I might shoot myself in the foot by writing this article, but I’m far more confident with the sentence above than Ian Rapoport should have been going on national television saying that Drew Brees is just about out the door in New Orleans. The deal is the same every year. Midway through the season, reports begin to surface about how Drew Brees is about to walk and how Sean Payton won’t last through the end of the year. Apparently, someone forgot to turn off a couple of scheduled posts that were created at the top of the year.
The Saints are now 7-2 and just last week there was talk about how unsure Drew’s future was in New Orleans. Drew just said that he’s not planning “on leaving New Orleans ever.” Let’s talk about why.
1. He’s is still producing.
Sure, the total numbers look different this year. Through 9 games Brees has completed 215 of his 300 pass attempts for 2,398 yards for 13 TDs and 4 INTs. That’s 11 TDs and nearly 600 yards less than his total at this point last year. But the reason isn’t his fabled “decline” it’s purely a result of the number of attempts. Last year through 9 games, Brees through more than 35 passes in 8 games. This year? 4 times. There are a couple of contributing factors to that which I’ll discuss here in a bit. So while the numbers might look low, he’s still leading this time to wins and is playing a very smart game of football. His 4 interceptions came in pairs two weeks in a row. By this time last year, he had thrown 7 picks and had a completion percentage of about 69% while this year he’s completed 71% of his passes. He’s still tearing apart zone defenses and working his pre-snap wizardry to open up both the pass and run games. As Nick Underhill recently wrote, Brees is also still hitting the deep ball despite no longer having to be a volume QB.
2. There’s a bonafide run game behind him.
The duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are baffling opposing defenses. This is a big part of Brees not having to throw the ball 40 times a game this season. We have, in addition to our 5th-ranked passing offense, the 3rd-ranked rushing offense with 142.2 yards per game. This new wrinkle in the offense keeps Brees from a) throwing out an arm and b) being hit game in and game out. By week 10 of the 2016 season, Brees had been sacks 13 times. He’s only been sacked 8 times this year, and was only sacked more than once in a single game (Chicago). The effectiveness of the run game will extend Drew’s football life as will the excellent play of the offensive line in front of him.
3. That offensive line I just mentioned.
Bress is one of the least sacked QBs this year having only been sacked 8 times. That’s the second least of QBs that have attempted at least 250 passes, the least among those who’ve thrown 300 or more times. This line is doing its damnedest to keep Drew upright. They didn’t allow a single sack of even so much as a pressure in the Bills game while also leading the way to a record setting rushing day for the franchise.It’s pretty amazing that the Saints Oline has been so solid considering the injuries to Armstead, Strief, and Warford. Rookie Ryan Ramczyk has been phenomenal having already played on both ends of the line and Senio Kelemete has been a blessing filling in where needed, same of Andrus Peat. The only offensive lineman that’s started every game at his actual position is Max Unger who has also been a brick wall. If Brees can continue to get this kind of protection, we may see him in black and gold for multiple years to come.
4. That defense, though.
For the first time in three years, the Saints offense gets to stay off the field and not try to play catch up possession after possession. The Saints Defense is rated number 8 in total defense, T-5th in points allowed per game, 7th in interceptions, and second and passes defended. All while also winning of possession by more than 5 minutes. That means the defense is getting off the field and giving the offense the opportunity to control the game. With a running game, that’s a formula that works anywhere, stadium or not. The is a defense, all of a sudden, that isn’t giving up points and isn’t forcing every game into a shootout. Again, keeping Brees’s arm in tact and not putting him in a position to force throws that turn into giveaways or extent plays that end with him on his back.
5. They can’t guard Mike.
Michael Thomas is quietly becoming one of the NFLs best young wide receivers and Drew Brees has him all to himself. This has to be the first time since Marques Colston that Brees has a target that can high point a pass and win the 50/50 ball. Brees has a 71% completion percentage when targeting Thomas. CGMs ability to make the first tackler miss also helps to pad Drew’s stats a bit. Thomas’s dynamic cohort Ted Ginn Jr. has added a spark of excitement for the 38-year old QB as well. But above all else, Michael Thomas is one of the best young WRs in the game and that’s an exciting piece to the puzzle when it comes to keeping Brees in NOLA.
The way things are playing out this year, the Saints are a true playoff competitor. Many are expecting a deep playoff run for this team for the first time since 2013. This is exactly the opposite kind of scenario that would send Drew Brees running to the hills of Free Agency. There’s a glimmer of hope in the locker room and in the city that he holds so dear and views him as a hero. This is exactly the environment someone would want to spend the rest of the career in, not call it quits.