Sunday Night Football: Deep Dive

Warren Sharp
·4 min read

The Saints play one of the highest rates of man to man coverage in the NFL. They play it at a 12% above average clip, the 4th highest rate in the NFL. But they aren’t particularly good at it.

Looking at the last 4 games they’ve played, they faced Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, Justin Herbert and Matthew Stafford.

When playing zone, they allowed 41% success and 7.7 YPA.

To passes when playing man, they allowed 54% success and 7.9 YPA.

Most QBs struggle more vs man than zone. But Brady does not. Over the last 4 weeks, his splits are:

Vs zone: 46% success, 6.5 YPA, +0.19 EPA
Vs man: 58% success, 8.7 YPA, +0.48 EPA

Brady just finished playing the Giants, Raiders, Packers and Bears. All of these teams play more zone than the NFL average. In fact, looking at his entire season, most of the teams he’s faced that play way more zone than the NFL average.

The only team that plays more man than average, other than the Saints, was the Broncos back in Week 3.

In that game, the Bucs cruised to a 28-10 win, scoring 23 points in the first half. Their first five drives of the game were 3 TDs, 1 FG and 1 punt.

What about the first game of the season when he played the Saints?

In the week 1 game vs the Saints earlier this year, Brady destroyed the man defense of the Saints. He averaged 8.4 YPA, 57% success and +0.24 EPA vs man, but only 3.4 YPA, 25% success and -1.43 EPA vs zone.

I’m not quit sure what Bruce Arians has been doing on first downs in the first half the last month of the season, but it has been perplexing.

On first half first downs over the first month of the season, Arians had his Bucs going 48% pass, which was slightly more run-heavy than the NFL’s 50/50 split on first half first downs.

These runs averaged only 2.3 YPC with a 47% success rate.

Both were well below the NFL average of 4.4 YPC with a 50% success rate.

That should signal to a coach that first down runs aren’t going to help us, and should encourage him to go more pass heavy.

But not for these Bucs.

Since week 5, the Bucs have gone 64% run on these first downs. That’s the 3rd highest run rate in the NFL. On these plays, they are still averaging below average production in both YPC and success rate.

If the Bucs continue with a run first approach in this game Sunday night.

On the season, look at the splits by the Saints Defense on first half first downs:

Vs runs: 2.0 YPC, 33% success
Vs passes: 7.7 YPA, 52% success

Running on the Saints Defense, particularly with the skill set of players the Bucs have at the receiver position, and the QB they have behind center, is a total disservice.

So pay close attention to what Bruce Arians chooses to do on these first half first downs from a play calling perspective.

The Saints haven’t won a game this year that they didn’t trail in at some point. They’ve overcome three, double digit leads by opponents to post narrow wins over the Bears, Chargers and Lions. The Bucs have held leads of at least 7 points in every single game this year, including the game in New Orleans in week 1.

Tampa Bay does have the NFL’s #3 run defense, but they haven’t been tested much, facing the 5th easiest schedule of opposing rushing attacks.

We still don’t know if Michael Thomas will play this week, but the Saints have survived without him for most of the season.

Emmanuel Sanders should be back for the Saints, which will add a needed threat in the receiving game, and Sanders is solid at underneath routes which Drew Brees will need to target due to potential wind that may be present for this game.

I expect heavy usage of Alvin Kamara and short passes from Brees, because in the last game, the Bucs stingy run defense held Alvin Kamara to just 1.3 YPC and they rank third best in the NFL.