Breaking Down Drew Brees' Road Game Woes as Saints Head to Seattle

Murf BaldwinContributor IJanuary 8, 2014

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 22:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints warms up before a game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Something is wrong with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In his past three road contests, he has three touchdowns opposed to six interceptions. Considering two of the contests, both losses, were in an attempt to clinch the second seed in the NFC, and the last one was a playoff game, you can plainly see the gravity of the situation.

In Brees' defense, two of the teams, the Carolina Panthers and the St. Louis Rams, have one of the most ferocious pass rushes in the NFL. But the same can't be said about his last opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles.

In fact, his road totals of 12 TDs opposed to nine interceptions are a far departure from the 27 TDs and three interceptions he's accumulated at home. It's not uncommon for a QB of Brees' ilk to go through these types of struggles during the most pertinent situations...I believe.

See, Brees is in rarefied air. He's undoubtedly one of the greatest QBs to ever lace up a pair of cleats. His accuracy, poise and overall savvy is virtually without peer. At 6'0", he's overcome the odds and created a lane to where vertically challenged QBs are compared to him.

But as a QB who'll turn 35 years old on Jan. 15, Brees is unequivocally closer to being done as an elite QB than not. And with the rest of the NFC closing the gap on the Saints' near decade-long reign as a superior outfit, the next game against the Seattle Seahawks has a chance to be a legacy-defining game for the future Hall of Famer.

The 2012 season revealed a Brees who was hell-bent on making the key play when the Saints needed it. Often Brees would throw a pick in the waning moments to assist in the opposition making a comeback, or to seal a loss for the Saints. 

Given the circumstances, it was hard to blame Brees for attempting to pull his struggling team out of the football doldrums. But the mistakes that have plagued him in the past few games are a far departure from last season's blunders.

Via NFL Rewind

Here we see an egregious turnover by Brees on a "sprint-right." This originally looked to be a run play before Brees audibled. By moving the pocket, it calls for a quick decision to the primary target tight end Jimmy Graham—who's running a corner route. If that's not available, receiver Lance Moore is running a quick out which acts as a checkdown.

With the Rams running a Cover 4, running the ball would be ideal in this situation. By the Rams bluffing a blitz, Brees believes there will be a void in the zone.

Via NFL Rewind

Initially, Brees reads this as a man-to-man situation with the corner following No. 16 Moore to the boundary. Brees needs to negate the sprint and deliver the ball to Graham in the far corner of the end zone promptly. 

Via NFL Rewind

Brees stares this down the entire way. This allows the corner to peel back while the rest of the defensive backs zero in on Graham as well. The longer Brees holds the ball, the more doomed this play becomes.

Via NFL Rewind

The back corner is now the only spot this ball can be placed. Anything else is a form of football suicide.

Via NFL Rewind

But not only is Brees late pulling the trigger, he does so off his back foot. We all know Brees doesn't have a strong arm to begin with. Throwing without the benefit of his lower body is just asking for trouble.

You have to figure Brees wanted to make a play as his team was trailing. But doing so, while going out of character, is the reason why the Saints have struggled on the road. Brees would normally have thrown the checkdown, or even gotten rid of the ball to live another play.

Via NFL Rewind

Instead, Brees throws it into triple coverage and barely gets anything on it. Head coach Sean Payton could alleviate pressure off of Brees by running the ball early and providing him with easier throws to get a rhythm—especially on the road.

Leaning on the run game was instrumental in the Saints' playoff victory over Philadelphia. Once the run game took over, Brees was able to work against man coverage. But working against ideal coverage means nothing when you force throws.

Via NFL Rewind

Brees is working the two-man game off a play-action fake in this collage. Receiver Marques Colston is flexed off the line on the boundary side of the formation with fellow receiver Kenny Stills playing the primary receiver to the right side.

Colston is running a dig route with Stills performing a "Stutter-Go."

Via NFL Rewind

Once Brees whips his head around, he immediately checks the safety who is sitting in Cover 1 (single-high), which signifies that Stills is in man coverage performing a double move.     

Via NFL Rewind

Brees manipulates the safety by pretending he's interested in Colston. We all know Brees has his sights set on Stills in man coverage. To this point, Brees has executed this play exceptionally. It doesn't hurt that he has no pressure to deal with.

Via NFL Rewind

Now the rest of this play is up to Stills to beat his man.

Via NFL Rewind

Stills ran this route as poor as it can be run. His throttle-down fake was some of the worst acting since the last Keanu Reeves movie. The corner, Bradley Fletcher, obviously doesn't buy the fake and stays on top of the route. 

Once Brees saw that Fletcher stayed on top of the route after the fake it should have been mission abort. But Brees had his mind made up before the snap of the ball.  

Via NFL Rewind

You can't play this any better than Fletcher did. He stays in Stills' hip pocket while looking and leaning—which forces an outside-shoulder throw. In this instance, Stills did a poor job as he knew he was in trouble and tried to undercut the pass. 

But all that is beside the point.

Brees should've kept the ball, threw it away or tried to scramble for some extra yards. His propensity for trying to make the splash play has been the downfall of the offense the past few road games. Predetermined throws into less-than-ideal situations should be beyond a player of Brees' ilk.

Payton can help him out by calling a balanced game out of the gate. And Brees can help himself out by taking the checkdown or even throwing the ball away in certain situations. Brees has played almost flawless football at home, but the pressure of trying to right the ship—on the road—has forced him into uncharacteristic mistakes.

The Saints need for Brees to execute like he does at home to beat Seattle. Or they'll be bellying up, with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, to the bar watching the NFC Championship Game.