Geometry matters in the NFL.
For the 20 percent of you who continued reading, thanks for hearing me out.
Think of an offense as a basketball team. Golden State had the most effective offense in NBA history last season because the floor was spaced, creating ideal matchups for the most skilled team the league has ever seen.
Football is no different.
If a team can’t run the ball, opponents drop defenders, play sub-package with no hesitation, and can tilt the field in their favor. The geometry doesn’t work.
When teams lack deep speed, defenses can load up on underneath coverage, take away the quick throws, and rattle the timing of an offense.
Over the course of the last decade, few teams have done the math like the New Orleans Saints with Drew Brees and Sean Payton, and not just because Brees has thrown enough passes to make Fibonacci’s head spin.
Last season, the Saints were sixth in weighted offense DVOA, sixth in passing, and third in rushing. The balance of the field made sense.
Heading into 2017, some of the names have changed, but the geometry hasn’t. Trading Brandin Cooks and bringing in Ted Ginn Jr. isn’t a same-for-same trade in terms of overall talent, but what they bring to the offense could end up being equally effective.
In fact, it could lead to Ted Ginn’s best season.
With Cooks in New England, that’s 117 targets up for grabs and 76.5 percent of offensive snaps for a team that loves to play with three receivers.
Willie Snead will once again shine in the slot, a spot where he was one of the five best players in football according to Pro Football Focus. Snead has the speed to get deep, but can also work the short and middle routes for this offense.
Michael Thomas has the potential to be one of the best outside receivers in football (if he’s not already), coming off a rookie season in which he led the team in targets and touchdowns.
However, it was Cooks’ ability to get over the top — to challenge defenses deep — that truly made this offense special.
The Saints’ run game with Mark Ingram and now Adrian Peterson (gulp) has been too potent to play extra players in the box. With Cooks on the field, single-high safety defenses are death for a New Orleans opponent.
Slide Ginn into that spot as the field-tilting deep speed demon — the geometry of this offense once again makes sense.
The 11th-year vet doesn’t have the underneath skills Cooks possesses, with the ability to take a slant for six, but Ginn can still motor. New Orleans will still use him on end arounds, reverses, receiver screens, and deep shots.
Ginn isn’t as gifted as Cooks, but the role he can play will be similar. He can make the math work.
In 2015, his most efficient season as a pro, Ginn had 44 catches on 96 targets for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns, a 16.8 yard-per-catch average which was fourth best among receivers who notched 95 targets or more.
Despite 95 targets in 2016, Ginn’s efficiency plummeted to 13.9 per catch and just four touchdowns. Part of that was a Panther offense stuck in third gear most of the season.
The Saints’ offense perpetually has its pedal to the floor with the engine maxed out.
Drew Brees led the league in attempts, completions, yards, and yards per game, in addition to finishing second in completion percentage and third in touchdowns. The boys on the bayou like to toss it around a little bit.
Brandon Coleman may be a more natural fit as a traditional outside receiver — I’ve been a fan of his talent dating back to his days at Rutgers — but for the spacing to work and get the ball to players in their best positions, it makes more sense to give Ginn the lion’s share of Cooks’ reps as the beat-them-deep weapon.
Expect the targets to be similar, somewhere in the 90s. Snead, Thomas, and Coleman should vacuum up the 20-plus-target difference Cooks’ departure leaves in the offense.
Ginn won’t be the guy they look for on third and eight, needing a critical first down, but on second and one, he’s the player they’ll take a shot with down the field.
On first and 10 at the 25, he’s the player New Orleans will use on the first play of the game to set the tone and put the defense on notice that its defensive backs are in for a long day.
This is not a shot at Cam Newton, who is an incredible player and former league MVP, but Drew Brees is one of the most accurate quarterbacks of all time. Ginn is likely to see more on-target throws and fewer lasers, protecting the shaky hands of a player who has struggled with drops throughout his career. This is still the player about whom Deion Sanders said, “I wouldn’t drop my baby out of a burning building to him, but I really do like him.”
Couple that with opportunities Ginn will gain in single coverage — due to attention drawn by Snead, Thomas, and the run game — and this is easily the most player-friendly situation of Ginn’s career.
If his speed hasn’t dipped significantly — and he’s still only 32 — this could accordingly be the best season of Ted Ginn’s career.
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