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11 Sep 2012

Any Given Sunday: Redskins over Saints

by Rivers McCown

On Sunday afternoon in the Superdome, Robert Griffin single-handedly proved that he was worth three first-round picks, a second-round pick, and all of Subway's money by leading the Redskins to a 40-32 win over the Saints.

See how silly that sentence looks? I'm sorry, it's just the annual brain fatigue from taking part in Overreaction Sunday. Other things that I thought two days ago included "Reggie Bush actually looks good," "this Packers secondary just isn't that talented," and "I sure hope Cam Newton can throw a ball, because the Panthers aren't running it here." Don't get us wrong, we're big fans of Griffin here, as the Lewin Career Forecast showed, but isn't instant stardom a bit much?

Statistically, the single-game look at VOA that we can offer right now shows that ... well, neither the Saints or the Redskins actually played all that great this weekend. Actually, the Saints "outplayed" the Redskins in the eyes of our system, but lost.

Dewey Defeats Redskins
Team Total VOA Off. VOA Def. VOA Special Teams VOA
NO -11.7% 5.6% 26.9% 9.5%
WAS -21.6% 22.3% 13.8% -30.0%

VOA, of course, isn't something that has a lot of predicative value in a one-game sample size. However, let's look at what differentiated the teams in the system.

The big edge for New Orleans is on special teams. Brandon Banks fumbled one punt and muffed another. He didn't lose either of them. (In fact, the Redskins collected all four of the game's fumbles.) Their net punting numbers are also skewed because of Courtney Roby's touchdown on a blocked Sav Rocca punt. Rocca's punt with 22 seconds left in the game, from the Washington 42, that resulted in only a touchback, also hurt. From your own 42, you really need to be able to drop it in there behind the 20.

A further VOA split of notice: Washington had a -6.9% VOA on runs, and a 70.3% VOA on passes. So, Griffin has already become the first player ever to be worthy of the annual Redskins offseason parade, right? Well, we can explain away some of that difference with the same reason we used to create DYAR: DVOA can underrate workhorse runners. When you run the ball 44 times, odds are that you're pounding the ball to drain the clock, not necessarily trying to call the most effective play. (That being said, the negative VOA comes because the Redskins weren't running well even when compared to other teams running out the clock with late leads.)

How did Griffin actually play? The Shanahans handled him with kid gloves early in the game. The Redskins first drive started with six straight completions, but all six of them were screen passes or quick hitches. The 88-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon was a fine medium-distance throw under pressure, as New Orleans' defensive end did not buy the play-action fake. But the majority of those yards came after the catch, and the reason they were so easy is because Josh Morgan set a perfect pick on Roman Harper to spring Garcon. That was one of three Griffin throws (one of them was cancelled on penalty) that actually went beyond the line of scrimmage in the first half. Another big play, a 32-yard pass interference penalty drawn by Aldrick Robinson on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, looked like a poor throw from Griffin under pressure. Harper was caught looking in the backfield, and Robinson had a few steps on him, but the throw came up a little short and Harper was able to catch up and be in good position to defense it.

Between the option reads that Washington was running and the constant play-action to buy Griffin time, it would be easy to just write off his strong statistics as a one-week fluke. It would also be wrong.

The opening play of the second quarter featured the Redskins in a two-back shotgun look, the Saints were in their base 4-3. Griffin operated off play-action. The Saints sent five, and since one of them was a safety, he (Malcolm Jenkins) had a free run at Griffin. Griffin stealthily avoided him, then threw a strike to Fred Davis right in front of Corey White with a second rusher taking a run at him. 26 yards on a play that, by all means, should have been a throwaway, is an example of the kind of Tony Romo-esque playmaking ability that Griffin brings to the table. (I will bring photos for show and tell next time. This week, check out Tanier's graphs!)

That all said, we came into this year projecting the Saints to have the worst defense in the NFL. They didn't disappoint in Week 1. Jabari Greer was inactive, and Johnny Patrick also left the game with a knee injury. That left the Saints using converted safety and 2012 fifth-round pick White at outside corner on 97 percent of the snaps, and forced recent waiver claim Jerome Murphy right into the fire in sub packages. Patrick Robinson, the only corner the Saints actually planned to enter the game with, also continues to be inconsistent at best.

Still, the real issue was that the lack of pass rush from last season wasn't really addressed, and the internal options that New Orleans is banking on improvement from (Cameron Jordan, Martez Wilson) didn't really do much to harass Griffin in the pocket. When New Orleans got pressure on Griffin, it was mostly because their backside end read the play-action and stayed home. (That also partially explains Griffin's insane numbers when pressured.) The run defense was generally fine, especially considering the Saints were dealing with a rookie quarterback running the option. An injury-riddled secondary with a poor pass rush is a combination that can make a lot of quarterbacks look good -- let alone one who actually is good.

