Normally I write a handful of topics to recap what happened each week in the NFL, but I can’t today. I can only write about one and that is Saints QB Drew Brees.
Three years ago after a three year run of 7-9 seasons, I was calling for Sean Payton’s head.
My thought was “How on Earth could you have a top 5 QB of all time and manage to lose so much?” The writing on the wall that says you shouldn’t be losing that much with a historically great QB who is THAT damn good.
Looking back at the last 10-15 years, it is safe to say that some of the more elite names include Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck (when healthy), Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. Know what all those guys have in common? They win more than they lose.
Five, just five. That is the number of losing seasons those six quarterbacks have COMBINED for. Drew Brees, who is without a doubt a top 5 QB ever, has six losing seasons. For the record, we can say five to exclude 2012 where Sean Payton wasn’t the head coach. So even then, he is tied with all of those guys. He also has two seasons at .500. In 2019, he is 2-2 as a starter currently. What gives?
Yesterday is the perfect example of why. The Saints were demolished by the lowly Atlanta Falcons. They have looked like a bottom five team all year. They walked into the Superdome and blasted the Saints 26-9. Heading into yesterday, the Falcons defense had 7 sacks on the entire season. They almost doubled their total getting to Brees 6 times. WHAT THE FUCK?
If you see the comment sections or read the local press, you’re going to hear about penalties. You’re going to hear about offensive line issues.
But I am going after the untouchable of New Orleans, Drew Brees.
For the record, I love Drew Brees. I am thrilled for the number of amazing seasons and the most fruitful era in franchise history that came to be in large part due to his arm. That being said, the day he won a Super Bowl was the day he became untouchable, invincible and a Saint of New Orleans (pun intended). He is the damn messiah of New Orleans sports.
Because of that, you can’t go after him. But screw that. Stop talking about all the other issues with yesterday, I want to talk about the play calling.
51 fucking dropbacks yesterday and only 11 rushing attempts against the Falcons. But people are going to sit here and talk about how bad the line is?
I get it. You’re an armchair coach/GM/QB just like I am. But shut the hell up about offensive line.
There is not a whole lot the offensive line can do when a defense can drop linebackers in coverage and have the pass rush pin their ears back and go. You’re never going to win in the NFL if you don’t keep defenses honest. It is a fundamental problem the Saints have had for a long time.
To be honest, I blamed Sean Payton for that. Maybe I should have been blaming Brees. While he is a phenomenal quarterback and one that I am happy the Saints have been blessed to have for so many great seasons. I do think he is an ego driven maniac that needs the validation of being the hero. He constantly talks about playing with that chip on his shoulder because he is undersized, maybe that chip weighs him down at times.
Case in point, the NFC Championship last season.
Right before the infamous no call, the Saints had the clock in their favor. The Rams had two timeouts with 1:58 to go from the their 13, Payton dials up a run on 1st and 10. Brees audibles out of the run and attempts a slant to Michael Thomas which lands at his feet. Yes, had the play been executed, it would have led to a touchdown. Why not play the clock? Again, hero ball. Not necessarily smart ball. Sometimes aggression can kill you. They proceed to run it on second down and of course the Rams burn their second timeout. Then the 3rd and 10 no call happens. We know the rest.
Looking at situations like that, if they run it on first and then second, both timeouts are now gone. Let’s assume you shave 10 seconds and the clock now sits at 1:48 prior to third down. They run the ball again, you can assume that clock gets down to a little under a minute. The Saints still end up with the 3 point lead from the field goal anyway. Now the Rams have nearly a minute less to work with and no timeouts. I like those odds better than going into OT when the opponent has outscored your 20-10 in the last two and a half quarters.
Again, there is a shield around Brees protecting him from criticism. I hate that.
After seeing what the team was able to accomplish without him, imagine if the Saints weren’t constantly in games where Brees needs to throw and be the hero. Going back to all those guys I mentioned earlier, what I love about Wilson, Rodgers and Brady, they have no problem turning around and handing the ball off if it leads to wins. That’s not me saying Brees doesn’t care about wins. That is me saying I think he cares about his numbers as much as he cares about the wins. He needs the validation.
I think he is his own worst enemy in that regard. Brees is at his best when he doesn’t throw it 35 times. That is the most frustrating part about watching games like yesterday. It is just another case of the Saints losing because of an unbalanced offense.
Of course the natural instinct is to say that Drew Brees hasn’t had the luxury of great defenses like some of the others QBs mentioned. There is truth to that. But Brees does no favors for his defense. When you throw the ball that much, you’re playing behind the clock and chains for every incompletion you have. You’re not helping your defense when you have a 3 and out that shaved 1:04 seconds. Luckily, there is a stat for everything. I made reference to the term DVOA in a column weighing what accounts for more in Super Bowl Teams, offense or defense. All numbers point to offense.
