Part 3: You had to see this coming

By The GOAT and Claude Coupee

Well, it just keeps getting worse.

Since we published Parts 1 and 2 of our analysis of penalty data around the league and found some astonishing indications of the Saints getting the short end of the stick by a wide margin this year, we’ve only found more problems.

For those of you just getting on board our tiny ship the S.S. Refminnow, here are the links to Parts 1 and 2:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Worse, despite outreach by a number of our fans and fellow Saints believers to the Legitimate Media, we continue to be dismissed as cranks, paranoids, and whiners.  But TS, baby, because we’ve got gator skin.

We tried to think of some explanations for all the horrible patterns, some exculpatory evidence.  One idea was, hey, “maybe the Saints are just playing a whole bunch of teams with good penalty discipline this season, so the numbers really aren’t even a standard deviation off where you’d expect.”

Oops.  Take it away, Claude:

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As someone else pointed out, apparently having done the research (wish we could remember who it was so we could properly credit him, apologies, but we’d rather give credit than not spread the word, we don’t care who gets the win), it’s exactly the opposite:  we’ve played a rogues’ gallery of championship-level malefactors over the first 12 games.  Here’s where our 12 opponents ranked in the NFL for “most penalties committed” over the first 12 games, in order of cleanest to dirtiest:

Carolina – 3rd
Seattle – 16th
Chicago – 17th
Dallas  — 18th
Atlanta – 20th
Atlanta – 20th
LA Rams – 24th
Tampa Bay – 30th
Tampa Bay – 30th
Jacksonville – 32nd

The median for 32 teams is 16.5. In the 12 games, we’ve played two above the median and 10 below, and the average of all 12 is 21.3.  Do you know how hard it is, statistically to get that far from the median of 32 teams in a 12 point data set?  Another way, what are the chances of a net minus-8 below median?  That’s one in 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 or one in 256.  So that’s a pretty rare of schedule of 12 opponents who are bad at not committing penalties.  As in real bad.

Yet, somehow, these same teams, in the 12 games against us, combined for the best 12-game schedule group of committed penalties in the league, with a total of 64.  By comparison, the team that has committed the fewest penalties this season, Indianapolis, has committed 65.  Our opponents, when they play against us, are the most penalty-free team in the league.

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One thing that’s very important to us when we do these sorts of statistical deep dives is that we make sure we’re not accused of cherry-picking.  We went looking for something, at least, that  might not be that bad.

For instance, if you look at what calls “passing penalties,” (DPI, Dholding, illegal contact and roughing the passer) the Saints are only fifth in committing 21 penalties, although of the other contenders, only Baltimore has more (27).  We do note that Baltimore has 10(!) roughing the passer penalties (as we noted in Part 2, the AFC North just kills each other), while the Saints only have one.  So maybe it’s not as bad as we believe?

We have two responsive thoughts.  First, RTP calls are usually pretty obvious ones, with the referee having the sole job of watching the QB, and bad RTP calls usually jump right out at you, which would defeat the Cardinal Rule of Proper Revenge:  Do Not Get Caught.  (Look, we all read “A Cask of Amontillado” in ninth grade, apparently I was the only guy to take it as a skill lesson rather than a cautionary tale.)  So that would unlikely be a point of emphasis if you’re sticking us.  And if you back those out of the equation, you’re back to where we were in Part 2 about calls in the secondary.

Second, we’re looking for something normal where the Saints don’t stand out, and there’s opposite evidence, or at least a regression to the mean, and this is the best we can do?  We’re not the absolute worst in one array of categories? 

Make up your own mind how to weigh it.

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Meanwhile, here’s a tidbit from Nola Flynt (@eflynt on Twitter – great effort man):  Michael Thomas has been targeted 132 times in 12 games (and goodness knows how many other routes he’s run and not been targeted).  Of those all those plays, apparently not once has a defender held, contacted illegally or interfered with the best WR in football right now.  On the other hand, he’s been flagged five times for either OPI or holding.  I mean, what the fuck, right?  Claude, save me…

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We tried a little sensitivity analysis, again using the group of 12 current contenders (Dallas, GB, Minny, NO, SF, Seattle, NE, Buffalo, Tennessee, Houston, Baltimore and KC), and wondered if we had more pre-snap penalties, where it’s a lot harder for the refs to shank you, on things like illegal motion or offside, that are so easy to see and track on a replay.

Turns out that out of those 12 teams, the Saints are 9th in pre-snap penalties with 22; only Minny (21), NE (20) and KC (15) have fewer, and Buffalo (38!) and GB (34) have the most.  What that means is that if the Saints have fewer pre-snap penalties to back out of the total, the gap in penalties called against during the flow of the play, when the refs have more leeway to exercise judgment, gets even worse.  And we had by far the most post-snap penalties (73) than any other team. 

Conversely, those great teams we are playing against, the ones who only committed 64 penalties this season, have 30 pre-snap penalties.  If you back out the pre-snap penalties by us (95 – 22 = 73) against our opponents (64 – 30 = 34; FWIW those 30 pre-snap penalties would have ranked 10th in “most pre-snap penalties, guess these penalty prone teams are in fact penalty-prone when judgment is not involved) the gap is even worse:  In the flow of play a 10-2 team not known historically as penalty prone has committed 73 penalties, and their shiv-carrying D-Block opponents 34.  That’s more than a 2-to-1 ratio.

See what we mean?  Every time we look for some indication that we’re wrong, it gets worse rather than better.

What about total yards penalized?  Maybe we’re getting a lot of flags, but not as many yards per flag?  Nah. Rather than grind through net yards per penalty, we just looked at the net difference if penalty yards for and against for the contenders.  The Saints are -333, then Minny with -160, and Baltimore -105, and no one else less than -100, while on the net-plus side, Green Bay is +235 and Tennessee is +85.  What’s interesting there is that net penalty yards don’t HAVE to track net penalties; despite that 150-yard gap, both GB and Tennessee are both net plus-21 in penalties called for and against.  Again….

Time for one more.  Now, there have only been 15 offensive holding penalties called in our favor (including five declined), lowest in the league, but maybe our pass rush just isn’t that good.  I mean, WE think it is, but you have to look at the numbers.  And we didn’t just look at total sacks, we also looked at “hurries” and  “pressures”, advanced metrics on the site.  By now I am sure you can guess the ending to this story.  Top 10 sack teams (Saints are 5th), last.  Top 10 “hurry” teams (Saints are 2nd), last.  Top 10 “pressures” (Saints are 3rd)……last (surprise!).

Unless football has changed drastically in the last three months, teams whose QBs are getting savaged tend to clutch, grab, hold, trip and strangle rather than let their QB get killed, and hold more, not less. But what do I know?

I think we’ve all seen enough, your honor. 

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The GOAT here for the wrap.  All we can say is, keep up the fight.  Keep showing this to anybody who will listen.  Our only hope in the last couple of weeks of the season is that somebody in the media somehow picks this up and a little rumor rumble starts, and maybe head ref Al Riveron makes a few calls to some key refs and says “ok fellas, you had your fun, you made your point, let’s get back to business before this becomes a real issue” and somehow we don’t get shanked down the stretch. 

The team deserves a fair shake, and so do we cash-paying fans.

Meantime, fuck the 49ers tomorrow, just because.