Breaking Down What Is Wrong with New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees
He has little supporting running game to speak of and ranks 26th league wide. The defense has struggled, giving up an average of 29 points per game. Because of their struggles, the team has fallen behind in games and forced Brees to throw more than he should.
This season he's averaging 41 pass attempts per game, which is exactly the same number he averaged the previous two seasons. However, his 18 total interceptions and 7.5 yards per attempt (YPA) are closer to his 2010 season than 2011.
In 2010, Brees finished with a total of 33 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, completed 68 percent of his passes and had a 7.0 YPA average. It appears that he's on pace to finish with similar numbers this season, already logging 32 touchdowns and 18 interceptions but only completing 61 percent of his passes. The completion percentage and interception totals are concerning because big plays and possessions are vital for the team.
The Purdue alum's rising interception count has largely come from forcing big plays and not seeing the field as well as he did in previous years.
This may be a product of the stress of not having his head coach around and having to carry the entire team, all of which makes sense, but it's hard to ignore the mistakes because they are usually uncommon with the signal-caller.
Brees has long been one of the sharpest minds in the game and the league's best at the line of scrimmage.
At the line, he understands defenses incredibly well, pointing out which defender is coming, which isn't and which is deficient. Afterward, he would catch the snap and slice up defenses en route to the end zone.
Now he is having issues with identifying coverage defenders after the snap, as witnessed against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13.
The Saints were near midfield when they lined up with "11" personnel, featuring one back and one tight end along with Brees under center. He had two receivers split out to his far right, which would become the playside, and one to his near left.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons were going to be utilizing a Cover 3 rotation concept, which saw safety William Moore drop down while the free safety rotated into the middle of the field. It was a pure zone coverage that featured four underneath defenders and three deep ones, with the latter splitting the field into thirds.
With everyone set, Brees hiked the ball and executed a boot action from left to right. As he rolled right, backside receiver Devery Henderson worked across the field with a shallow cross route. He was supposed to be Brees' third and final read, but Brees looked to him immediately after the play action.
The Saints quarterback stared his receiver down and then launched the pass, which came into the hands of rotating safety William Moore.
Moore was playing a "Hook" assignment and jumped Henderson's route, intercepting Brees for his first time in the game.
These kind of interceptions didn't seem to be as big of a problem in previous years—even when Brees was throwing a higher amount of interceptions—but they are now. The issue came up once again in the Week 14 game against the New York Giants.
This time, the Saints had "21" personnel on the field, consisting of two backs and one tight end. The lone tight end was Jimmy Graham and he was flexed out in the slot, where he'd be running a "Bend" route into the seam.
Graham was the target for Brees on this play, who executed a play-action fake to his left and immediately snapped his head around to locate Graham in the seam. At first sight, the 6'7" tight end appeared to be open because of the poor seam coverage of the Giants, but he was not.
Giants strong safety Stevie Brown was one of the split-field safeties and patrolling a deep half of the field. When he saw that Brees didn't look to throw it to the outside receiver running a go-route, he made a beeline toward Graham.
When the ball came, Brown jumped in front of Graham and intercepted the pass, recording his second interception of the day.
This turnover is a type that a majority of quarterbacks have in the NFL. They assume that the deep safety has been occupied by the deep route on the outside, so the seam is open. More often than not, the safety ends up undercutting the throw.
This has been an issue with Drew Brees, who is nearing the 22 interceptions he threw in 2010 with 18 through 13 games.
Moreover, the dip in completion percentage appears to be linked to several factors. Brees' footwork has sometimes been improper, the pass catchers have dropped too many passes and he's late reading the field.
The issue with footwork is tied in with a lack of comfort in the pocket and the aforementioned late reading of the field.
At times, Brees is dealing with pressure in the pocket and is trying to make a throw while doing so, which results in a pass coming off of the back of his foot, for instance. There's also the concern of reading the field, which has appeared in a few games and most notably against the Giants in Week 14, when he was short on some deep passes because he saw them developing late.
Last but not least, drops have been a problem for the Saints. There have been 24 dropped passes between tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Darren Sproles, wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore.
Graham leads the team with nine total, which is one shy of league leader Victor Cruz, according to STATS LLC.
While Drew Brees can't control the drops of his pass catchers or his pass protection, he can control his footwork and decision making, both of which will have to improve next season.
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