In a few weeks’ time, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton might have to do the unthinkable.
The Saints are 1-2 so far in 2020, after losses to a tough Las Vegas Raiders team on the road and a Green Bay Packers team playing with a revitalized Aaron Rodgers. It is far from time for the boys in black and gold to panic. Most teams would be 1-2 with the schedule the Saints have had so far, many of them probably also losing to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Each of the two losses has been relatively close even, and they’re not getting blown out or totally outclassed on the field.
That being said, the Saints have not been perfect. They’ve had opportunities to win each of their two losses and they’ve bungled them. Against the Raiders, a Drew Brees interception late in the first half ended up being a potential 10-point swing, and instead of New Orleans driving down to score before half and potentially put the team up 24-14, Las Vegas was able to kick a field goal and tie the game heading into the break.
Sunday night against the Packers, while it wasn’t Brees’s fault, it was Swiss Army knife Taysom Hill fumbling on a read option after a crucial fourth-down stop from the defense in a tie game, allowing Aaron Rodgers to get back onto the field to take the lead.
The Saints have had a tough start to the season, and with games against the Detorit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears coming up, it’ll be easier from here. There’s a very real chance that the Saints sweep all four games, Brees looks amazing and this article gets retweeted by Freezing Cold Takes on Twitter and what little credibility I have gets launched into the sun.
But what if they don’t.
Brees has struggled so far in 2020. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Anyone who says that he has played well is looking at him through heavily tinted black-and-gold-colored glasses. While his completion percentage sits at a very respectable 70.2% so far and he’s thrown just the one interception to his six touchdowns, but his problems lie deeper than the stats.
Talk of Brees’s waning arm strength has been going all offseason, and through three games there’s been very, very little to deter that.
Above is Brees’s passing chart by direction through three games. The more astute of you will notice the staggering 37 passes that are between the numbers within 10 yards of the LOS. The even more astute of you will notice that Brees has thrown the ball 20+ yards downfield three times this season. That’s a deep ball rate of 2.9%, the lowest among all 32 starting QBs in the NFL right now. If you can’t effectively throw the deep ball in today’s NFL, you need to be near perfect on the short and intermediate routes, which is what Brees was able to do last season. This season, Brees has been good but not great on those routes, and the over-reliance on them will make the New Orleans offense very predictable for the rest of 2020.
Some of this has to do with the loss of ‘Slant Gawd’ Michael Thomas, but the Saints can’t be overly reliant on one, admittedly amazing, wide receiver. New Orleans need a quarterback that can succeed on days where Thomas isn’t at his best (however rare those might be). At this point, that might not be Brees anymore.
This won’t be easy, nor will it be painless. Potentially benching your surefire first ballot Hall of Fame, former Super Bowl MVP quarterback that has thrown more touchdowns than literally any soul that has ever stepped on a football field. It won’t be a popular decision to replace him with a man that threw 30 interceptions last year, or one that has more career rushing attempts than passing attempts. However, if Brees’s poor play keeps up, it might be the necessary decision to make for the Saints to save their season.
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