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How New Orleans Saints Have Transformed Drew Brees into NFL's Most Irrelevant QB

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How New Orleans Saints Have Transformed Drew Brees into NFL's Most Irrelevant QB
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Creator of arguably the finest youth academy in the world, former Ajax soccer coach Jack Reynolds was always full of wise words and wisdom. In a rare 1946 interview chronicled in David Winner's book, Brilliant Orange, Reynolds stated that "the attack is and remains the best defence".

More than 50 years later in the sport of American football, the philosophy rings true, as some of the league's best teams in recent time, namely the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, have won games with astronomical attacks on offense and deficient defenses.

But the New Orleans Saints, who possibly have the best mind at the quarterback position in the game, have faltered in part to an abominable run and pass defense that has contributed to making Drew Brees, who has also seen his production drop, one of the most irrelevant quarterbacks in the game today.

The New Orleans Saints sit in an unfamiliar position: They are 2-5 and the second-worst team in their division, only a game ahead of the lowly Carolina Panthers.

They don't have their ostracized head coach Sean Payton, and barring an unfathomable stretch of wins, they are unlikely to be in the playoffs when the regular season concludes. Imagine that: Drew Brees sitting out the playoffs. That's irrelevancy.

The reason for this is an atrocious defense that currently is third-worst in points allowed per game, worst in pass yards allowed per attempt and third worst in yards given up per carry, according to Pro Football Reference. The 30.9 points per game is a touchdown more than they averaged in the first eight weeks of last season (23.6). Part of this is because of their aforementioned inability to stop the run.

Whether it's the recently returned Jonathan Vilma playing out of position and without gap discipline at the WILL (weak-side) linebacker spot or one of the safeties reading their run keys too slowly and failing to fill the "alley" quick enough, the defense has been shoddy in executing its responsibilities.

An instance of the latter came against the Denver Broncos last week on 1st-and-10 at the two-minute mark in the second quarter when safety Malcolm Jenkins was late filling the alley. 

Jenkins was slow in reading his run keys, only starting to come downhill once Willis McGahee was already at the line of scrimmage and full steam ahead into the running lane established by his dominant offensive line. As a result, McGahee picked up 10 yards.

Jenkins is too late to fill the alley.

Despite it being a passing league, run defense is still essential. The goal of every defense going into a game is to make an offense one-dimensional. Ideally, the running game is taken away because running the ball is the safest way for an offense to attack the defense and it helps set up the passing game.

Without a running game, the offense is limited to a high-risk passing game that is unlikely to win them the majority of their games unless they have a top notch signal-caller. With the Broncos running wild on the Saints in last weeks game, they were able to utilize the play-action passing game to attack the final third of the defense, particularly shaky strong safety Roman Harper.

Harper is not the most savvy player in coverage, lacking great foot speed and the hip flexibility to turn and run with speedsters, and this was evident when the Broncos attacked him and the Saints' Cover 2 concept on 1st-and-10 in the first half.

Lined up as a split-field safety, Harper took false steps forward as the Broncos executed the run-fake before finally realizing that it was a deep shot off of play action.

By this time, he was out of position and had to flip his hips and run down the field. This is not an ideal situation for Harper, especially running after the fast Demaryius Thomas, who ran down the field after faking a block on Harper. Thirty-four yards later, it was a big reception and a flip of field position.

Harper's caught in coverage.

Further, according to Mississippi's Gulflive.com, the "New Orleans defense has become the first since at least 1950 to give up more than 400 yards in seven straight games and is on pace to surrender an NFL-record total."

Although the Saints defense deserves a large portion of the blame for the team's woes, star quarterback Drew Brees and his offense haven't been as good as last year either.

The offense is averaging 27 points per game this season, which is good for sixth in the NFL, but it's more than a five-point dropoff from the 32.5 points per game that the team averaged through the first eight weeks of last season.

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Moreover, in these first eight weeks, Brees is throwing only three more passes per game (45) than he did in the first eight weeks of last season (42), but his completion percentage has dipped from 70 percent to 59, partly due to drops.

Brees' yards per attempt has also dropped from 8 to 7.3, while his touchdown-to-interception ratio is similar to last years.

Admittedly, it's difficult to expect Brees to play at the level of last season because of the sheer dominance he played with, and the majority of these statistics are good enough to win more games, even if he doesn't have a running game to speak of.

Unfortunately, the dismal run and pass defense of the New Orleans Saints has really held back Drew Brees and his offense, even if they have had a dropoff in production. The Saints are unlikely to make the playoffs, as the Atlanta Falcons sit atop the division with an elite record and the Buccaneers will prove a tough test moving forward.

As a result, the Saints have made Drew Brees into the NFL's most irrelevant quarterback.

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