The Def DVOA rating accounts for things like pacing, clock control, turnovers, it is a tried and true formula for rating a team’s offense and defense. Here is a look at the Saints defensive DVOA rankings since 2006.
- 2006 – 8th
- 2007 – 29th
- 2008 – 21st
- 2009 – 23rd
- 2010 – 10th
- 2012 – 28th
- 2013 – 9th
- 2014 – 28th
- 2015 – 32nd
- 2016 – 29th
- 2017 – 6th
- 2018 – 6th
- 2019 – 5th
Again, what I love about the DVOA is it shows the discrepancy of balance among the offense and defense, which proves my point about the Saints getting pass happy and not getting points as a result. It leads to higher volume scoring on the other side. When you look at basic numbers like yards and points, it doesn’t account for those measures.
You hear the Saints fans scream about historically bad defenses, but according to the DVOA 2015 was the only season where the Saints had a historically bad defense. The lower your rating for defense, the better. Once your defense is in the negatives, you have a pretty damn good defense.
For example, this year the Patriots have a historically good defense which is coming in at -34.4% followed by the 49ers with -30.5%. The Saints 5th ranked defense rolls in -9.8%.
In 2015, the Saints defense graded at 28.1%. Barf.
Of course you’re still going to have people scream that even those numbers aren’t good enough to win because they’re playing from behind and the defenses still aren’t great. You’re still wrong.
Since 2006, Tom Brady has had less top 10 defenses than Brees. In fact, his only top 10s came in 2006 (2nd), 2015 (9th), 2016 (1st) and 2019 (1st) going by Def DVOA. Every other defense has floated between 11-28. He went to the Super Bowl with the 28th ranked. So save that shit for another day.
Why do guys like Brady, Wilson and Rodgers win on a more consistent basis? Their teams run the ball more often than not throughout the course of a season. That being said, these are probably the things you’ll hear said from Saints fans.
“The Saints play from behind that they can’t run.”
Well, first of all, define how much they would need to be behind in order to abandon the run. I would say 3 scores or more at half. If you go into halftime down 10 or 14, that is absolutely manageable.
With that being said, defining it by those terms, Drew Brees since 2006 has been in a situation heading into halftime down by 3 or more scores only 18 times in 13 seasons (excluding 2012). So basically once per year on average.
The Saints aren’t playing from behind like that as often as people down here like to think. Again, shielded Brees.
“When the run doesn’t work, you can’t keep doing it.”
Also dead wrong. When the Saints run the ball 25 times or more in a game AND average less than 4.0 yard per carry, which is about the standard, they are 37-8.
They have multiple wins averaging less than 2.0 yards per carry. It is not always about running to be effective. It is about running to keep the defense honest and control the clock.
If you don’t, you’ll see linebackers and corners drop back. Opposing defenses made this a habit in 2014, 2015 and 2016 because they knew the Saints didn’t give a shit about establishing the run. So they dared them to throw it. And they did. And they lost more than they won. Since 2006, here is how bad the Saints are when they don’t run the ball…
- Saints Record Throwing 39 or less Passes: 83-21
- Saints Record Throwing 40+ Passes: 35-50
- Saints Record Rushing 25+ Times: 95-16
- Saints Record Rushing 24 or Less: 24-58
Keep in mind, nearly 40% of those 95 wins when the Saints establish the run resulted in sub standard to piss poor rushing performances. Again, keep defenses honest and control the clock.
Should They Start Teddy Bridgewater?
At the end of the day, Brees is the better option far and away even at his age. His ceiling is much higher and he is going to give you a much better shot to win in the postseason. He also has earned that right to start with more than a decade of work. He has cemented himself as the best QB in Saints history as well as one of the best QBs ever. He will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. So just pulling the plug on him is a complete disservice to what he has done.
My Overall Thoughts on Brees
I can’t speak in certainty on who is doing what in terms of play calling. But if the issue is Brees and I believe it is, he needs to pull his head out of his ass and worry about winning more games than being a stat whore. A Super Bowl will do a hell of a lot more for his legacy than 10 more 300 yard games.
Again, I love Brees and the Saints and want them to win another Super Bowl because I feel like so many years and seasons were wasted by unbalanced play calling and complete misfortune such as the Beast Quake in 2010, Vernon Davis in 2011, Minnesota Miracle in 2017 and 2018 No Call AND Audible.
Unfortunately, there is a history of shooting themselves in the foot. I believe in professional sports, good AND smart teams find themselves on the right side of history more often than not.
I do believe Brees deserves another ring for all he has done. He took a chance on a completely broken city and the Saints awful organization. As a result, the city took a chance on him. Overall, I love the way it played out. The good far outweighs the bad. I will never forget the 2009 season, ever.
That being said, I also won’t ignore the bad as a result. It is not because I hate Brees. It is not because I want to see him fail. It is because it is the fundamental problem the Saints have faced for over a decade. I want so badly to see number 9 ride off into the sunset with a Super Bowl. Stay balanced and the rest will take care of itself.