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22 Sep 2015

Any Given Sunday: Bucs Over Saints

by Andrew Healy

If you had the Jaguars-Redskins-Browns-Raiders-Buccaneers all to win in a parlay, well you can go buy that boat today. That forgettable fivesome -- after Week 1, the worst five teams in the league according to our DAVE rankings -- all won. By the point spreads, the chances of that happening were less than 0.4 percent. In a Bizarro Vegas -- one with fair odds -- that bet would have paid out at more than 200-1.

So how weird was Week 2? Pretty darn weird. I have it as one of the ten weirdest weeks since 1979 in terms of how surprising the outcomes were. If we assign a zero to every game where the favorite wins and a one to a game where an underdog with almost no chance somehow wins (think Cumberland over Georgia Tech, for the historically inclined), then Week 2 gets a "Surprise Score" that ranks eighth among all weeks since 1979.

Upsets in Week 2
Underdog Favorite Result Line Score
TB NO W 26-19 +10 .543
NYJ IND W 20-7 +6.5 .371
SF PIT L 18-43 +6.5 0
OAK BAL W 37-33 +6 .344
JAC MIA W 23-20 +6 .344
DAL PHI W 20-10 +5 .290
WAS STL W 24-10 +3 .177
DEN KC W 31-24 +3 .177
SEA GB L 17-27 +3 0
HOU CAR L 17-24 +3 0
SD CIN L 19-24 +3 0
ATL NYG W 24-20 +2.5 .147
CLE TEN W 28-14 +2 .118
DET MIN L 16-26 +2 0
CHI ARI L 23-48 +2 0
BUF NE L 32-40 +1* 0
Week 2 Surprise Score: 2.511

A game's score is equal to 2*(0.5 – pregame win probability for underdog), where the pregame win probability comes from the point spread. Week 2's Surprise Score of 2.511 just adds up the scores across all the games in a week. Yes, it's easier to have a big Surprise Score in a week with no byes, and easier in a league with 32 teams instead of 28, but let's not get too deep in the weeds.

(Also, the Surprise Score might actually be larger, as indicated by the asterisk on the Buffalo-New England line. The lines above are those listed at Pro Football Reference, but the Vegas lines on Bills-Patriots varied from book to book and from hour to hour on Sunday morning. Some places had the game as "pick 'em," and others had the Bills favored by 1, the line which was used in computing last week's FO Premium picks. If we consider the Bills to be favored by 1 instead of the Patriots, the Surprise Score for Week 2 would be 2.570.)

By the total amount of upset weirdness that happened, Week 2 is weird, but it falls a fair bit short of the greatest surprise week. For that one, you have to go back before the existence of Football Outsiders, back to the earliest days of Brady vs. Manning.

Most Surprising Weeks by Upsets
Based on Vegas Lines, 1979-2015
Year Week Surprise Score
2001 6 3.106
1991 13 2.940
2006 16 2.753
1992 9 2.645
2005 1 2.594
2009 15 2.566
1992 11 2.530
2015 2 2.511
2010 17 2.461
2010 6 2.442
1986 15 2.439
1986 13 2.438
2000 17 2.437
2012 4 2.425
1981 8 2.376
2008 16 2.369
2006 7 2.354
2007 15 2.335
2004 7 2.305
1990 12 2.295

In Week 6 of 2001, 11 of the 13 games were won by underdogs, including all four teams that were underdogs by more than a touchdown. The biggest underdog to win that week -- the Patriots, who were 10.5-point underdogs in Indianapolis -- would go on to win the Super Bowl. Remarkably, Week 6 of 2001 has the highest Surprise Score even though five of 31 teams had byes that week.

But even after pulling off this very upset-y week's biggest upset, Bucs fans should probably hold off on making early February reservations in Santa Clara. Despite some hopeful signs, notably with regards to flashes from Jameis Winston, this upset said more about the Saints than it did the Bucs.

Ineptitude Abounding

The two teams combined for 21 penalties for 205 yards, 115 of them on the Saints. Brandon Browner racked up a couple of killer penalties, drawing an end zone interference call on a bomb to Louis Murphy, of all people, along with a late-game face mask. Playing in the Superdome, the Saints had five fumbles. Drew Brees moonballed several deep throws, including an interception on which Chris Conte could have called a fair catch.

(Editor's Note: The worst news for Saints fans coming out of this game is that Brees will miss several games with a shoulder injury.)

The Bucs' rookie left tackle, Donovan Smith, had his own issues. Smith was turnstiled on two of the Saints' three sacks, once by undrafted second-year linebacker Kasim Edebali on a comically bad whiff.

Overall, the VOA breakdown shows two teams that flailed about. With the numbers not adjusting for the opponent yet, the Saints come in about average on defense. But the Bucs' offense, marred by penalties, comes in below average. The Bucs defense did pretty well, but the Saints offense was more striking in its suckitude. And the Saints' were worse on special teams than the Bucs were good.

TB -9.0% -16.9% 7.3% 15.2%
NO -22.4% -1.7% -19.6% -40.3%

The Bucs do not get credit here for the blocked extra point, even though perhaps they should. Since it is not predictive of future blocks, the numbers exclude it, at least for now.

Giving Winston His Due

OK, time to leave the negativity behind and look at what the Bucs did well. In the very-likely-to-continue category, Lavonte David had two where-did-he-come-from? pass deflections in zone coverage. In the less-likely-but-still-hopeful category, Jacquies Smith's explosiveness around the edge resulted in three sacks, two of which led to fumbles. We expressed skepticism about Smith's chances of building on his breakout last season when he led the Bucs with 6.5 sacks, but he already has four sacks through two games this year. Our thinking that Smith's 2014 was a small-sample outlier certainly looks off.

Sunday's game also provided some evidence to counter our pessimistic projections for Jameis Winston. The Saints had four hits in addition to the three sacks, but on other plays came nowhere near Winston. When Winston was not pressured, he made some excellent throws, notably on the drive at the end of the first half. His best pass of the day came off a scramble when he waved Louis Murphy deep and then found him while on the move with a sublime, effortless throw for 54 yards. The degree of difficulty on that play was lessened somewhat by the clueless coverage of first-year corner Delvin Breaux.

Overall, Winston's performance was a mixed bag with a weight towards the positive. On the downside, he made back-to-back awful throws from the 3 after the great pass to Murphy, forcing the Bucs to settle for a field goal. But the touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson was both a great decision based on pre-snap recognition and a perfect pass over the safety. The next step will be to get beyond his first read after the snap, something the Saints did not really force him to do.

The Keep Looking at Wins Stat of the Week

The Saints also did not force Winston to deal with as many blitzes as you might have expected. Winston struggled when the Saints brought more than four pass rushers, according to my charting of the game.

Pass Rushers Comp Att Yards Sacks
4 or less 13 15 192 2
5 or more 1 6 15 1

One play, a 21-yard completion to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, was borderline because a potential fifth pass rusher seemed to possibly be picking up the running back. Even that pass forced Winston into a dangerous throw, albeit one he executed perfectly. With the Bucs' line one of the league's most questionable and Rob Ryan a blitz aficionado, it is curious that he did not bring more pressure on the rookie quarterback, even with top cornerback Keenan Lewis out.

The Keep Looking at Wins Stat of the Week, Part 2

With the acquisition of a 2015 first-round pick in the Jimmy Graham trade and a third-rounder in the Kenny Stills trade, the Saints departed from their recent history of trading away draft value. But the organization's long run of shortsightedness has bitten the current team hard. Consider some players that other teams selected with the Saints' draft picks since 2008.

Year Player Team Position Round
2008 Jerod Mayo NE LB 1
2009 DeAndre Levy DET LB 3
2010 O'Brien Schofield ARI LB 4
2011 Shane Vereen NE RB 2
2012 Kevin Zeitler CIN G 1
2013 David Bakhtiari GB T 4
2014 John Brown ARI WR 3

Yes, the Saints also acquired other players in those transactions, but consider the general idea represented by that list of missed opportunities. This franchise has sacrificed future talent for current concerns over a long time period. The Saints were the only team in the NFL to have fewer than seven draft picks every year from 2008-2014, and they are feeling that talent drain on the field now.

Posted by: Andrew Healy on 22 Sep 2015

18 comments, Last at 23 Sep 2015, 11:09am by bubqr


by James-London :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 12:58pm

"Is Tampa Bay's 26-19 win over New Orleans cause for celebration in Florida -- or cause for panic in Louisiana?"

Do they have to be mutually exclusive. BTW, that GIF of Breaux is so very good

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by theslothook :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:06pm

This is just nitpicking, but...those tables on "missed draft opportunities" I feel like are pretty misleading. Finding players of that kind of value in the later rounds is pretty small(by my estimation from a draft database I have - the probabilities are in the .10 or lower). Its also important to keep in mind that the saints lost two second round picks from bountygate.

