Why Drew Brees Is as Good as Ever
In life, a few things are certain. Taxes are a sure thing. So is losing in fantasy football because your opponent's kicker scored 20 and defense scored 30.
These are just two of the most obvious givens that come to mind.
But when Brees started off poorly this year and the Saints started dropping games, the NFL seemed a bit off. Even though Brees hasn't come out of the gates like the near-flawless quarterback of old we've all grown to know, he's still performing at a very high level, and his schedule provides him with a very favorable end to the year.
Brees did out-sling Rodgers on Sunday Night Football in Week 8, and given the horrid state of the NFC South, the Saints are still in the thick of things for the playoffs. So, like Rodgers told Packers fans a few weeks ago, Saints fans should consider a certain five-letter word about Brees and the Saints.
I typically focus my analysis on questions rather than statements, but Brees has been playing well despite the criticisms, and the numbers back it up. I figured I'd just foreground it so that there wouldn't be any confusion.
Still Near the Top
At numberFire, most of our analysis comes from our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a team's or player's production and evidences by how much that team or player is performing above or below expectation.
Entering Week 8, Brees ranked seventh among all quarterbacks in Passing NEP, adding 45.64 points above expectation. Andrew Luck, for context, led the league with a Passing NEP of 98.57.
Well, it's hard to complain about having the seventh-most productive quarterback in the league, especially considering Brees already had his bye and that only one of those quarterbacks above him (Manning) had a bye week, too.
Through the Sunday portion of Week 8, Brees still ranks seventh in Passing NEP, but his 21.46 Passing NEP accumulated against the Packers was third-best of the week behind Tom Brady (35.05) and Ben Roethlisberger (33.83).
Brees may not be a clear-cut top-three option anymore, but this is as much a result of the rest of the league ramping up its passing productivity than it is necessarily because Brees is struggling.
I mean, three quarterbacks (Manning, Luck, and Philip Rivers) are on pace for Passing NEP scores of over 200, something that has happened just 6 times since 2000.
As Good as Usual
Through seven games, Brees is on pace to finish the season with a Passing NEP of 153.38. That would be his fifth-best season ever and roughly 23 points away from his second-best year ever. And a Passing NEP of 153.38 would have finished last season behind only Manning, Brees, and Rivers.
And don't forget that he's doing this without Darren Sproles and with a limited Jimmy Graham, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Kenny Stills, all of whom have missed time and snaps in the Saints offense.
Brees hasn't finished outside the top four in Passing NEP since 2007, during which he finished eighth. Currently sitting at seventh, he can climb into the top four if his peers slow down a bit, but even still, he's not too far off their mark even with some sub-par games to start the 2014 campaign.
There is, though, reason to believe Brees will finish the season at a torrid pace.
It's no secret that Brees is better at home than he is on the road. He has thrown 218 touchdowns at home in his career and just 159 on the road. Last year was a clear indication of his drastic differences at home and on the road.
|Location||Record||Completion %||YPG||TD/G||INT/G||QB Rating||AY/A|
Brees clearly gets his best numbers while playing at home, and the actual discrepancy is polarizing. One of the most crucial differences is Brees' average yards per attempt (AY/A in the table), which indicates that Brees' efficiency is substantially greater at home than it is on the road.
That mark isn't as different this year, though. Brees' average yards per attempt at home is 7.90. On the road, it's 7.09. While it's concerning that he isn't quite as dominant at home as he was in 2013, his improved road ability has kept the Saints close. They have lose three of their four road games by a combined six points.
Thankfully for the Saints, though, 5 of their final 9 games are in New Orleans, where the team is 3-0 on the season.
Can Brees Carry the Saints Once More?
So it's pretty evident that Brees is still playing at a high level and that even a perceived down year from the Saints quarterback can be borderline elite.
But it will be for naught if the Saints can't clinch a playoff berth and Brees gets to make a run at the Super Bowl.
The Saints, who are now 3-4, currently sit just behind the Panthers (3-4-1) in the NFC South. The two teams face off in Week 9 in Carolina on Thursday Night Football. If the Saints can gather themselves after a very short week and secure a victory on the road, all of the worry about Brees may be forgotten.
After all, he is already playing at a high level, and with five of his final eight games at home, he could start dropping the stat lines to which we've all become accustomed while the Saints try to march into the playoffs.