On the other side of the ball, the Saints played a typical Saints game, replete with a requisite insane Jimmy Graham touchdown catch. Three factors slowed them a bit: poor field position, a dreadful game from Marques Colston, and the Redskins getting a lot of pressure on Drew Brees. Brees completed some amazing passes anyway, because he is Drew Brees, but Ryan Kerrigan in particular was wreaking havoc on the Saints line. Colston's fumble out of the back of the end zone for a touchback was a killer, and he added a couple of drops as well on his way to catching just 4-of-11 targets.

The overall feeling that I came out of this game with about Griffin, ironically enough, is that it reminded me of one of Andrew Luck's college games. Remember, back during the Luck-Griffin debates, when our friend Greg Cosell mentioned that there was a lot of tape of Griffin making complicated throws and little of that from Luck? Well, Griffin isn't running an Art Briles spread attack anymore. He's running the Shanahan play-action game (albeit with much more shotgun than usual) with a ton of read options and a receiving corps that I will charitably call "unheralded." Whether that was a single-game wrinkle with the traditional wisdom of winning the time of possession battle against a good offense behind it or a season-long strategy is yet to be seen.

Griffin did not have a lot of complicated route combinations to complete. He wasn't often tasked with finding secondary or tertiary reads. He did not play against a particularly talented pass defense. He didn't play mistake-free football, despite the fact that he looked good under pressure.

Still, although the safe bet is on rookie growing pains occurring at some point, Griffin showed enough for the hype to be justified. Sometimes, on Overreaction Sunday, you actually do learn the truth.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 11 Sep 2012

27 comments, Last at 11 Sep 2012, 10:12pm by Nick Saikley


by Sergio :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 12:32pm

Yeah, I think the 70% passing VOA pretty much solidifies the argument pro-Griffin. He was beastly on Sunday.

-- Go Phins!

by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 12:36pm

He's in an ideal position, in terms of coaching staff, and having a decent defense which won't make him throw downfield while being way behind. Yeah, it's a more difficult division than some, but things have worked out pretty well for RG3, which is great, because he's fun to watch.

It'll be interesting to see how well the Saints' protection holds up, because I think Brees is more sensitive to poor protection than some of the other great qbs who are taller, and because the Saints are going to miss Payton as a playcaller most of all, it seems to me.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 1:12pm

I didn't see a lot of the game. Was Brees just really more inaccurate than usual, because to me for him to go 24-52 is incredible. For him to throw that many times and not even complete half his passes is unthinkable for a guy who completed 71.2% last year.

Was it pressure, inaccuracy, drops?

by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 1:21pm

I didn't pay close attention to the game either, but to take the cop-out, I'd say it was a combination of all three.

by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:19pm

Mostly a combinaiton of pressure and good coveage. Can only remember two legitimate drops, and those were contested passes. Jimmy Graham's one handed catch for the game's first TD was a thing of real beauty. One or two of Brees' passess sailed on him, but that is going to happen to anyone when they throw 52 times. NFL Replay is showing the game at 8:00 EST Tuesday night.

by RichardD (not verified) :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:46pm

I watched the game. Brees's low completion percentage was a combination of several factors, including pressure, drops, receivers being well covered, but also quite a few just plain bad throws. The whole offense was out of sync and flat for most of the game, with a few spectacular plays thrown in to make the game look closer than it was. The letdown was a whole team thing, but Brees was a big part of it.

Last year, 2 of the Saints' 3 losses during the regular season came at the hands of cellar dwellers STL and TB (the other loss was to GB in week 1). This game was sadly reminiscent of those two, the main difference being this was a home game.

by mm (old) (not verified) :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 3:05pm

While Washington's defense had a good game, Brees really was inaccurate(for him, at least) from the very beginning of the game.

Some of it might be laid on the hands of receivers. Of the 4 receivers the Saints' primarily used the last several seasons, Colston had a lousy game, Henderson left injured, & Meachem is on the Chargers' roster. Only Lance Moore had a respectable outing. Their backups played but weren't noteworthy.

The Saint's re-signed Adrian Arrington this week, a receiver who's shown promise with the team but has been unable to stay healthy. Hopefully he can step into the #4 spot.

by Nick Saikley (not verified) :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 10:12pm

Most of it was drops IMO. Sproles and Graham both dropped passes they normally catch, Colston had 3 or 4, Moore had 2, and Morgan had 1. The Skins also batted down several passes, which always happens when the Saints play them. Brees' accuracy was slightly off, but there was a lot of "help" from the receivers.

by RickD :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 1:57pm

It's the same coaching staff that liked John Beck and Rex Grossman.

