No one is ever going to confuse the New Orleans Saints with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Saints do not have guys sprinting all over the place after each play, working at a frantic pace to get lined up and snap the ball as quickly as possible, with the chief goal being to run the most possible plays in the time allotted.
That’s not Sean Payton’s offense. Despite observers constantly crying out for more no-huddle offense and a faster pace, the New Orleans coach likes to have his team huddle, get things set and operate a little bit more under control.
But despite this approach, his team runs a lot of plays every season and the coach is constantly talking about the tempo of his offense. This has created some statistics that make it appear as if his offense is trying to maximize its opportunities within the clock.
In fact, he even addressed his team’s tempo in a team meeting this week because he feels his offense is operating too slowly
“We’ve always been a fast-tempo team, however not in how it’s discussed in today’s football where it’s tempo at the line of scrimmage, no-huddle, next play, next play, how many plays can we run?” Payton said.
Payton loves to put statistics up on the board to illustrate his points and study the analytics involved with the game, so take Drew Brees’ word for it when he says he wasn’t even aware New Orleans runs an average of 68.3 plays per game, which ranks third in the NFL, or that the team finished at 68.4 last season.
The team instead focuses on more standard things like time of possession, the length of drives and third-down conversions, all of which often lead to a higher number of plays being run each week. Considering New Orleans has converted on 47 percent of its third downs, tops in the NFL, it’s easy to see why this team has run so many plays this season.
“Those numbers would directly correlate to plays per game,” Brees said.
And while it’s not a goal to run a certain number of plays each game, Payton said he is irked when he looks at the statistics after a game and sees that the offense isn’t up around its typical average.
“We have had some games where we lost the game this year and it feels like we only played a half a game on one side of the ball offensively like at Washington (55 offensive plays) or even down in Houston (56 plays) the team breaks up offensively and defensively and one side of the ball is going to watch 75 snaps and the other is going to watch 45,” he said.
But even if it isn’t an intended result, the brand of football the Saints like to play often results in them getting snaps off quicker than most other teams. According to Football Outsiders’ pace statistics, which removes drives where there is a big lead or late in the game when teams operate outside of their usual pace, New Orleans takes an average of 26.83 seconds per play.
The Eagles, who huddle about as often as Payton dishes on a player’s injury, rank first at 22.22 seconds per play. Houston is second at 25.52.
Those two teams rank ahead of the Saints in average plays per game. Interestingly, Philadelphia has run no-huddle on more than 50 percent of its snaps while Houston, like New Orleans, is below 10 percent.
Considering all plays, New Orleans times out at an average 27.09 seconds per snap, which is a tad slower than desired since Payton typically wants his players out of the huddle and at the line in 15 seconds or less. The Saints clocked out at an average of 26.3 seconds last season.
Those measures are taken so Brees has plenty of time to survey the defense and make whatever changes he feels need to be made at the line of scrimmage, before snapping the ball. It’s not going fast for the sake of going fast.
“That wouldn’t be us, and yet we do want to get to the line of scrimmage with plenty of time on the clock for the QB to change the play, stay with the play or snap it early,” Payton said.
The Saints will likely never become a true hurry-up team under Payton. The team has only used it on 53 plays this season, according to official game books, compared to 89 in 2014 and 25 in 2013. It’s simply not the way this team does business.
And if New Orleans suddenly starts going after it in that manner, there’s a good chance it would occur during a road game, like against Philadelphia when the Saints ran 18 no-huddle plays.
“A lot of times it benefits the away team because generally the crowd noise with a no-huddle isn’t as impactful when you get in the huddle and it’s third down and you have the lightening bolts and you go to the line,” Payton said. “In no-huddle that spontaneous kind of plan can help reduce crowd noise and help create tempo.
“Sometimes offensively it is just to try and change up the tempo and it also can slow down a pass rush if you’re at the line and throwing the ball out of shotgun, it can have that affect. So it just depends on the game and the team.”
So, no, the Saints aren’t the Eagles and never will be. But they’ll probably still run around the same number of plays by being more efficient in some key areas.