Breaking Down Drew Brees' Struggles the Past Two Weeks

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Breaking Down Drew Brees' Struggles the Past Two Weeks
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Drew Brees has been bad the past two games—at least by his standards. Yes, he’s had three touchdowns in that period, which is bad for no one, but he’s also thrown seven—yes, seven—interceptions in that same span of time.

Official NFL statistics actually match up pretty favorably to accuracy percentage (the same charted out measure I use to grade college quarterbacks in the draft process—with the added category of accuracy on play-action passing).

The NFL has Brees completing 54 of 91 passes in the past two games—which should tip you off immediately to some of his struggles, as 91 attempts is much too many for any quarterback in just two football games.                                          

Accuracy Measure

vs. San Francisco

vs. Atlanta

Two-Game Total

Percentage

Up to 5

15/21

9/18

24/39

61.5

6 to 15

8/13

14/22

22/35

62.9

16 & Up

5/10

6/11

11/21

52.3

Versus Pressure

5/10

10/17

15/27

55.5

On the Run

2/2

2/5

4/7

57.1

Third Down/Clutch

6/10

4/9

10/19

52.6

Play-Action

7/10

5/9

12/19

63.2

Overall

28/44

29/51

59/95

62.1

 

There are four throws added to this chart that were not considered official plays but were run as if they were. Those plays were nullified due to a penalty on the play. For charting purposes, they are still important. They do, however, skew our data in relating Brees’ success to official statistics.

Still, the chart shows us some interesting data to consider. First, Brees has been fairly inaccurate on the shortest of throws. For a college quarterback, 75-plus percent accuracy is expected on throws up to five yards down the field. Brees’ 61.5 percent shows something is wrong.

A closer look at the data shows us that five of the 10 pressure throws Brees attempted against San Francisco came in the five-yard category. Against Atlanta, Brees attempted 10 throws against pressure within just five yards of the line of scrimmage. Interestingly he was accurate on four of the five against the 49ers, but the pressure caused Brees to err much more often against Atlanta.

Most of all the data, though interesting and revealing to the extent that it shows Brees is not playing nearly as well in the past two weeks as he has over the whole of this season and his time as a New Orleans Saint, can only quantify the thing we all know: Brees has been remarkably consistent in his affability, no matter the situation, over the past two weeks.

Aside from the short distance accuracy, the rest of the numbers actually make perfect sense. It seems numbers cannot explain the disturbing trend of Brees’ poor play the past two games.

The other option is to take a look at the stills that Brees would look at when he is on the sidelines—the key difference being that these stills include some diagramming to better illustrate what is happening.

We're going to look at a few of Brees' interceptions in the past two games. Each throw represents a different problem with Brees' game in the past few contests.

The first is Brees' bonehead interception that came at the end of the first half against the 'Niners. This interception was a key mistake that really shifted the tide of momentum in the football game, which the Saints ultimately lost in decisive fashion.

It's understandable that Brees could have pre-determined, based on his pre-snap read, that Jimmy Graham would have been open on something that resembles a stick-nod route, in which the tight end acts as if he's running a quick out from the slot, only to plant his foot and get up the seam. 

The 49ers' pre-snap alignment indicated that Patrick Willis was lined up right in the middle and appeared as if he was heading up the seam in a Tampa-Two type coverage. Meanwhile, Ahmad Brooks (lined up over the center and circled in the picture, as well as the guy who made the interception) appeared as if he was going to blitz. 

Instead, Willis played Graham man-to-man, and Brooks dropped into what is often called "robber coverage"—the short intermediate zone over the middle. In other words, Brees was toast on this play before it even began, since he clearly made a pre-snap determination and guessed awfully wrong. 

As illustrated here at this point in the middle of the play, Jimmy Graham has burned Willis on the stick-nod route. If Brees throws the football in an up-the-seam type throw, he can probably complete the pass. 

The fact that his trajectory was a chest-high throw makes it clear he never saw Ahmad Brooks. If he had seen Brooks, he would have attempted to throw it over his head. In other words, it's obvious he made a pre-snap determination. That's one potential problem with Brees' visual walk-through he goes through before each game. 

If the opposition does something different than normal, as was the case here, Brees can get in trouble. 

Here's Brees' second interception against the 'Niners. 

The diagramming here shows that Marques Colston is destined to run essentially the same stick-nod route that got Jimmy Graham relatively open on the first interception of the game. It is the perfect route for the Tampa-Two coverage San Francisco is playing on this snap. The slot defender lined up over Colston is going to bail out to the flat once Colston plants the stick action of the route. 

That stick action is going to cause Colston to get 10 yards of separation between the 49ers' nearest defender, Dashon Goldson, and himself. The problem is that Brees (circled here) still has the football. The ball should have been thrown on Colston's break. 

