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Five reasons we should have believed in the Saints

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Even after their decisive 31-17 Super Bowl win over the Indianapolis Colts, the New Orleans Saints can't get much respect. Betting site Bodog.com recently published the Super Bowl odds for the 2010 season, which list the Colts as the favorites at 13/2, followed by the Saints and the New England Patriots at 10/1. Note that not only did the Saints beat the Colts in the Super Bowl, they also kicked the heck out of the Pats by a 38-17 margin on November 30.

This after most people had the Colts by anywhere from three points to a touchdown before kickoff -- that might be why Nevada casinos took in approximately $6.9 million on the $82.7 million bet on the game. I picked the Saints by three in last week's Smarter Stats, but I didn't see a two-touchdown victory coming -- I'd imagine the only people who did were either wearing Saints helmets or were somehow related to the guys who were. But here, for your edification, are five reasons we should have seen this coming.

1. Jabari Greer is almost as good as Darrelle Revis.

While everyone was busy talking about Revis Island all season (and justifiably so), people overlooked Saints cornerback Jabari Greer. Despite missing seven weeks with a sports hernia, Greer finished the 2009 season ranked behind only Revis in Yards per Pass and Success Rate. Peyton Manning knew this in the Super Bowl -- when Greer missed a few plays after tackling Joseph Addai, Manning hit Pierre Garcon (who Greer would have been covering) for a 19-yard touchdown. Tracy Porter was the man in the actual game, clinching the Lombardi Trophy with a late touchdown pick and limiting Reggie Wayne to five receptions on 11 targets, Greer was the cornerback the Colts were really sweating.

2. Pierre Thomas is another underrated threat.

Thomas has been on our watch list as a prospect for a while now, but his 2009 season put him over the top -- he ranked first overall in DVOA, our primary per-play efficiency metric. He was also third in Success Rate, a stat which measures successful running plays (defined by down and distance). Thomas ran nine times for 30 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl -- it's worth noting that among running backs, Thomas ranked 11th in Receiving DVOA last season, making him a key man in an offense where screen passes are more important than in previous years.

3. The guys blocking for Thomas aren't too bad, either.

The Saints ranked second overall in our Adjusted Line Yards statistic, which projects back and line efficiency based on the length of running plays. Only the Miami Dolphins were better. New Orleans was particularly effective running to the right side, behind right guard Jahri Evans and right tackle Jon Stinchcomb -- their rushing attack was second-best up the middle, fourth-best to right tackle, and third-best around right end. Conversely, the Colts ranked 29th in Defensive Adjusted Line Yards, showing particular vulnerability to the defensive left side.

4. No team was better in the red zone -- on both sides of the ball.

Considering the fact that the Saints led the NFL in scoring in 2009 with 510 points, you wouldn't be surprised to know that only the Arizona Cardinals were better in overall red zone DVOA. New Orleans ranked ninth in red zone passing DVOA, second in red zone run DVOA, and fourth in goal-to-go-situations. But one reason they were so dangerous all year was that their defense ranked first overall in red zone DVOA as well. Their defense was 21st in DVOA against the run in the red zone, and 10th overall in goal-to-go, but that's still better than the liability the Saints' run defense was in the open field. That's the main thing they'll have to address in the offseason if they want to make Super Bowl XLV a reality.

5. In 2009, Drew Brees was better than Peyton Manning.

Yeah, thought we'd save that one for last. Not only did Brees outdo Manning in the nebulous passer rating category (109.6 to 99.9), but also in DVOA (41.0% to 38.1%). That per-play stat projected better in a small sample size than cumulative season stats, though the two players were close in those as well. But Brees blew through the playoffs as the "other" quarterback in every game -- second banana to Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, and Manning, and in every case, he outdid the guy he was facing. In the divisional round, his DYAR was far better than Warner's. In the NFC Championship game, his DYAR was inferior to Favre's, but he didn't throw the late interception to Tracy Porter that helped decide the outcome. And in the Super Bowl, Brees became to America what those in the know already believed him to be -- perhaps the best quarterback in the game.

Maybe someday soon, Brees' team will engender the same respect.

By Doug Farrar  |  February 15, 2010; 10:07 PM ET  | Category:  Doug Farrar , NFL , Quarterbacks , Statistics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The Smarter Stats Super Bowl Preview | Next: Smarter Stats: Five things to know about the 2010 Redskins

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