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Jets vs. Saints: A Look at New Orleans' Tells

Chris Graythen

When I attended my first NFL game in person, my grandfather gave me a tip on how to tell whether the play was a run or pass immediately after the ball was snapped. The key was to watch the guards. If their first step was forward, it was a run. If their first step was backwards, it was a pass.

A few members here made an astute point after the Chris Ivory trade. Noting Ivory's lack of receptions, they looked at the stats and saw the Saints had a bit of a tell on offense before the snap. It was the running back they had in the game. If the back was Ivory or Mark Ingram, the play was much more likely to be a run than a pass. If Pierre Thomas or Darren Sproles was in the game, it was much more likely to be a pass than a run. The Saints seemed to have rushing backs and receiving backs. The Jets' futile attempts to include Ivory in the passing game have explained why this was so.

That got me wondering whether the Saints have any personnel tells. So using Pro Football Focus' stats, I've looked at the numbers. I took the PFF total snap number and then did the math to determine the ratio of pass plays to run plays for New Orleans' running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers. I've never seen anybody use a ratio like this before so I get to name it. I'm going to name it after myself and call it the "John B Ratio."

Keep in mind that some of this is self-fulfilling. A good receiving back like Sproles is apt to see the field on long downs when the Saints have to pass. A good blocker will probably be on the field in short down and distances when a run is in the cards. Backup players deep on the depth chart on a good team such as the Saints also might see numbers skewed as they are likely to see garbage time late in games the Saints are winning big and are trying to run the ball to run time. Conversely, backup receivers are likely to come off the bench on obvious passing downs. You get the point. This gives us a ballpark idea but not a full one. As always in posts like this, this might become a weekly feature, a when I feel like it feature, or a one-time thing.

Player Position Total Snaps Pass % Run %
Darren Sproles RB 193 78.8 21.2
Lance Moore WR 162 74.1 25.9
Jimmy Graham TE 335 73.7 26.3
Marques Colston WR 362 71.8 28.2
Kenny Stills WR 304 71.7 28.3
Nick Toon WR 123 64.2 35.8
Pierre Thomas RB 249 63.9 36.1
SAINTS TEAM 61.9 38.1
Josh Hill TE 38 55.3 44.7
Robert Meachem WR 157 50.3 49.7
Half-Half 50 50
Ben Watson TE 238 47.5 52.5
Jed Collins FB 204 41.2 58.8
Mark Ingram RB 32 37.5 62.5
Khiry Robinson RB 46 13 87

As you can see, the Saints are very likely to pass the ball with Darren Sproles, sporting a John B Ratio of 78.8/21.2, in the game. When Khiry Robinson, a rookie back with a John B ratio of 13/87 who is drawing comparisons to Ivory, expect him to get the ball on a run. He has 33 rushing attempts in his 46 snaps. Thomas is a bellwether for the offense. When he's in, the Saints approach their averages. Former Patriot Benjamin Watson plays slightly more runs than passes, but he still has enough as a receiver to keep a defense honest.

Of course, it is one thing to know tendencies. It is quite another to be able to slow down such a high flying offense. You might know the Saints are going to throw it, but they have so much talent that stopping the execution is very difficult.