05 December 2011

Week 13 Rear View: Lions at Saints

To reiterate, every week during the season I'll be posting a summary of the Saints' game, complete with key stats and a "Good, Bad, Ugly" performance review. If you have ideas or feedback, please feel free to submit those to me via blog comment, Twitter, Facebook, email, text, message in a bottle or whatever floats your proverbial boat. 

Also, at four-week intervals, we'll see how the Saints rank league-wide in some important statistical categories. 

Final Score: Saints 31, Lions 17
Record: 9-3
Complete Box Score

Yards Gained: 438
Yards Allowed: 466
Yards/play: 7.2
Yards/play allowed: 6.8

Turnover Differential: +1   [+1, 0], (-2)
First Down Differential: -4   [+21, -25], (+42)
Sack Differential: 0   [+2, -2], (0)
Time of Possession Differential: -10:06   (+20:51)

3rd Down Conversion: 50%, 6/12   (53%, 83/156)
Opponent's 3rd Down Conversion: 18%, 2/11   (35%, 54/156)

2011 Aggregate Point Differential: +124
Average PPG
: 32.8
Opponent's Average PPG: 22.4

* as always, numbers in brackets [x] represent game totals, while numbers in parentheses (y) represent season totals.

The Good
* Let's take some time to congratulate the defense for holding the Lions to 17 points, 12 fewer than their season average heading into the game. While the defense continues to surrender chunks of yardage--465 and 466 in consecutive weeks--let's use points allowed as our most important benchmark around here.

In vanquishing four consecutive NFC foes, three of them postseason contenders, the Saints have given up just 16, 23, 24, and 17 points. This average of 20 points allowed is in line with last year's mark which ranked the Saints 7th overall in points allowed. 

More importantly, during the current 4-game winning streak, the Saints have allowed just one first half TD, that score coming late in the first half of last night's game. 

Playing with the lead has been critical to a winning formula for the Saints in the recent past and right now, they're implementing this formula flawlessly. More please.    

On Sunday night, the defense did two things particularly well: they neutralized Calvin Johnson and played excellent on 3rd down. 

Johnson faced a bevy of bracket coverage and 3-deep zones all night, forcing Matt Stafford to continually throw the ball underneath to his RBs. Johnson averaged just 11.5 yards/catch on 6 catches, relegating him to an ancillary piece in Sunday's outcome. Here's to a job well-done by Gregg Williams and the secondary in slowing down the dominant Calvin Johnson. 

Additionally, the defense permitted just two 3rd-down conversions in 11 attempts. This continues a season-long trend of being efficient on 3rd down, where the Saints rank 7th overall. 

While this may or may not have contributed to their excellent 3rd-down defense, the defense--to my eyes--did a great job of mixing coverages and blitzes all night long. Gregg Williams seemed to employ much more balance and much less jailbreak on Sunday night. Keep 'em guessing, Coach.  

Most notably on 3rd downs, the Lions seemed fooled and were subsequently forced into a -2 punt differential on the night. Not a recipe for beating the Saints.

Lastly, let's mention Jonathan Vilma's return to the starting lineup. Vilma made an impact, recording 10 tackles and a pass defended as he knocked off the lingering rust.

Though Vilma has been the subject of an understated criticism from segments of the football cognoscenti and fans alike, I'm not much on board with that school of thought. While Vilma's play has curtailed from his prime year of 2009, he's still the Saints' best LB until definitively proven otherwise and, moreover, his intellectual presence on the Saints' defense is paramount to tactics and in-game adjustments. 

Having a healthy and confident Vilma for the stretch run of 2011 is a welcomed sight.

* Is that you Robert Meachem? Glad you made it, we've missed you around these parts. Seemingly overnight, Meachem has gone from a just-scratching-the-surface-of-his-talent youngster to a trusted, savvy veteran. Am I alone here? When did that happen? 

On Sunday night Meachem did a lot with a little, catching 3 passes for 119 yards and a TD. In his career vs. Detroit (3 games), Meachem has averaged 34 yards/catch and scored 3 TDs. I know it's probably just coincidence, but it's nonetheless impressive.  

Particularly impressive on Sunday night was Meachem's 38-yard reception on 3rd and 4 that rescued the Saints from the shadows of their goal line. Isolated in man coverage on the left sideline, Meachem masterfully and slyly slowed down ever-so-slightly and used his body to create separation from his defender, allowing Brees to drop in a perfect pass. 

Were you not paying attention, Nate Burleson? Because that's how you do it. 

Soon thereafter, the Saints scored their first TD of the night. 

Then later in the 2nd quarter, Meachem found himself wide open in the middle of the field, and though the ball was slightly underthrown by Brees, Meachem managed to bob, weave, and spin his defender in Barry Sanders-esque fashion before slipping into the end zone for a highlight-reel 67-yard TD

* As with Drew Brees, I'm running out of superlatives for Jimmy Graham. Can we, once more, consider the fact that Jimmy Graham did not play football in high school and then played just one season in college where he caught only 17 passes?

And now, in his second season as a professional, he's setting both team and league records? It's unprecedented and the spectacle that Saints' fans are witnessing is historic. And to think that fans once decried the loss of Shockey? In Loomis We Trust.

Last night, Cris Collinsworth stated that, besides Brees, Graham is the player most important to the Saints. 

While it shouldn't be such a jarring statement, it speaks volumes to the transcendent talent, drive, and humility that Graham possesses. 

And for all you out there continually scrambling for a suitable nickname for Graham? This is easy. 

Have you not figured this out yet? 

Jimmy the Great

Let's move on now. 

The Bad
* You know why the Lions ran up 466 yards of offense? It's because they possessed the ball for 10 more minutes than the Saints did.  

Last week, we surmised that the less frequent the defense is on the field, the better the Saints' chances are for victory. Groundbreaking stuff, I know. Thanks much. I'll be here all season long.  

On Sunday, the Lions controlled the clock - most notably in the 3rd quarter where they climbed back into the game by possessing the ball for almost 13 minutes. 

If you're looking for a reason why this game was closer than it probably should've been after the Saints jumped out to a 24-7 lead, this is why.

* Cam Jordan's penalty? Meh. It wasn't egregious or anything. And I'm hesitant to even list it here. But it really seemed unnecessary and doltish, especially the forearm to the head. 

Even if he wasn't late, that's a penalty every time. And the timing of it couldn't have been any worse. Just for the spazz factor alone, it deserves inclusion here.      

The Ugly
* Another game, another brutally-blown coverage. Come on, now. What's worse about the blown coverage this week? It came with 13 seconds left in the 1st half. How can you possibly surrender a 49-yard pass at that point, especially when Malcolm Jenkins typically lines up 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage?

Last night, Collinsworth noted that the Saints' safeties were lined up "in different area codes" yet somehow Titus Young found himself wide open way down the field. 

For the second straight week, the coverage was blown on Patrick Robinson's side of the field. I'm not solely directing the blame at Robinson because Jenkins was nowhere to be found, and I'm certainly not qualified to indicate what the coverage scheme was, but Robinson did get caught peeking in the backfield.  

Gotta do better. 

Worth Repeating
"Jimmy Graham has proven himself to be uncoverable this season." - Cris Collinsworth

photos courtesy of Yahoo! Sports  

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