New Orleans Saints numbers define team success
One of the oldest axioms in sports is that statistics are for losers. While that is certainly not always the case, individual statistics are great but often do not translate into winning.
There is perhaps no greater illustration of this than the New Orleans Saints. In 2008, Drew Brees came within 11 yards of a record-setting season for passing yards, throwing for 5,069 yards, an average of 316.8 yards per game. He was terrific all season long. This year, he does not rank in the top five in the league in passing yards, averaging 274.6 yards per game, but he has the second highest passer rating in the league at 105.8, trailing only Minnesota’s ageless Brett Favre at 112.1.
Brees has connected on 68.1 percent of his passes with 22 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. In 2008, Brees completed 65 percent of his passes with 34 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions with a quarterback rating of 96.2.
Fast-forward to 2009. Scanning the individual leaders league-wide, the New Orleans Saints have no one in the top five in passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards or tackles. The only Saints in the top five in any of these “glamour” categories is safety Darren Sharper, who is second in the league with seven interceptions to Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd, who has eight picks, while Will Smith is tied for fifth in the league with 8.5 sacks.
John Carney ranks sixth in the league in scoring with 81 points, thanks to the Saints high-scoring offense. Otherwise, the Saints numbers define team success.
For the offense, it has been the consummate definition of spreading the wealth. The top-ranked receiver for the Saints is Marques Colston, who is 33rd in the league with 44 catches. The top-ranked rusher is Pierre Thomas, who is 17th with 584 yards. The top-ranked tackler is safety Roman Harper, who is 29th with 68 stops.
While the individual numbers may not appear overly impressive, the team numbers certainly get your attention. The Saints lead the NFL in scoring, averaging 36.9 points per game. They lead the league in yards-per-game, averaging 420.5 yards per contest.
Most impressive is the balance of the offense. Through 10 games, the Saints have thrown the football 320 times and run it 324 times. Translation: The Saints have passed 49.6 percent of the time while rushing 50.4 percent of the time on offense in 2009. The Saints rank fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (154.3) and sixth in passing yards (266.2). They have won the time-of-possession battle, averaging 32:20 per game to 27:40 for opponents. A year ago, the Saints passed 636 times while rushing only 398 times. Translation: The Saints passed 61.5 percent of the time while only running it 39.5 percent of the time on offense in 2008, a reflection of having no balance at all.
Gregg Williams’ defense has generated pressure, collecting 24 sacks. Of course, the Saints have a +10 turnover ratio, including 20 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. The 34 turnovers forced lead the NFL. Five of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, including three by Sharper. The turnovers have more than offset the modest rankings of this defense, which ranks 13th in points allowed (20.4), 17th in yards allowed per game (330.6), 16th in passing yards allowed (214.9) and 19th in rushing yards allowed (115.7). All of those rankings are near the middle of the pack, completely acceptable numbers for a team which has forced so many turnovers and features a brilliant offense.
When the Saints host the Patriots Monday night, you may be looking at a shootout. New Orleans leads the NFL in total offense, averaging 420.5 yards per game while the Patriots are second at 416.1 yards. New Orleans leads the league in scoring while New England is third, averaging 29 points per game. The game is indoors. The Saints have a banged-up secondary. It could be points aplenty.
In the midst of an 8-8 season in 2008, the Saints lead the NFL in scoring, averaging 28.9 points per game but they allowed 24.6 points per game, 26th in the league. The Saints were 22nd in the NFL with a minus four turnover ratio.
While individual statistics are often for losers in team sports, the Saints’ team numbers truly tell the story of a successful football team, as in 10-0.
The Saints are just the 19th team in NFL history to start a season 10-0. Their 10 consecutive wins are a franchise record. Still, to earn the complete respect of observers nationally, New Orleans must beat New England Monday night. The unbeaten Colts already have. 11-0 would be a number to behold, especially when you consider the nature of the opposition Monday night. Beating the Patriots would truly define team success.
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