Why the Saints aren't in trouble
From Football Outsiders:
Each Tuesday, Football Outsiders writes a column for ESPN.com looking at the biggest upset of the previous NFL weekend and what it tells us about those teams going forward. But sometimes, an upset is just a random result, literally an example of what can happen on "any given Sunday." Cleveland win over New Orleans exemplified one of those games, as the Saints are not this bad and the Browns are not this good. And though Colt McCoy Profile - Cleveland Browns - ESPN McCoy Profile - Cleveland Browns - ESPN now has a win over the Saints and a decent game against the Steelers under his belt, it's still way too early to tell whether or not the Browns have their first franchise quarterback since Bernie Kosar Profile - Miami Dolphins - ESPN.
In two games, McCoy has tossed two interceptions and taken six sacks, while throwing for only one touchdown. On the other hand, he's completing more than 65 percent of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt, and most of that came against the elite Pittsburgh defense. Those are pretty good numbers for the first two games in a rookie's career, right? Can we take any meaning from that?
The answers to those questions are a definitive "yes", followed by a resounding "no." Here's McCoy's statline compared to the average rookie quarterback's first two games going to 1990 (minimum 10 pass attempts in each game):
Player G Cmp Att Cmp% Yds Y/A TD Int Rtg McCoy 2 32 49 65.3% 355 7.24 1.0 2.0 76.5 Average Rookie 2 27 51 53.5% 305 5.99 1.7 2.2 64.1
McCoy is ahead of the curve in all categories except touchdowns. He especially shines in completion percentage, ranking sixth overall. But a look at the other names in the top 10 reveals how meaningless all this is:
There are certainly no stars among those names. In fact, barely a starter can be found on that list. McCoy's play so far is nice but has no long-term relevance -- just like the Browns' win over the Saints.
McCoy himself didn't contribute much to that win. He actually had more success as a receiver (one target, one reception, 13 yards) than as a passer (9-of-16 for only 74 yards). The offense managed to avoid turnovers but not much else, gaining 210 total yards, going 2-for-11 on third downs and scoring only one touchdown in four red zone possessions.
Most accurate rookie QBs, first two games of their career
Rank Player Cmp Att Cmp% 1 Brian Hoyer Profile - New England Patriots - ESPN 17 23 73.9% 2 Todd Bouman Profile - Jacksonville Jaguars - ESPN 32 46 69.6% 3 Rick Mirer Profile - Detroit Lions - ESPN 34 49 69.4% 4 Tommy Maddox Profile - Pittsburgh Steelers - ESPN 27 39 69.2% 5 Trent Edwards Profile - Jacksonville Jaguars - ESPN 32 48 66.7% 6 Colt McCoy Profile - Cleveland Browns - ESPN 32 49 65.3% 7 Shaun King Profile - Indianapolis Colts - ESPN 52 80 65.0% 8 Keith Null Profile - Jacksonville Jaguars - ESPN 46 71 64.8% 9 Chris Weinke Profile - San Francisco 49ers - ESPN 40 63 63.5% 10 Brock Huard Profile - Seattle Seahawks - ESPN 38 60 63.3%
Only one Cleveland play gained more than 18 yards, and that play wasn't made by a running back or receiver but by punter Reggie Hodges Profile - Cleveland Browns - ESPN, who turned a fake punt into a 68-yard run. (Note: It's never a good thing when your punter accounts for nearly a third of your total yards from scrimmage.) The special teams added another big play with a Josh Cribbs Profile - Cleveland Browns - ESPN across-the-field lateral to Eric Wright Profile - Cleveland Browns - ESPN that produced a 62-yard punt return. These plays caught New Orleans off-guard, but they're fluky -- the Saints have allowed only four 20-yard runs all year and had not allowed a punt return longer than 16 yards going into the Browns game. Forget what you saw Sunday. These are strengths of the Saints, not weaknesses.
The biggest key to the upset, though, was a Cleveland defense that intercepted Drew Brees Profile - New Orleans Saints - ESPN four times, returning those picks for 110 total yards and two touchdowns. That's a problem that's cost the Saints before -- they gave up three defensive scores in a Week 5 loss to the Cardinals. Football Outsiders reports on the defense of the Green Bay Packers - ESPN, though, defensive scores are essentially random -- there's no pattern of teams consistently scoring on defense from year to year, or even from game to game. So, while those blunders have obviously cost the Saints dearly in 2010, there's no reason to expect them to continue regularly going forward.
As for Brees, those four interceptions against the Browns tied a career high set in 2007 against the Titans. Brees leads the league with 10 interceptions, including eight in his past three games, the worst such stretch of his career. That's not necessarily a sign of things to come, however. Brees threw seven total picks in three games early in 2007. He then threw just one interception in his next four contests. Picks aside, Brees is having another excellent season, leading the league in completion percentage and ranking fourth in total QB value according to Football Outsiders' DYAR rankings.
We should get over this loss as simply a head scratcher. Cleveland did nothing to the Saints. This was complete self flagellation.
It's been self flagellation pretty much all season so far. Makes you wonder if the same theory can be applied to the Tampa game. Tampa is not that bad of a team as we are third in the division behind them.
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