For the Saints, Less Brees is More

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Brees' best season for the New Orleans Saints wasn't when he threw 657 passes and more yards than Dan Marino in 2011. It was when he had his lowest amount of passing attempts in New Orleans, led the league in passer rating and his team to a Superbowl championship.

Drew Brees lives in the exclusive, higher stratosphere of elite National Football League quarterbacks. He is among the select few, with the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, who can seemingly rewrite the record books as they please, year after year.

From guiding the Saints to victory in Superbowl XLIV to being the most visible ambassador of the city of New Orleans across the country, Brees has been a leader on and off the field since joining forces with head coach Sean Payton in 2006.

If we are to believe the numbers however, for the remainder of his career in Black and Gold, the Saints are going to have to be less Brees-centric if they are to make another Superbowl run in the near future.

If we take the Saints 2009 championship season as our point of reference and compare it to the other seven years of the Payton-Brees tenure in New Orleans, there are a few striking facts. Let's take a look!

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Passing Attempts vs. Rushing Attempts.

Only once in his Saints tenure has Drew Brees been ranked in double digit as far as passing attempts are concerned. (10th in 2009). As shown in the table below, every other year, Brees has been ranked fifth or higher. The 514 passes are also the lowest number for the Saints quarterback in eight years with the team.

New Orleans Saints

Passing Attempts

NFL Rank

2006

554

5th

2007

652

1st

2008

635

1st

2009

514

10th

2010

658

2nd

2011

657

2nd

2012

670

2nd

2013

650

3rd

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Conversely, only once since Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006, have the Saints had a single digit ranking for rushing attempts (468 rushes for 7th in the league, also in 2009).

New Orleans Saints

Rushing Attempts

NFL Rank

2006

472

12th

2007

392

26th

2008

398

28th

2009

468

7th

2010

380

30th

2011

431

20th

2012

370

29th

2013

391

25th

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To make the picture even clearer when it comes to the enormous pass-to-rush discrepancy between 2009 and every other year for the Saints under Payton and Brees, let's take a look at the differential chart below.

New Orleans Saints

Passes/Rushes Differential

2006

82

2007

260

2008

237

2009

46

2010

278

2011

226

2012

300

2013

259

In 2009, New Orleans threw only 46 more passes than it attempted to run the ball (514 passes to 468 rushes). When the Saints reached the NFC Championship game in 2006, they had 82 more passes than runs; each of the other the six years, the differential has been above 200 in favor of the passing game, reaching an egregious 300 during the dreadful 2012 season.

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Despite a 2013 season that ended abruptly in the divisional round of the playoffs in Seattle, the Saints offense isn't exactly in decline, as some have surmised. Since the arrival of Brees and Payton, New Orleans has been a perennial offensive juggernaut, constantly ranking at or near the top of the league in most statistical categories.

What 2009 showed however, is that by its then-multiplicity, New Orleans offense was not only lethal in terms of numbers, it was deadly efficient when it needed to, keeping opposing defenses guessing, always a step ahead.

While everyone expects the Saints to add another weapon to Sean Payton's offensive arsenal by drafting a wide receiver in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft, the real key to the Saints making another run at the Big Dance may just reside in their backfield.

Brees is and remains the straw that stirs the Saints margarita, yet the team's chances to achieve its ultimate goal might amazingly rest on how many opportunities Sean Payton is going to be willing to give Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. Just as importantly, these chances will hinge on whether the Saints head coach can bring himself to somewhat take the ball away from his prized quarterback.

The eight-million-dollars-a-year question is: can a leopard change its spots...twice?

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