Blitzing Drew Brees worked in 2011. This goes against conventional wisdom, but it's also undeniably true. According to the Football Outsiders' Almanac, Brees produced an NFL-high 8.3 yards-per-pass play when opponents rushed three or four defenders last year. The average dropped to 7.2 yards (still good) against five defenders, and down to 6.8 yards against a big blitz of six defenders or more.
This is not what we expected. It is not what opposing defensive coordinators expected either, or they would have blitzed more. No quarterback saw fewer "big blitzes" in the NFL than Brees. This is not a new trend either; Brees has been better against four rushers than a blitz for three years running.
(Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, was more effective last year the more pass rushers you sent at him.)
These sort of surprising revelations are why Lions coach Jim Schwartz, Seahawks G.M. John Schneider, and other NFL personnel read the Football Outsiders Almanac. Anyone that loves football is going to learn a lot from it. A few other fun nuggets I learned:
1. Sometimes the numbers back up what you see with your eyes. Houston runs more play action than any team in the league. Kevin Kolb's numbers fell more than any quarterback except one (Matt Moore) when under pressure.
2. Cam Newton's had a sensational year passing, which often shows up in Carolina's running stats. The team averaged 6.3 yards-per-carry on shotgun handoffs, partly because defenses were so worried about Newton. Cam converted 10-of-10 short yardage situations where he needed three or fewer yards for a first down.
3. Something I didn't expect to see: The Bears max protected for their quarterbacks the third most of any team in the league.
5. This one matches up with my gut: Despite the presence of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, the Broncos weren't a great pass rushing team. They were 27th in "pass pressure %" which measures what you think it measures.
7. The Lions took the most shotgun snaps in NFL history.
A Good Day for ...
1. With Jahvid Best possibly starting the year on the PUP list, the Lions had to be thrilled to see Mikel Leshoure back on the field Thursday. He's suspended for the first two games of the season, but needs to show he can be useful or Detroit may pick up a veteran running back. Or two.
2. It's been a quiet camp for Marshawn Lynch, which is a good thing. Reports indicate he's running faster after losing some weight. More importantly, he hasn't heard from Commissioner Goodell yet.
Random Thoughts from watching Preseason Live
3. Blaine Gabbert's debut was a mixed bag. I liked how quickly the ball came out of his hand in the first drive. He got nice protection. He had a handful of real ugly plays and throws after that. Things were improved, so it's a start.
5. Christian Ponder still seems to leave the pocket before he needs to.
On the Agenda
Like Gregg Williams, we're on a mission of self-discovery. Today will include our weekly mailbag and coverage of the two games Thursday night. Some of our features from Wednesday included a look at the Cowboys' playoff prospects and offensive power rankings. Thanks for reading. We love you all equally.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.