Brees makes a late decision, which, as we'll see in the next photo, allows Goldson to close the gap on Colston and square him up for significant contact. If you recall, this is the play where Colston seemed to be paralyzed on the Superdome turf as Donte Whitner flew back the other way with the second pick-six in three plays. 

Again, Goldson is allowed to make up significant amount of space because of Brees' lack of anticipation on this route. And the time it takes for the throw to get there also allows Whitner, who was nowhere near the route in the previous clip, to catch up quickly to work the "tip drill" interception and go the other way for the second pick-six in three plays.

I categorized this as a "late decision" when charting Brees' throws in the past two games. It should be noted that Brees had at least five of them between the two contests, and that doesn't include his terrible intentional grounding call against the 49ers, where he never made a decision. 

Perhaps most importantly, three of the five charted "lates" resulted in interceptions for the opposition. 

There are a couple of disturbing things to note here. First, Lance Moore has five yards of cushion between himself and the Falcons' defensive back trying to cover him on the "bench route" to the sideline. That is a throw Brees makes in his sleep on most occasions. 

Yes, he is facing pressure. And no, there isn't much of a lane to step up into. Still, Brees has to see that more quickly and make the throw before the pocket is too congested. 

He makes matters worse by throwing off his back foot and throwing behind the Saints' worst receiving tailback, Chris Ivory. Blame the offensive line and Brees' slow decision-making for this interception. 

This is, of course, a mid-snap clip. Showing the pre-snap, again, would have done little to help us understand the problem here. But we see pressure is clearly not the problem on this interception, as Brees has clean protection (Brees rolls away from the traffic and is one-on-one with an Atlanta defender if he were to decide to run). 

As we know based on the result of the play, Brees wants to hit the backside crossing route, which is being run here by Devery Henderson. He believes William Moore is going to go with either Marques Colston, who is running a "clear route" up the seam, or Moore, who is running another out route. 

As we can see from this still, Moore doesn't take the bait. Instead, he displays the wherewithal to notice Henderson crossing the field and knows he has help on the other two routes. His zone is the "robber zone." He stays home and undercuts the route. 

Much like Ahmad Brooks, we have to assume Moore was as shocked as anyone that Brees actually attempted this particular throw. Finally, it is crucial that we use the overused cliche "Never throw across your body."

In this case, the problem wasn't so much arm strength (as is generally the reason a quarterback is taught not to throw such a pass), but another poor decision by Brees. It may have resulted in the easiest interception of Moore's still young career. 

This is not a poor pre-snap read from Brees. As he knows Colston is going to run an out-and-up against soft man, it seems his massive target will get open against this coverage. And with William Moore on the other side of the field, there is almost no reason to even account for him on this play. 

At this point in the play, Moore is in the middle of the field. And the corner is, for practical purposes, even with Colston. Brees has thrown the ball. And that should be fine. As long as the corner isn't playing a deep sideline zone, this is a throw Brees should make based on Colston's size, strength and ball skills and the fact he could still outrun the corner depending on what kind of trajectory Brees uses on the throw. 

Two unfortunate developments occur for the Saints here. One, Colston does not win the battle with the corner. In fact, Colston is basically taken out of the play because of great man-to-man coverage. 

But the second is that Brees' make a poor throw, one that is way behind Colston and stays in the air about two seconds too long (literally). The extra air time gives Moore all the time he needs to get over to make the interception (though it was still a tremendous play by Moore). 

It is refreshing to see that this particular interception was not so much a matter of a poor decision, though it was graded as a late decision. For Brees to loft the ball out there he'd have to throw a fade (where the QB gets the snap and immediately throws it without reading the coverage). 

 

Conclusion

What can we definitively say about Brees' performance from this breakdown? Unfortunately, it's not as cut and dry as we'd like. 

We can say Brees has been a bit slow making decisions on some of his interceptions. Some have simply been poor reads, while some of his troubles have come from making up his pre-snap based on something he saw and then imagined before the game even began. 

What has been Brees' biggest problems the past two games vs. SF & ATL?

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We can also say that Brees has struggled because of the increased pressure. Whether being sacked or throwing into the pressure, Brees has been hurried and hit more the past two games than he has in a while. No quarterback is going to play too well under such duress. 

Still, the major issue appears to be Brees himself. He is making mental mistakes we have not seen too often in his time in New Orleans. See Brees' poor decision on the goal line in the closing seconds of the first half against Atlanta, when he chose to throw the underneath route to Darren Sproles with no timeouts. 

Frankly, it was an inexcusable decision. It was the opposite of classic Brees. 

I don't know who was occupying the No. 9 black and gold jersey the past two games, but it didn't seem to be the same man who has done so in the past six-plus years. It had to be an intruder, a look-alike or someone pulling a Mission Impossible stunt by making a clone. 

Whatever it was, the past two weeks have been impossible to believe. Brees has been unbelievably bad, by his standards. 

 

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