In each of the last three seasons, Brees led the league in completion percentage. Last year he threw for more yards in a single season than any other quarterback in NFL history, and in three of the last four seasons Brees has thrown more touchdown passes than anyone.
This season, he’s still leading the league in touchdown passes and yards through the air, but he’s also crept up to the top of the league in a negative statistic.
Brees is tied with Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck with 18 interceptions this year, more than any other passer.
The floodgates have opened over the last three weeks. Brees’ five-interception game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13 was sandwiched by games against the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants where he threw two picks in each game.
Brees has thrown nine interceptions over his last three games. There are seven quarterbacks in the league with at least 200 pass attempts who haven’t thrown nine interceptions all season.
So, what’s going wrong with Brees—especially of late?
In Sunday’s game against the Giants, this third-quarter interception wasn’t all on Brees. The Saints were down eight points and Brees had the offense lined up in 21 Personnel.
Tight end Jimmy Graham ran straight up the seam and Brees tried to connect with him on a 15-yard route. Giants free safety Antrel Rolle covered Graham well and made a great play on the ball, getting his hand on the pass and deflecting it up in the air.
Strong safety Stevie Brown was in the perfect spot to benefit from Rolle’s hard work and grabbed the ball out of the air.
Brees suffered from a little bad luck in the fact that the ball was deflected up for Brown instead of down onto the ground for an incomplete pass. However, Graham was covered pretty well, and Brees might not have had to try and sneak that pass in.
In the fourth quarter, the Saints were down by 15 but driving deep in New York territory. On this first-and-20 play, the Saints lined up in 21 Personnel and Graham ran a deep post.
The Giants were playing two-deep zone coverage and Graham found a hole in the middle of that coverage. Brees saw the hole too and immediately went towards Graham.
However, Brees led Graham a bit too much and failed to do anything to keep Brown from jumping the route. Brown jumped in front of the pass and picked it off, returning it 70 yards.
The interception was all on Brees. The throw was the right move, but it was off target and Brown wasn’t deterred from aggressive play by a head fake or a pump from Brees, or something like that to keep Brown back deep.
There seem to be two key factors in why Brees is off his game at the moment.
First, with a defense that ranks 30th in the league giving up 29.2 points per game, Brees must feel like he has to score 30-plus points per game every time out. That’s a lot of pressure to put on an offense.
Because of that, Brees is throwing into tighter coverage and pressing, attempting to make things happen that might not be available. He’s being overaggressive in times where caution might be the best play.
Another factor is the Saints’ current situation.
After starting 0-4, New Orleans won five of its next six games, putting the team in the thick of the playoff hunt. This may have made Brees feel like he had to do more than he’s capable of.
Without head coach Sean Payton, Brees has a lot of weight on his shoulders to make this offense hum. With a window of playoff hope—albeit a small window—Brees is just trying to shoulder too much of the burden.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.