Has Father Time finally come calling on Drew Brees at age 41?
That’s the headline that will draw the clicks, sure, but after Monday night’s performance, it’s fair to wonder if Brees might finally be descending in terms of ability. Brees posted a solid line by league-wide standards, completing 26 of 38 passes for 312 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 91.1. But there was that ugly interception on a pass Brees later admitted he forced, and there’s also the air yards per attempt mark that landed below 5.5 (per Next Gen Stats) and makes some wonder whether Brees might be devolving into 2015 Peyton Manning.
Both will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but by Manning’s final year, he wasn’t the same passer who once set records on a near-annual basis. On Monday night, Brees didn’t look like his old self, either.
Unsurprisingly, he downplayed any potential effects of aging.
“I feel good, I feel good,” Brees said Wednesday during a video conference call with reporters. “Borderline great.”
… “You know one of the statistics that was thrown out after the game was the yards per attempt or something like that. There are many statistics I do not pay one bit of attention to — and that would be one of them. At the end of the day, I am focused on putting us in position to succeed, making great decisions, both in the run game or pass game, whatever is predicated on my ability to get us in the best play. And our ability to take care of the football and go and score points, put us in the best position to win.
“Those are the things I’m focused on, and I don’t care how we do it. I honestly don’t. I just want to win football games.”
It’s incredibly important that we point out Brees was without Michael Thomas.
Since 2016, Brees owns a record of 40-18, a completion percentage of 72.4, a yards-per-attempt average of 7.9, a 121-29 TD-INT ratio and a 109.2 passer rating with Thomas available. Without him, Brees is 0-2 with a 64.6 completion percentage, 7.2 yards per attempt, a 1-4 TD-INT ratio and a passer rating of 69.
Perhaps Thomas’ absence is partly to blame for Brees’ completion percentage over expectation, which stood at +6.3 percent in 2019 — after suffering a thumb injury that required surgery, mind you — and currently stands at -8.4 percent after two games. Right now, only two quarterbacks have a worse CPOE: Carson Wentz (-8.8 percent) and Dwayne Haskins (-10.6 percent). Brees is trending in a negative direction.
The short-passing game would work to a greater effect if Thomas was available. After all, targets inside 10 yards is a main part of how Thomas reset the single-season receptions record in 2019. Now, Brees doesn’t have that go-to option, and at least one opposing defense knew it.
“I’m confident with the guys we have and the system we have that we’re gonna get back on track,” Brees said. “I think we have always been one of the best teams in the league, probably in history, at the precision of the passing game. And I think we are on our way to being back there very soon.”
Brees still owns a 3-1 TD-INT ratio in 2020, and his team is 1-1 after two weeks, but they sure didn’t look like the NFC title contenders many (including this writer) picked them to be before the season began. Maybe Thomas will be a cure-all — or maybe we’re just witnessing signs of what’s to come.
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