Drew Brees is clearly what makes the Saints go. He appears to be their physical, mental, and emotional center of gravity, so it's appropriate he is the MVP even if the numbers tell a different story. Still, it's interesting to pull the game apart and find out which players helped and hurt their team the most.
Tracy Porter's interception return was obviously a crucial play. So was the onside recovery to start the half. Garrett Hartley's three long FGs made a big difference too. Joseph Addai had a surprisingly strong night. There were a number of performances worth looking at. Let's see what the Win Probability Added (WPA) numbers have to say.
Before I proceed, a quick disclaimer: When we look at WPA numbers for individual players, we're simply adding up the WPA values for each play that their name appears in the NFL's official play description. For example, Drew Brees' WPA total is not solely his own. It belongs to the offensive line, the receivers, and the coaches who design and call the plays. WPA can be a useful tool, but in some cases, it's just an interesting exercise. This falls into the latter category. We're really just putting a number to what we already saw with our own eyes.
A few notes on each player:
Drew Brees rightfully earned the MVP award with a +0.45 WPA total. 288 yards, 2 TDs, and no turnovers.
Joseph Addai had the second highest. He averaged almost 6 yards per carry and scored a key TD in the first half. Addai totaled 135 yards on 13 carries and 6 receptions.
Pierre Thomas had a strong game too. He had 85 total yards on 9 carries and 6 receptions, plus he scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the game.
Peyton Manning follows with +0.20. The back-breaking intecreption return for a TD was worth -0.21 by itself, so aside from that single play, Manning had an MVP night himself.
Dallas Clark led the Colts' receiving corps with a few key first downs and a deep reception. In total he led his team with 86 receiving yards on 7 catches.
Reggie Bush had a nice game, earning +0.17 WPA on multi-purpose duty.
Garrett Hartley's three field goals, each over 40 yards, was impressive, but doesn't compare to some of the other performances in the game.
The Saints receivers each contributed positively, but a couple drops hurt Colston's numbers. Lance Moore gets +0.05 just on the 2-pt conversion.
Tracy Porter's inteception return for a TD was worth +0.21, but he gave up some plays along the way for a net of +0.10 WPA. He's probably the only defender with a positive score. WPA is not always suitable for defenders. (Imagine that a RB escapes 10 other tackers only to be chased down by the 11th defender 90 yards downfield. The hustling tackler would be the player penalized for the play.)
The Colts receivers had a surprisingly poor showing. There were a handful of crucial plays where they made the catch for positive yards but came up short of the first down. Collie couldn't make the play deep just prior to Stover's missed FG. Wayne couldn't make a play on the intercepted pass. If you want to absolve him of any responsibility for that play, his WPA would be +0.11. I've heard people make the case both ways.
Poor Matt Stover. He was asked to kick a FG clearly outside his comfort zone. His previous FG that night was worth +0.02, and the miss was -0.12, for a net of -0.10 WPA.
Overall this was an offensive game just as everyone expected. The Saints net +0.80 when on offense (including kicks and the onside recovery), and the Colts net +0.30 on offense.
Thomas Morstead and Chris Reis teamed up for the onside kick recovery, worth +0.07 WPA. (The decision was worth +0.02, but its successful execution resulted in an additional +0.05.) But all 22 players appeared to be in on the scrum, so the credit needs to be spread around.
There is group of players that aren't mentioned anywhere in the play-by-play unless they commit a penalty--the offensive line. If you think about it, they can rightfully lay claim to almost all +0.80 of the Saints' offensive performance, on both runs and passes. But something tells me they're not very bothered that they're not on Advanced NFL Stats' MVP list today.
I'm really happy for Brees, who by all accounts is a good guy. When he was still with the Chargers when my squadron at the time (VFA-125) gave him a back-seat ride in one of our 2-seat jets. Celebrities and athletes sometimes get to do that in exchange for the good publicity it gives the Navy. One flight is worth a lot of recruiting. I happened to be out of town that day, but everyone there remarked what a good guy he was. I'm told he did really well in the jet--only threw up twice and passed out once. That's a +1.00 WPA for most back-seat rides!