of the 11 games, the Saints have been outgained by the opponent.

— Net turnovers over all 11 games?  Plus-one, Saints, so essentially even.

— Sacks really get the home crowd going, right?!?  Net sacks over 11 games, only plus-3, and it’s actually minus-4 over the nine games in 2018-2019.

            Over 2017-19 we are 19-5 at home, and 18-6 on the road.  Over three years, we are in the aggregate plus-390 in points:  plus-185 at home, but plus-205 on the road.  That’s right, we now win games better on the road than at home.

            Yes, some of this is because after decades of relying on home field advantage for an edge, we have a Saints team that is very confident it can win on the road, indoors or out.

            But at the same time, it’s also difficult to say that there’s a critical home field advantage on Poydras Street any more.  With the help of technology, teams have gotten a lot better at dealing with crowd noise, and as of now it seems to be almost a point of pride if you can go to New Orleans and win a big game.

            What would help?  A defense that steps up at enough critical times, to enamor the crowd and the critics.  Like a bullpen makes a great baseball manager, some big stops would sure help this home field rep. 

            One thing, you can’t blame a lack of crowd noise, even if it doesn’t seem to be working.  There do seem to be more false starts, timeouts taken, etc., so the crowd does make a difference. 

            But by and large, you have to wonder.  My big question:  is there more pressure on the team to do well at home?  Do they take their expectations into their heads too much, such that on the road, they relax because of the lowered expectations?

            Above my pay grade, but I do wonder.  What I do know is that we no longer have a meaningful home field advantage.  It will take the local and national media a while to catch up, but here we are.

* * * * *

Claude, The GOAT has a nickname, why the hell don’t you have a nickname?

— Sal C., New Orleans

            You are right, I actually asked The GOAT about that.  He asked me what I wanted my nickname to be, and I said “My nickname is ‘Sobriquet’,” so now he’s chewing on that to decide what to do next.

* * * * *

Claude, what the hell happened to former Tennesee Vol Alvin Kamara this year?

Kevin K., Germantown, TN

            (Disclaimer:  I am neither Jay Glazer nor Carnac the Magnificent.)

            There has been a tremendous amount of speculation as to the dropoff in Alvin Kamara’s production this year:  How badly was he hurt?  Is the still hurt?  Is it all in his head?  Was it the departure of his buddy Mark Ingram? (For a real hoot, just go check out some message boards and see how people rationally discuss this issue:  a bigger train wreck than Barbra Streisand’s version of A Star is Born.)

            The answer is, it’s complicated.

            First, I have to assume that he never really was right after his early season injury.  Y’all know I love data, but there is also the eye test.  He didn’t seem to have nearly the elusiveness he used to have in open space.  On top of that, teams seem much more attuned to focusing on Kamara when he’s in the game.  Here are his key stats over his first three seasons:

Rush PGYP CarryCatch PGYP Catch

One assumption is that his knee was never right – he was still fine going straight ahead, and had that burst.  As we note, his rushing utilization and success were about the same over 2018-2019.  The difference seemed to be in the passing game, where he got the ball more but was less successful, which is where the eye test and the stats line up.

Honestly, he had a better yards per carry this year than last; the real dropoff was in the passing game.

            Factors we have to consider:  was the line less mobile on screens this year?  Did the lack of other WR targets allow teams to put more emphasis on Kamara in the passing game?  Did an injured knee/ankle cause him to lose either mobility or confidence?  Tough to tell.  My assumption, having been hurt before myself, is that if your knee or ankle is loose, you are still OK going straight ahead, but one has a lot less confidence moving laterally, which is where Kamara’s magic lies. 

            Side note:  Yes, we know Sean Payton said on Monday that Kamara was healthy at the end of the season.  What was he supposed to say?  “Yeah, he was sore and balky, and it really hurt him, but we fudged him through as “full practice” for two months because we didn’t want the other teams to know he was limited?”  C’mon, man.

            One thing folks bring up is the nature of the running mate.  Here are the numbers for Mark Ingram (2017 and 2018) and Latavius Murray:

Carries PGYards PCCatches PGYards PC

Hard to make a huge call here.  In 2017, Ingram was in an offense suited for him and one with which both he, Payton and Brees were familiar, and, when you look at Kamara’s 2017 numbers, Kamara showed up as this wonderful magic toy, and Ingram was able to adapt to sharing the load in 2018.

            In 2018, as Kamara was better known in the league and featured more, his productivity per play dropped off, although those are still excellent numbers, and he scored 18(!) TDs, although that looks now like a giant outlier of goal-line usage and circumstance.

            In 2019, Kamara’s rushing numbers are largely identical to his 2018 rushing numbers, so maybe what’s happened is that we have the MEMORY of Kamara’s greatness as a novelty in 2017, and sustained the image with all the circumstantial TDs in 2018, and the reality is what he really is in yards per carry and yards per catch over 2018 and 2019, and now that he’s a known commodity, we’ll never see the magic of 2017 again.

Unless he was really playing on one leg the whole time in 2019. You put a gun to my head and demand an answer, and I think that’s it. It wasn’t mental, he’s super bright, and super competitive, and a workout junky in the offseason. He just was never right after the injury. Too many defenders would just dive at this legs in the flat and bring him down because he couldn’t juke them, and that’s just not him.

            Meanwhile, while Murray’s numbers are a little below Ingram’s from the previous year, maybe he suffered somewhat from our new (same as the old) team run/pass imbalance this year:

RunsPassesYards per rushYards per catch

        There were substantially fewer rush touches this year, and you have to wonder if that hurt Murray’s productivity, especially when so many of his touches came with massive (and effective) usage in the two games Kamara was out, so that it really wasn’t anything close to the balance we had when it was Kamara/Ingram.

            Also, I just can’t help but think Payton got a little of “the disease” and force fed Kamara a little too much when maybe he should have been game planning more for the worker back, which worked so well in 2017. (Honestly, this is an interesting discussion to have, given that the Saints have been in the top four teams in scoring for the last three years, so…..maybe in upcoming installments we’ll focus more on the defense, no?)

            All I know is two things: (1) I am happy I am not the guy deciding whether or not to extend Alvin Kamara, a guy I love, and for how long and for how much, and (2) anybody who’s telling you know exactly what’s going on with the Kamara situation is selling you something.  We just don’t know.

            We’ll have more in the days and weeks to come.

            GO SAINTS GO!