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Camp Buzz: Blitzing Drew Brees not a bad idea

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.

4. The Cowboys were historically bad when they needed one yard on third and fourth down. Yet their interior line may be a bigger mess now than last year.

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.

6. Jim Caldwell was as predictable as you thought. No offense or defense lined up in the same formation more often than the Colts last year.

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

1. Brandon Jacobs beat a safety to the edge against the Vikings. That did not happen one time in the 2011 season. The 49ers are scary deep at running back.

2. Jerome Simpson showed the Vikings why he's always been a better practice player than he is in games.

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.

4. David Wilson needs to show the Giants he can pass protect or he won't get on the field much. He ran as a fourth-stringer in the opener. Wilson also showed his trademark speed.

5. Christian Ponder still seems to leave the pocket before he needs to.

Position Battling

1. Shane Vereen is getting more reps with the first team at Patriots practice. He enjoyed a strong preseason debut as well. Keep an eye on him this week.

2. Redskins running back Roy Helu is hurt, which may all but give Evan Royster the starting job.

3. The Rams benched former No. 2 overall pick tackle Jason Smith. They did this during last season too, so it's not a big surprise. We're more surprised Smith is still on the team.

4. Brandon Gibson hasn't practiced in two weeks for the Rams. It looks like "the other" Steve Smith is going to lock up a starting receiver job there. Another Comeback Player of the Year candidate?

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.

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