RG3 is really very good.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:09pm

Yes, he is. Rex Grossman and John Beck are bad. What Shanahan likes to do on offense, however, is perfect, in terms of getting the most from RG3.

by Basilicus :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 12:40pm

Score was 40-32, not 38-30.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 12:48pm

Details, schmetails...but let me show you my advanced stats analysis! ;-)

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 1:07pm

Since Washington was involved, the Feds deducted two points from each team in taxes.

by Jim W. (not verified) :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 1:07pm

My perception of Grifffin in this game is similar. He's a guy with obvious ability and someone who benefited from: 1) a creative and unconventional gameplan and (2 a defense that was, especially initially, confused by zone-reads, the pistol formation, and various WR screens; also, a defense that has weak personnel.

Oh, and since many people have complained the past couple of years that AGS had become ESPN paywall content, thanks for more free stuff!

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 1:35pm

Correct me if I'm wrong, But Reggie was decent last year.

by RickD :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 1:53pm

That special teams VOA for Washington is wacko. You're basically arguing that the poor special teams play by the Redskins had a greater effect than the poor defense played by the Saints.

That's not what I saw. Perhaps a muffed punt should not be as highly penalized as it is. Often a muff happens with a returner in the open field not near anybody else and hardly constitutes much of a negative play.

But that leads me to the "not all fumbles should be treated equally argument." And I know FO doesn't want to deal with that.

by tuluse :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:13pm

I thought FO was already dealing with that with different recovery rates for different kinds of fumbles.

by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:13pm

"I know FO doesn't want to deal with that" is a bit of an absurd statement. We already deal with that. Muffed punts are penalized much less than fumbled punts.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:19pm

Quit oppressing commenters with facts!

by LionInAZ :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 5:18pm

That's right! We don't want facts! We want rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!

by Nathan :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:55pm

I posted this in the Quick Reads thread but it's way more appropriate here. I thought the gameplan was brilliant. RG3 executed it well, but what I was really impressed with was the gameplan and play calling.

Getting a chance to watch the WAS / NO replay. I don't watch much college football, are all those fake zone read WR screens and swing passes something people run a lot? Seem really effective here on the first drive, the D is really biting on the fakes and it's clearing a lot of real estate for the WRs. Also really like how they started out with all the PA zone read fakes, taking advantage of a D who had clearly prepared for them to run a lot of zone read, then switched to actual zone read runs on the third drive. Nice play calling. At 13:03 in the 3rd there's a really cool zone read counter from the pistol in kind of an offset I look (that didn't work) where RG3 pulls it back from the FB and rather than running off LT spins and runs off right tackle, with the HB coming around as the pitch man. Didn't work but really nifty design.

by Paddy Pat :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 3:12pm

The game plan was clever--I don't know about brilliant, but the Saints also looked really dumb in response. I mean, how many times can you f*ck up against the same play-call? They came into the game expecting a heavy dose of zone run and when the skins came out throwing screens, they showed little discipline and virtually no adaptability. Frankly, it looked like bad coaching in NO to me as much as good coaching from WAS. A good team would give up one lousy drive, a la the Patriots' lousy pass defense drive against TEN, and then they would adjust. That didn't happen in NO. They pretty much stayed keyed in to the run even though it wasn't happening.

by smutsboy :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 4:34pm

The zone read isn't a simple play call that just requires the right defensive play call, like in Tecmo Bowl.

Even if you know it's coming, which at some point the Saints did, it still makes it very difficult to defend.

by Loose On The Lead :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 4:25pm

So I asked Shanahan if this had been by design -- if he'd set up that first drive with those quick passes to help his rookie get into the rhythm of the game without facing pressure from the Saints' defense or pressure to go through progressions while he got his feet under him. Because I figured, if it had been, it was a pretty smart idea.

"No, he has options on those plays," Shanahan said. "He decided to run it that way."


by nibiyabi :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 8:18pm

Going into week 1, the 49ers had a worse projected DVOA than the Redskins, and the Packers had a better projected DVOA than the Saints. Is AGS not based on KUBIAK's biggest miss?

Week 1 KUBIAK misses (with +17.0% DVOA home field advantage)

1. SF over GB (GB favored by 47.8% DVOA)
2. WSH over NO (NO favored by 36.5% DVOA)
3. DAL over NYG (NYG favored by 21.6% DVOA)
4. SD over OAK (OAK favored by 13.8% DVOA)

by zenbitz :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 8:57pm

I think AGS topics are determined by ESPN editors.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 9:50pm

It's the most interesting upset. SF over GB might technically be a bigger upset by DVOA, but most FO writers thought the DVOA projection was underrating SF. It's not like they weren't good last year, so it's not shocking that they won, especially being that GB also wasn't exactly a complete team last year.