The League

Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

All depends on the zebras

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Everyone's looking forward to the NFC Championship rematch between the Saints and Vikings, but perhaps nobody wants this game to start more than Vikings head coach Brad Childress. Having mortgaged his own credibility for one more season of Brett Favre, Chilly must certainly know that he's as much in a "win now" mode as any coach in the league. That's why he's been engaging in some not-too-subtle gamesmanship in the media, repeatedly whining about the hits Favre took in that last game at the hands of Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' hyper-aggressive pass rush.

"What I hate to see are late hits or attempts to hurt anybody, Childress said last Sunday. "I don't think there's a place for that in the game." In that game, the Saints were flagged for two late hits, and the league later said that there should have been a third flag. That's a tradeoff Williams and the Saints will take, because his defense is much, much better when it's blitzing. In 2009, New Orleans ranked 25th in Defensive DVOA (Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted per-play metric) when rushing four defenders, sixth when they rushed five defenders, and fifth when they brought six or more. Certainly, no team brought six or more, more than the Saints -- Williams sent full-on blitzes 142 times out of 1,034 possible defensive plays, 13.7 percent of the time. And when Williams sends all those guys, he doesn't want them to bring Favre to the ground with a bedtime story and a blanket -- he knows that Favre is not nearly as effective and efficient when he's in the face of a total blitz, and it will be the Saints' job to make those blitzes hurt.

The question is, will the league allow fair and impartial officiating, or will the combination of Childress' advocacy and the awareness of what an injured Favre would do to the league's bottom line going forward have the officiating crew throwing flags at every turn? If the crew decides to be hyper-vigilant, walking off 15-yard chunks of real estate every time a Saints defender so much as breathes on Favre, the defending Super Bowl champs will have a major problem with a repeat win. These teams are both excellent, and very evenly matched. All things being equal, I think the Saints will pull out another squeaker. But given the fact that the NFL has already changed the postseason overtime rules in a knee-jerk reaction which told me that those in charge would have preferred Favre back in the Super Bowl, I would not be surprised if the Saints' aggressive pass-rush tactics are officiated right out of this particular game. And in that case, I have to like the Vikings in a close one.

But here's an important note for this game: In the 2009 regular season, the Saints were called for a combined five roughing the passer/unnecessary roughness penalties. The Vikings, on the other hand, were called for 12 such infractions. Childress' protests aside, maybe the refs would be best off watching both defenses and keeping this thing even.

By Doug Farrar  |  September 7, 2010; 9:23 AM ET  | Category:  Minnesota Vikings , NFL , New Orleans Saints Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Injuring the game | Next: History on Saints' side

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