On Friday morning, reports began to circulate that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is expected to make his return this weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs. Brees has missed the last four games with 11 rib fractures and a collapsed lung. During that time New Orleans managed to go 3-1 with Taysom Hill at the helm.
While there are valid concerns about his return timeline being too tight for the extent of his injuries, it’s worth dissecting why the Saints would want him back on the field as soon as possible. We should lead off by saying that the Saints reportedly expected Brees to start this week since Sunday night, following the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Meaning that has been some expectation that Brees is healthy enough to go for some time, as opposed to a flippant decision made without precaution.
Assuming that Brees is indeed back to his full-strength and can be of benefit to the team despite concern for re-injury, it’s not hard to see why New Orleans would want him back out on the field.
Alleviates Pressure on the Offensive Line
One of the biggest concerns, even beyond Brees, is being reliant on an offensive line that has struggled of late. Bearing in mind that Brees had played in nine games this season leading up to his injury, you would imagine that the numbers around offensive line pressures, sacks, and penalties would be weighted more favorably toward Taysom Hill’s four games. This would be logical based simply by virtue of number of games played. However, it turns out to be nearly the same.
In Brees’s nine games, Pro Football Focus has the offensive credited with nine sacks, 78 pressures, and nine penalties on 318 pass blocking snaps. That includes the two sacks that were taken by Jameis Winston who played in relief of Brees in the second half of the San Francisco game. In only 180 pass blocking snaps between Weeks 11-14, the offensive line gave up nine sacks, 46 pressures and committed 11 penalties with Taysom Hill at the helm. That’s a rise of 3% in regards to pressure rate allowed.
So how does Drew Brees factor into that as opposed to it simply being a display or poor play as of late by the line? Consider the popular video of Terron Armstead telling Taysom Hill that a pass rusher in the first Atlanta game “ain’t coming.” Taysom’s ability to read the defense pre-snap is inherently less than that of Drew Brees based on experience alone. That a shot at Taysom Hill, but it’s simple to understand that there’s a massive difference between four regular season NFL starts and 283. (Yes, Drew Brees has [28-3] career starts.)
Not only that, but Brees’s ability to read defenses and adjust post-snap along with his receivers is second to none. This also comes with experience and will help the offensive line and offense itself play up to its potential. Again, assuming this is a healthy and sustainable Drew Brees on the field Sunday.
Quick Passing Game
We once highlighted the quick passing that was present in Taysom Hill’s first start. However, there was a lack of consistency in maintaining that count.
Week 11: 2.48 seconds to throw
Week 12: 2.85
Week 13: 2.41
Week 14: 2.76
Average: 2.63 seconds
Perhaps the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles defenses weren’t the best times to hold on to the ball over to .4 seconds longer than his best. This has been a challenge for the offensive line as well, sometimes having to hold blocks for nearly 3.5 - 4 seconds. Especially when accustomed to Brees getting the ball out on an average of 2.46 seconds in his nine starts. That clock matters. When sacks are being given up with an average of 3.89 seconds as they were with Taysom, per PFF, that’s a deep clock to run the O-line into.
Finally, you can see the difference in production when throwing in less than 2.5 seconds between the two quarterbacks. Quick throws (less than 2.5 seconds after the snap) totaled just 43% of Hill’s attempts on which he totaled an 82.9 passer rating. For Brees, those throws come on 54% of his attempts with a 114.8 passer rating. Saints fans quickly saw what happens to key players like Alvin Kamara when the quick passing game suffers and missed it immediately.
Bringing Brees back comes with the hopes of balancing and normalizing the offense’s rhythm. Particularly against a defense like Kansas City’s which is allowing a 109 passer rating in the short-middle area of the field and a 107 rating to the short-left. That’s topped off by a 77% completion percentage in all throws within ten yards beyond the line of scrimmage over the last three games. This is key in maintaining time of possession, and stealing additional possessions on fourth down attempts. The Saints are likely to be aggressive in this one.
While it could be true the Saints rushed Brees back, despite the week-long expectation that he’d return in this matchup, it’s easy to see why what he brings in his return is so important to the team. Not to mention the added value of a more multiple Taysom Hill back in the offense. More of a guessing game now when he’s present at quarterback after proving to be an adequate passer when called upon. Brees’s return even potentially makes Taysom Hill more dangerous.
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