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Inside the Numbers - Redskins @ Saints

November 16, 2017
The New Orleans Saints are a completely different team than the mess that they had become before this year. They are doing almost everything right (finally) organizationally and on the field, that has manifested itself into a seven-game winning streak.

That’s after an (0-2) start. This week, they try and stuff the Redskins like an early Thanksgiving turkey by cramming the pigskins down the throats of their visitors.

The Saints are only the second team in the Super Bowl era to win seven straight games after starting the season (0-2). The only other team to do it was the 1993 Dallas Cowboys, who went on to win the Super Bowl that year.  

Perhaps ironically for the Cowboys that year and the Saints this year is this: Dallas did not have the services of the legendary Emmitt Smith for those first two games, as he was a hold-out. The Saints tried to re-vamp their backfield and their overall philosophy with the great Adrian Peterson. It was a complete flop for New Orleans and eventually Peterson was released.

The Cowboys went on to beat the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl that year. The Saints just hammered the Bills in Buffalo last week. Coincidence? Yeah. However, the stars just might be aligning themselves.

Let’s go further “Inside the Numbers” as the (4-5) Redskins visit New Orleans for the first time since Robert Griffin III’s regular season debut.

I – Room to Run!

The Saints have completely evolved. Last week in Buffalo, they scored 47 points and Drew Brees had exactly ZERO touchdown passes and 184 yards passing. A fantasy football owner’s nightmare (mine) but a dream for Sean Payton.

Brees did have a touchdown run, Mark Ingram had three scores (and 131 yards on the ground) while Alvin Kamara racked up 106 yards rushing (12 attempts) and a score.

The Saints racked up six rushing touchdowns on the day, a franchise record and became the first team to rack up six or more rushing scores in a day since the 2013 Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs against the Colts.

The last time a team had six-or-more rushing touchdowns in a regular season game before the Saints did it last Sunday? 2004. Kansas City had EIGHT in one game against Atlanta.

The Saints racked up 32 first downs, were (6-12) on third down, had 482 net yards, ran 73 offensive plays (Buffalo had 45), racked up 298 net rushing yards and held the ball for 41:23.

On the year, the Saints have run for 1,280 yards in their nine games, an average of 142.2 per game on 276 attempts. That’s an average of 4.63 yards per rushing attempt.

They’ve run 584 total offensive plays, so that means they’ve dropped back to pass on 308 of those plays. Drew Brees has passed 300 times and he’s only been sacked EIGHT times in nine games.

The Saints are running on 47.2% of their plays and obviously it’s easy to keep running if you are having success, but it took a lot of change to get here. It took a multi-year evolution.

In 2016, the Saints ran 1,105 offensive plays and ran on 404 of those plays, or 36.5%. They averaged 108.9 rushing yards per game and 4.31 per attempt. Clearly, they are better this year but they were largely successful when they attempted to run last season.

In 2015, New Orleans ran 1096 offensive plays and ran on 397 of those plays, or 36.2%. They averaged 93.2 rushing yards per game and 3.75 per attempt.

The Saints converted on third-down 47.7% of the time in 2015, which is a credit to Brees with such a poor running attack and averaged 31:11 time of possession.

In 2016, New Orleans was still great on third down at 48.6% and in time of possession at 30:57 average. So as their running game improved in terms of success, they got even better on third down but were slightly lower in average TOP.

In 2017, they are much lower on third down conversion percentage (41.3%) but their possession average has gone up to a very strong 32:36.

This is with the Adrian Peterson disaster earlier in the year.

It’s easy to say things like “of course they have a commitment, they have talent” or “it’s because of the success they are having” and while that sounds good, it isn’t exactly and completely true.

In their first two games this year, the Saints racked up only 60 yards (2.9 per rush) and 81 yards (4.8) per rush but only averaged 19 attempts per game (21 @ Minnesota, 17 vs NEP). In week four, a win, New Orleans only averaged 3.1 per attempt (28-86) in London against Miami.

The point is this: It would have been easy for the Saints to revert back to the old Saints early this year and even after the first month, but instead, they remained patient and kicked the run game into full gear. It has paid huge dividends.

II – When the Saints (D) Come Marching In!

The Saints defense is much better this year. They are allowing only 18.3 points per game, with the league average at 22.1 They are allowing only 312.3 yards per game, which is almost 25 yards BELOW the NFL average. Their passing yards per game allowed (201.4) is more than 26 yards BELOW the league average. They are more than a half-yard below the NFL average in passing yards per play and have an interception rate of 3.37%, more than a point above the rest of the league (2.36%).

A big reason for the improvement is New Orleans’ pass rush. They’re at 8.42% sacks per pass attempt, with the NFL average all the way down at 7.01%. The Saints also have not allowed a fourth-down conversion this year and they are good in the red zone and in goal-to-go situations.

Because the Saints defense is on the field for only 27 + minutes on average, they have more juice in their legs and ability to wreak havoc.

III – Drew and Kirk. 

Drew Brees is the all-time NFL leader in completion percentage at 66.8%, based on a minimum of 1,500 attempts. Kirk Cousins is third all-time at 66%.

Brees and Cousins are also tied for # 16 all-time for lowest interception percentage, among quarterbacks with more than 1,500 attempts. They are both at 2.5%, in a group with Steve Bono, Rich Gannon and Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco and Kyle Orton. Obviously, there’s more to the position than avoiding interceptions, but one of the knocks against Cousins has always been that.

The last time the two teams met was in 2015 and Cousins carved up the woeful Saints defense for 324 yards, four touchdown passes and a perfect passer rating at 158.3. The Skins won that day 47.17.

IV – Beasts of the NFC and New Orleans?

The Redskins, with a win, would not only improve to (5-5) but just as important, they would get another conference win and even their NFC record at (4-4). Every conference game (because the division is lost) is of extra-importance, because of potential tie-breaker wild card scenarios.

If Washington is going to lose, it has to come in Los Angeles against the Chargers. Not this week, or on a short week (Thanksgiving vs. Giants) or the following Thursday night in Dallas.

For whatever it is worth – probably nothing – the Redskins have not lost in New Orleans since 1994, a four-game winning streak and have won seven-of-eight on the road against the Saints.

V – D-Day against Drew?

The Saints have only been sacked eight times on the season.  The Redskins did not have a sack for the first time in more than two years last Sunday, a stretch dating back to a loss in New England against Tom Brady, a week before they blasted the Saints, in November 2015.

If the Redskins could come up with at least two interceptions on Sunday, it would make three games in a row (Seattle Will Compton & Kendall Fuller, Minnesota D.J. Swearinger x 2) and it would be the first time since a four-game stretch in 2007 (Weeks 3-7).

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for eight seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for five years. He covers the Redskins, Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade for Monumental Sports Network (  Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN