Breaking Down Why Drew Brees Has Struggled in 2012

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 11, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 07:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates his record breaking first quarter touchdown pass against the San Diego Chargers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 7, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Brees has thrown a minimum of one touchdown pass in 48th straight regular season games.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The football world will tell you that Drew Brees is struggling this year. They'll point to the New Orleans Saints' 1-4 record as proof that the former Super Bowl MVP is finally starting to slow down. Too bad that's not true.

From a statistical standpoint, Brees is playing as well as he did in 2010 or 2011. He's on pace for more touchdowns and just one more interception than he tossed in his two best seasons. But something is wrong with the Saints offense, and as the captain of that ship, the blame will rest on No. 9's shoulders. What's wrong with Brees and Co. this year?

Dropped Passes

Thanks to the game-charting by Pro Football Focus, we are able to compare the Saints wide receivers' play from 2010 until now. Based on the first five games of each season, Brees isn't getting much help from his receivers.

Year Comp. % Attempts Drops Drop Rate
2010 67.8 199 10 19.9
2011 70.9 219 11 19.9
2012 58.9 236 19 12.4

During the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Brees' receivers dropped one pass roughly every 20 times he threw the ball. This season, they're dropping a pass every 12.5 times. While that may seem inconsequential, Brees' completion percentage and quarterback rating are all affected by the number of drops his receivers have.


Not all of the blame goes to the wide receivers; some of it rests squarely on Brees' shoulders. 

In the five games viewed for this piece, it was worth noting that Brees isn't performing as well in terms of his ball placement and accuracy. Where before he was deadly, this year he's merely dangerous. 

One area where Brees has clearly struggled is when under pressure. The Saints quarterback has been sacked 12 times this year, but more troubling is his accuracy when throwing under pressure...and the performance of his wide receivers and tight ends in those instances.

Once again, Pro Football Focus helps us out with statistics on Brees' play under pressure this year.

Year Comp. % Under Pressure Comp. % Under Pressure w/o Drops Rank
2010 55.2 67.4 No. 5
2011 58.7 69.2 No. 1
2012 37.7 52.9 No. 29

While Brees is to share in the blame of his low completion percentage, it's painfully clear here that drops are killing drives for the Saints offense.

New Targets

With Robert Meachem now in San Diego, Brees is relying more and more on Devery Henderson and Lance Moore. Mainstays Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham are still on the roster, but neither has been as effective this year.

While Brees relies on Henderson and Moore, the two have combined for five drops. The sure-handed Graham has the second-most drops among tight ends with five, nearly as many as he had in all of 2011 (seven).

The bottom line is that Brees is still a top-five quarterback in the NFL, even if his numbers and team wins are down this year. The loss of Sean Payton is still being felt on this team, nowhere more thoroughly than on offense. The Saints look out of rhythm on the road, and the fact that Graham, Darren Sproles and Colston aren't performing as well has a lot to do with the perception that Brees is slipping.