Drew Brees is entering his age-39 season. History tells us he’s nearing a wall, but the crew general manager Mickey Loomis has assembled says otherwise.
After 17 years of chuckin’ the pigskin around the yard at as high a rate we’ve ever seen, one might presume that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is nearing the end of the line. He’s attempted the third-most passes in NFL history during his illustrious career, and should surpass Peyton Manning for second on that list this season. He’s gotta run out of steam this season, right?
The statistics that usually serve as warning signs for decline in aging quarterbacks have actually not been as worrisome for Brees. As Evan Horowitz of the Boston Globe noted, quarterbacks in their late 30s tend to have steep inclines in interception rates and sharp declines in yards per attempt. Brees threw eight picks last year – his fewest since 2004. His 8.1 yards per attempt was his best since 2011.
The lack of concerning numbers in these areas could be attributed to the Saints’ increased reliance on the run game. They ran the ball 43.6 percent of the time last year, their highest figure since their Super Bowl-winning season in 2009.
The ground game takes weight off his shoulders
That improved rushing attack in itself is another reason why Brees is primed for another big year at age 39. The unit tied for the league lead with 4.7 yards per carry, per ESPN.com.
We’ve all seen, read and heard enough about the duo of 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Kamara’s versatility plays right into Brees’ hands. As a phenomenal pass-catcher out of the backfield, Kamara takes pressure off Brees to complete passes downfield. His elite elusiveness turns broken plays into first downs – a quarterback’s dream. Ingram will miss the first four games of the season due to a PED suspension, but the Saints have an ample supply of backs to lessen the blow, including exciting 2018 sixth-round pick Boston Scott.
The defense can finally get off the field
Part of the reason for Brees’ efficiency last season was the resurgence of New Orleans’ defense. Brees wasn’t forced to throw the ball 45 times a game as in years past. The defense is trending upward, too, after trading up to snag pass-rusher Marcus Davenport 14th in the draft.
The Saints’ defense was one of the surprise units in all of football last year. After ranking 31st in points allowed per game in 2016, Dennis Allen’s crew ranked 10th last season. 2017 11th overall pick Marshon Lattimore spearheaded the revival in a division loaded with star receivers. He gains a year of experience, and 2017 First-team All-Pro selection Cameron Jordan is finally paired with another solid edge rusher in Davenport.
New Orleans added made a few under-the-radar defensive free agent signings, too. The additions of Demario Davis, Kurt Coleman and Patrick Robinson add veteran presence to an otherwise inexperienced group.
When you also consider the rapport the Brees and head coach Sean Payton have developed over their 12 seasons together, it’s not hard to see how Brees has held up this well for this long. Payton knows what Brees can and can’t handle at this stage in his career, and he calls plays accordingly. Brees’ arm strength has has declined over the last few years, but Payton has masked it by drawing up screens and drafting guys who excel in the intermediate routes of the route tree.
When you’ve got the necessary pieces around you and a coach who puts you in positions to succeed, it’s hard not to have high expectations. Brees now has arguably the strongest supporting cast of his career. It’s up to him to deliver.
Knowing Brees, it’s hard to believe the 11-time Pro Bowler won’t.