The story of the New Orleans Saints’ surprisingly successful season was the long-awaited emergence of the roster around Drew Brees, after the star quarterback had almost single-handedly led New Orleans to so many successful campaigns in the past. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara both ran for over 700 yards to lead the NFL’s fifth-ranked rushing attack, while the offensive line played its best football in years and an oft-ridiculed defense finally found itself thanks to the play of several new offseason additions.
Kamara led the conversation for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Marshon Lattimore for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Cam Jordan dropped a season that should draw plenty of consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. The Saints finally had the group around Brees to accomplish big things without the face of their franchise having to be Superman, which led to renewed excitement about the team’s Super Bowl hopes.
But in the wild card round against the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs, there were the Saints, averaging fewer than two yards per carry, rushing for just 41 yards, and giving up 350 yards through the air against a beleaguered Panther receiver corps. For parts of Sunday, it looked like the Saints of old, from the struggling defense to the nonexistent running game to…
…Brees lighting up the opposition all over the yard with pinpoint accuracy and absolute fearlessness from the pocket.
Once again Brees became the straw the stirs the drink in New Orleans, making throw after throw in huge spots, finishing 23-33 for 376 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints’ 31-26 win over the Panthers. It was Brees’ placement that made him impossible to stop on Sunday, when he consistently exploited tight coverage and threw receivers open all afternoon.
Alvin Kamara is lauded for his abilities with the football in his hands. But check out his Pass Pro on this play against Luke Kuechly.
Great job by Brees throwing to the S blind spot, and adjustment from Josh Hill to make the catch. pic.twitter.com/utfbplnLc1
— Defend The House (@DTHFootball) January 7, 2018
The seam route is perfectly defended with the safety trailing tightly and holding inside leverage, but Brees places the ball right on the outside shoulder where only the tight end can get it. The timing and placement of the throw with pressure in Brees’ face are otherworldly.
Drew Brees To Former Ohio State WR Michael Thomas Wow. Can’t. Guard. Mike! pic.twitter.com/MQimvB9chB
— The Buckeye Nut (@TheBuckeyeNut) January 8, 2018
Sensing a trend here? Despite tight man coverage, Brees puts the ball to Michael Thomas’s back shoulder, and the Saints’ star receiver makes an exceptional adjustment to reel in the tough grab on third down. The best quarterbacks in the NFL can throw receivers open even when they’re covered, and Brees did that all game long against Carolina.
Even a few days from his 39th birthday, Brees still checks all the boxes as a quarterback, capable of making pinpoint throws under pressure, dropping dimes on deep passes, and even making throws like this on the move.
What a throw from Brees on the run!
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 8, 2018
First emerge the anticipation and athleticism to bounce outside of the edge pressure, and then the ability to make a perfectly accurate throw on the run to lead Thomas to the sideline and up the field. That’s a big-time throw to set the Saints up for a 12-point lead late in the game.
The road doesn’t get much easier for New Orleans, which now faces the No. 2 run defense in the NFL (Minnesota) and could potentially be without guard Andrus Peat. The defense won’t have to deal with Cam Newton, but Case Keenum has been good this season, and Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are one of the hardest duos to defend in the NFL. If the Saints are going to accomplish their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl this season, that much-improved supporting cast might not be enough.
Brees is still a top-five quarterback in the NFL, and for the Saints to beat arguably the best defense in the NFL and earn a spot to play in the NFC title game, he’ll need to continue to play like it.