Ethan Hewett | July 19th, 2019
Drew Brees has put together a remarkable career. After being drafted by the San Diego (Los Angeles) Chargers in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft, battling a shoulder injury, and making his way to the New Orleans Saints, Brees has done it all. Except for one thing. Winning Most Valuable Player. The Super Bowl Champion, all-pro, pro bowl winning quarterback has filled all of the boxes for the past 13 years for the Saints. Brees has already solidified himself as one of the greats and a future Hall-of-Famer, but could 2019 be the year that he finally brings home the MVP award? I looked into his 2018 film to see just how good he actually is and where he could be next season.
Current MVP Odds: +700
Brees had quite a year in 2018 racking up 3,992 yards, 32 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and boasting the best completion percentage in the NFL at 74.4%. For this article, we are going to be primarily focusing on Brees’ game against the Philadelphia Eagles. However, first, let’s get to the main points. Brees is incredibly accurate. Most of the critics will tell you that it is a lot of dink-and-dunk throws. However, Even in the divisional round of the playoffs, Brees still attempted six passes of 20 or more yards. Completing two. While the deep accuracy may have suffered near the end due to his arm strength falling off, his mid to short-range accuracy was incredible.
Taking the completion percentage a step further, Brees’ adjusted completion percentage in 2018 was an astonishing 82.2%, according to Pro Football Focus. This was evident in his performance against the Eagles. According to my tracking of the game, Brees only had three passes that were deemed “uncatchable.” Of those uncatchable passes, two were beyond 20 air yards. Another stat from Pro Football Focus that really sheds some light on a quarterback’s true accuracy is their Accuracy Metrics. This is a system that breaks down where the quarterback threw the ball compared to his receiver. For Brees, he had an incredible 51.2% of passes that were deemed “accurate,” which led the league.
While you can definitely argue that Brees’ arm did start to fail as the season progressed, let’s put some numbers to it. Of the top seven quarterbacks for adjusted completion percentage for passes beyond 20 yards, Brees was ranked seventh at 53% and boasted a 128.6 quarterback passer rating (QBR) with 55 attempts. Of the other six, Brees only fell behind Matt Ryan, Baker Mayfield, and Patrick Mahomes in attempts. Arguably three of the best deep-ball throwers in the National Football League. Not too shabby for a 40-year-old quarterback keeping up with two 23-year-olds and a 34-year-old.
Now let’s turn to the short game. Brees’ was electric, as he fits so well into Sean Payton’s scheme, that involves a lot of shorter passes such as quick outs, shorter dig routes (7-8 yards), or crossing routes. This was evident seeing that 258 of Brees’ 489 passes were thrown into the 0-9 yards tier. The placement and timing that Brees is able to produce are so fun to watch. We’ll get to a play later that really shows how much anticipation that Brees’ can possess. His ability to sit back, move in the pocket, read the defense, and make the throw is almost too easy. It didn’t matter the space the receiver had either, as Brees was ranked top 3 in all three of Pro Football Focus’ space categories of less than one step, two or more steps, and one step.
Part of what allows Brees to make these accurate throws is his pocket movement. His ability to have a feeling of where space is in the pocket is top shelf. Even if it’s just an extra yard to the left, Brees will step into it, and make the throw. Another aspect of pocket movement and presence is that you obviously need to keep your eyes downfield, and Brees is one of the best. While there isn’t necessarily a stat that shows pocket movement and presence, we can see that Brees had a passer rating of 79.5 when under pressure. Well above the league average.
Now that I’ve thrown a bunch of numbers at you, let’s start to put them into context. I chose his game against the Eagles because while he may not have had incredible numbers, it showed nearly every strength and weakness that I can find with Brees’ game. Let’s start off with accuracy.
On the first play from scrimmage for the Saints offense, Brees threw an interception. After spending nearly an hour just trying to see what happened, as I didn’t initially want to just blame it on arm strength, I eventually came back to that as my conclusion. On the play, the Saints came out in the shotgun with three receivers to his right. Thomas was lined up in the slot on the left, and he ran a post route over the middle of the field, while Ted Ginn Jr. streaked down the field on a fly route. As the Eagles slipped into a Cover-1 look, Brees looked off the safety well, baiting that he would throw to Thomas, then launched it deep to Ginn, who had some space between him and his defender.
With a good read and progression, it almost seemed like it was going to be a touchdown as Ginn only had green grass in front of him. However, it came up just short of Ginn and the Eagles corner was able to make a play. To me, it simply was that Brees just didn’t have quite enough arm for the throw.
I could give you several plays against the Eagles that showed off Brees timing and accuracy, but there was one in particular that I simply loved. It was first and ten in the second quarter and the Saints were down 14-7 at the time. With two receivers to his right and the corners playing nearly ten yards back with a single-high safety, you could assume that they were going to be in some kind of Cover-3. Ginn hadn’t even broken on his deep-out route before Brees’ recognized the corner playing deep was completely out of position and he fired a pass that beat the corner by a mile for a 21-yard gain. This kind of anticipation and trust is what you look for in your quarterback, and it’s what Brees has perfected over the years.
When you talk about being accurate, it is also about leading your receivers away from defenders to the open field. This game against the Eagles didn’t lack this trait either. On a second and 9 in the third quarter, Thomas cut across the middle with an option route, either keep running across the field or stop and turn back towards the quarterback. Brees shifted ever so slightly to his left when Thomas chose to stop, and with the Eagles playing Cover-4, Brees was able to lead Thomas back into the open field for an extra 8-9 yards on the play. Elite quarterbacks are the ones who not only find the open man but also give them the best chance to get even more yards after the catch.
While these are only three plays, they show what Brees did all season. He played incredible last year. Putting up really good numbers and did what everybody wants, he won games. While his defense bailed him out at times, he led the Saints to a 13-3 record, a playoff berth, and a chance to make the Super Bowl. While they fell short, it was a very good run. The biggest and really the only downside I have for Brees is his arm strength going forward. Unfortunately, Father Time is not on Brees’ side and to me, the Saints really only have two more years of a dominant Brees. Along with that, his MVP window is closing. This could very well be his last chance to put up big numbers, so lookout for a guy that might be looking to make a few more big plays in 2019 and finally secure that MVP Award.
Check out the other NFL Film Review of 2019 MVP Favorites: Patrick Mahomes| Andrew Luck
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