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Missing: The Saints Passing Game

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 26, 2007

Yesterday, we saw how the Chargers running game has declined through three games more than any team since the '96-'97 seasons. Well, San Diego, you've got some company. The 2006-2007 Saints are currently mirroring the Chargers' fall from grace. No passing attack since 1996 has seen as large a decline in performance through three games as the '07 Saints.

What makes both situations so surprising is that each team kept its key personnel. The Saints brought back Brees, Bush, Colston and McAllister, and drafted Robert Meachem to replace Joe Horn. Sean Payton is still around, so we can't use the Norv Turner excuse in New Orleans. The real culprit has been the abysmal play of the line, but who could have predicted that? Pro Bowl LT Jammal Brown is injured and playing like it, while RT Jon Stinchcomb is playing miserably. Brees has been sacked "only" four times, but he's committed nine turnovers in three games in the face of constant pressure. So how much worse than last year are the Saints passing stats?

I calculated the adjusted yards per pass attempt for all passes thrown by QBs for every team from 1996-2006. For those that don't remember what AY/A is,

Adjusted yards per attempt is defined as (passing yards + 10*(TD passes) - 45*(interceptions thrown)) / (pass attempts). It was devised (and the reasoning behind it explained) in a book called The Hidden Game of Football, by Carroll, Palmer, and Thorn.

Here are the top 20 passing teams from 1996-2006, sorted by adjusted yards per pass attempt.


year tm cmp att yard td int AY/A
2004 clt 353 526 4732 51 10 9.11
2004 min 379 548 4717 39 11 8.42
2000 ram 380 587 5492 37 23 8.22
1999 ram 343 529 4586 42 15 8.19
1998 atl 236 420 3722 28 15 7.92
2006 phi 322 542 4298 31 8 7.84
2003 oti 312 496 3992 30 9 7.84
1998 min 327 534 4492 41 16 7.83
2005 clt 348 515 4191 31 11 7.78
2006 clt 362 557 4397 31 9 7.72
2004 sdg 287 446 3468 29 7 7.72
2001 ram 378 549 4852 36 22 7.69
1998 sfo 346 555 4482 40 15 7.58
2003 min 333 518 4169 32 13 7.54
2006 nor 372 578 4626 27 12 7.54
2000 den 354 568 4464 28 12 7.40
2004 phi 336 546 4208 32 11 7.39
2004 kan 370 561 4633 27 17 7.38
2005 kan 317 507 4014 17 10 7.36
2000 sfo 365 581 4404 32 10 7.36

For comparison's sake, here are the worst 20 passing teams from 1996-2006:


year tm cmp att yard td int AY/A
1998 sdg 260 565 3092 10 34 2.94
1997 nor 244 487 3012 12 35 3.20
1999 crd 286 555 3059 11 30 3.28
2005 sfo 202 387 2163 8 21 3.35
2003 det 318 585 2967 17 24 3.52
2000 cin 207 454 2219 6 14 3.63
1998 phi 282 531 2733 7 18 3.75
1999 phi 235 472 2405 18 18 3.76
2001 cin 322 601 3291 12 25 3.80
2001 car 314 578 3098 12 22 3.85
2002 det 277 575 3168 19 25 3.88
2005 chi 218 416 2183 11 15 3.89
2006 rai 263 481 2850 7 23 3.92
1996 nyg 237 458 2639 13 21 3.98
2003 atl 230 457 2631 14 21 4.00
2001 dal 209 411 2409 14 20 4.01
2004 mia 308 585 3343 19 26 4.04
2002 crd 291 548 3038 18 22 4.07
1998 pit 273 488 2764 13 20 4.09
2003 chi 271 515 2905 12 20 4.13

The 2006 Saints averaged 7.54 AY/A, but through three games in 2007, New Orleans is at just 2.86 AY/A. That difference of 4.67 (rounded) is the largest decline from Year N to Year N+1 (through three games) of any pairing since the 1996-1997 seasons:


2006 nor 7.54 2.86 4.67
1996 nor 4.74 0.44 4.29
1998 sfo 7.58 3.29 4.29
1997 pit 5.54 1.54 3.99
2004 min 8.42 4.43 3.98
1998 crd 5.50 1.58 3.93
2005 rai 5.86 2.26 3.60
2000 was 5.61 2.01 3.60
2002 atl 6.43 2.95 3.49
1998 nyj 7.13 3.67 3.46
1999 sea 6.02 2.70 3.31
2000 dal 4.41 1.14 3.27
2005 pit 6.95 3.78 3.17
1998 rav 5.62 2.46 3.16
2001 ram 7.69 4.62 3.07
2002 rav 5.64 2.60 3.04
2002 chi 4.90 1.89 3.01
2004 clt 9.11 6.14 2.97
2001 det 5.13 2.21 2.92
2005 tam 5.57 2.68 2.89

These Saints have some company, at least. The 1997 Saints had an absolutely miserable start thanks to Mike Ditka and Heath Shuler. Steve Young had one of the best seasons of all time for the 49ers in 1998, but was injured very early in 1999 and played poorly before that. The '98 Steelers? The beginning of the Kordell Stewart collapse. The 2005 Vikings? The beginning of the Daunte Culpepper collapse, although to be fair, he had quite a perch to fall from. The 1999 Cardinals? The Jake Plummer collapse. Suffice it to say, history doesn't have anything pretty to say for Saints fans.

You might have noticed that Tom Brady's having a pretty good start, but he wasn't bad last year. While it's one of the biggest improvements over the same era, it's not even the sharpest increase in 2007:


2000 atl 4.65 10.35 -5.70
1998 ram 4.86 10.20 -5.34
2004 pit 7.17 12.47 -5.30
2006 tam 4.34 9.04 -4.70
2005 sfo 3.35 7.81 -4.46
2006 nwe 6.26 10.70 -4.44
1998 was 5.92 10.16 -4.24
2005 chi 3.89 7.99 -4.10
1999 den 5.43 9.23 -3.80
2001 car 3.85 7.49 -3.64
2005 phi 5.18 8.72 -3.53
2003 phi 6.03 9.54 -3.51
2003 nyg 4.71 8.22 -3.51
1996 rai 5.21 8.66 -3.45
1998 sea 5.47 8.88 -3.41
2000 sdg 4.13 7.33 -3.20
1996 tam 4.39 7.59 -3.20
1999 cle 5.12 8.31 -3.20
2005 nyj 5.16 8.21 -3.05
2006 dal 6.68 9.66 -2.98

The 2000 Falcons gave away over a third of their stats to Doug Johnson and Danny Kanell, who played terribly. Chris Chandler started off lights out in 2001, with 651 passing yards on 60 attempts through three games. The '99 Rams obviously added Kurt Warner, and Roethlisberger started off white hot in 2005, with 688 passing yards on 60 passing attempts through three games. And then you've got this year's Bucs, who seem rejuvenated with 37-year old Jeff Garcia.

Which ugly start is more surprising, the 'Aints passing attack or the 'Bolts rushing attack? Which of those team seems more likely to turn it around? The Saints have lost McAllister for the season, while the Chargers main players are all healthy (although they lost their head coach and offensive coordinator). And will either of the first two picks in the Chargers 2001 draft go back to the Pro Bowl this year?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 26th, 2007 at 12:34 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.