I don't want to sound like I'm defending the saints, i'm not. Trading away picks is an awful idea in general, just - the draft is much more hit and miss than I think most people realize. Take the browns - they've had two first round picks within 3-4 years apart. The first set was Richardson and Brandon Weeeden. The other was gilbert and Manziel.

by Independent George :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:10pm

I think the importance of draft picks isn't so much finding future stars, but finding serviceable players for well below their market value. Every time the Saints traded away their picks, the issue wasn't just that they were losing chances to fill out their roster depth - it was also that it was costing them more money to do so. The offseason cap purge was a result of that.

by theslothook :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:28pm

Yeah that's why I generally think its a terrible idea to trade away draft picks - see the redskins a perennial ground zero for this.

I just think the draft gets oversold sometimes in how dramatic the opportunities missed are. Of course, its all in hindsight. Imagine someone saying - see, if we had just parlayed those underdogs, we'd own a boat now. Therefore, insane parlays are potential opportunities lost too...

by theslothook :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:27pm


by tuluse :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:34pm

The chart only shows draft picks in rounds 4 or higher. This isn't 6th round picks turning into Tom Brady, this is high to mid draft picks turning into useful players. That's basically expected.

by theslothook :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:39pm

The table has a mix of good rotation players and probowlers. I don't have the database in front of me, but its remarkable how low the probability of fielding even a 4 year starter is once you get past the first round and get stuck in mid 2nd round and lower. In fact, by the time the 3rd and 4th round come about, the difference in quality between 4th rounders and 6th rounders becomes very small.

In fact, based on the numbers, it might be wise to use your third and late 2nd to trade up in the first round and then use your 4th and 5th to acquire picks in the 6th round.

by Andrew Healy :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 5:59pm

Yes, I'm with you, but enough picks were traded away that teams were bound to hit on some of them. As you go through the picks traded away, you certainly come across a bunch of misses, too.

by Independent George :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:06pm

Lovie's always had great special teams; it's one of the most underrated aspects of his tenure in Chicago. Most coaches aren't any better than fans in thinking of special teams only in terms of the kicker and the kick/punt returners; Lovie seems to do a great job of getting his players to buy in and pay attention to all aspects of the job.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:11pm

Regarding Tampa's offensive line, agree with the notion that, if the Saints weren't sacking Winston, they were pretty much nonexistent as a pass rush. He had loads of time almost every time he dropped back, and it was genuinely shocking that Tampa's offensive line didn't even feel threatened most of the time. As for turnstiling, what the heck was Zach Strief doing at RT for the Saints? Was he hurt? Or drunk? Jacqueis Smith got three sacks because it seemed like Strief was barely moving.

The thing is, the game shouldn't have been that close; Tampa fumbled on two consecutive second-half snaps, and lost both fumbles. NO fumbled four times in the first half alone, and recovered all of them. NO made mistake after mistake, and, in the end, almost came back because Tampa screwed up a few times and also went incredibly conservative on offense in the second half. Tampa really beat the heck out of the Saints for the great majority of that game.

by Andrew Healy :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 6:08pm

Strief looked very bad, but I would give Smith a fair bit of credit. Loved what he did to get the ball out on the first sack. And he had more burst around the edge than I was expecting to see.

Agreed on Tampa going conservative. That applied early, too. They ran on their first six first downs.

by tuluse :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:30pm

Is it surprising that a Rob Ryan coached defense brought extra rushers so infrequently?

by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:35pm

Against a team with a rookie QB in his second game, where in the first game he played terribly whenever pressured? Yeah, in that scenario, it's surprising. Tampa's offensive line was nightmarishly bad in game one, and they were rarely threatened in game two. Considering what had happened week one, it was pretty shocking.

by theslothook :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 1:35pm

This reminds me of something Gruden said last night.

When vontae Davis went down, he said, "you blitz to protect these inexperienced corners. Can't give these quarterbacks a chance to survey the field." Then in a span of 20 minutes, when the colts were playing zone and rushing 4 - likely the right strategy for a interception prone Fitzpatrick, he says, "Mike you can't put inexperienced corners on an island. You need play it safe and let them play their responsibilities."

What to make of this apparent contradiction?

by tuluse :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 2:56pm

Gruden doesn't think before he speaks?

by PirateFreedom :: Tue, 09/22/2015 - 3:38pm

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

by ChrisS :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 9:48am

The surprise score of .543 implies a win probability for TB of about 23%. This seems high to me for a 10.5 point underdog. But I guess it is based on historical results.

by bubqr :: Wed, 09/23/2015 - 11:09am

How realistic ($$$/cap) is a trade of Drew Brees to either the Bengals or Chiefs, teams that could become SB contenders with Pro-Bowl QB play?
The Saints kickstart their rebuild around, hemmm, Brandin Cooks?, and we get to see Brees chasing another ring. Win-win.

Sidenote: that GIF of Dreaux is pure gold.