One key to success during the 2013 Saints season is the youth on the roster. These guys are our new hope. Every week this season we’re going to talk about the young guy we think made the biggest impact. Today, that guy is Kenny Vaccaro.
First, the people doing the evaluations are little different from you or me–fans with access to game film, either on DVR or, hopefully, through NFL Game Rewind. I know a little bit about football, but I’d surely make mistakes over time, even given PFF’s standard, which is to score any play you’re unsure of as a zero.
Second, despite PFF’s claim that its ratings are more contextual than base stats, its ratings do lack context. Football games are about individual assignments, but they are also about the effect an individual player has on the performance of the players around him.2
And that gets us to the point: the PFF system doesn’t love Kenny Vaccaro. He’s scored negatively in each game so far, including this week against Chicago, but that number doesn’t tell us much about what I see as the net positive effect Vaccaro is having on the 2013 Saints defense.
We hear a lot about the way Rob Ryan deploys Vaccaro all over the field, but what does that really mean? What does Vaccaro really bring to the Saints’ defense?
Here’s three plays that can help us understand.
1st Quarter, 4:05 Remaining: Vaccaro Pass Breakup
Here, the Saints are operating out of the closest thing they have to a base defense: Their 4-2-5.
Kenny Vaccaro is a nickel cornerback lined up over Alshon Jeffery, who had a career game. Here, though, Vaccaro easily wins the matchup, sticking with Jeffery and knocking the ball away.
The most important thing to note is just how well this defense functions as a whole. Vaccaro makes a fine individual play, but the fact he is capable of such a play means Malcolm Jenkins can cheat up and play a true strong safety/linebacker role, closer to the line of scrimmage. This perhaps takes a Jenkins weakness–maybe he’s not as good as Rafael Bush in a deep safety role in this particular situation–and turns it into a Jenkins strength.
On the back end, Rafael Bush is right where he needs to be to ensure that, if Vaccaro doesn’t make a play on the ball, the damage is limited.
But Vaccaro does make the play, and all is well.
I don’t know how Pro Football Focus scored this play. But it’s a defensive alignment that might not even work without Vaccaro’s presence.
2nd Quarter, 14:16 Remaining: Vaccaro Sack
Not a whole lot to this play. It’s a pretty obvious blitz. The Bears have to know what’s coming. The Saints just overwhelm the Bears’ protection with superb individual efforts, and Vaccaro, with quickness and leverage, gets his first sack as a Saint.
4th Quarter, 12:04 Remaining: Vaccaro Pursuit
This play is an overall win for Chicago. Michael Bush picks up seven yards. But it could have been worse.
Starting on the other side of the formation, Vaccaro runs through the trash in the middle of the field and catches Bush before he can plow into other Saints defenders, limiting the Bears gain. Best case scenario: PFF scores this one as a zero for Vaccaro, which may be fair–it’s a Bears win, after all.
But when a defender puts himself into a play he isn’t even really part of, that’s a positive.
And it’s the sort of Vaccaro effect that, often, even advanced numbers don’t quantify.