As an Eagles fan, I am terrified of tonight. Yes, the Eagles are at home, yes they have been playing wonderful football, and yes, the Saints are not the same team on the road. That being said, Drew Brees still exists and is a very real thing. Even though the Eagles’ defense is vastly improved over where it was at the beginning of the season, stopping Drew Brees is quite a different task. Let’s check up on Drew and see how he’s been doing this year: 68.6 completion %, 5162 yards, 39 TDs, 12 INTs and 7.9 Y/A. Yup, just another stellar season in the books. That train is never late.
There are multiple issues with defending Brees and the Saints. The first is that even though Jimmy Graham is the main attraction, there are still plenty of other receivers who Brees is comfortable with. Secondly, the man has wonderful eyes. Not just when you meet him and appreciate his warmth because he’s the nicest human being in the world. No, he also is able to quickly scan the field, manipulate safeties and diagnose where he should go with the ball. He also is excellent at getting the ball out before the pass rush can get to him, making the Saints’ left tackles look better than they actually are. Of course, the best way to beat Drew Brees is to just place him in frigid tempera…oh, wait, Bill Barnwell at Grantland put that idea to rest.
One manner to beat quarterbacks of any caliber is to disguise coverages. As you can probably guess, disguise doesn’t usually work well with the Breeses, Mannings and Bradies of the world. These quarterbacks have seen everything and adjust accordingly. However, even the best quarterbacks sometimes get fooled by good design. Take this play from the Saints’ 26-20 loss to the Jets this year.
The Saints line up in ’13’ formation, denoting one running back and three tight ends. However, they are in an empty set, with TE Josh Hill and RB Pierre Thomas lining up almost as H-backs. Ben Watson is in the slot on the strong side, with Jimmy Graham lined up out wide on the weak side (Because he’s actually a WR. GET YO PAPER, JIMMY.)
The Saints run a “flood” concept to the weak side, looking to cause a vertical strain on the defense. The Jets line up in what looks like Cover 3 pre-snap. In this coverage, the two corners drop deep with one safety, splitting the deep part of the field into thirds. The other safety buzzes underneath, giving the defense four underneath defenders. On this play, the underneath safety lines up over Watson. However, notice that the Jets do something I like to call…pretty fucking crazy.
As Watson crosses the field, the safeties switch responsibility. The deep man drives down to meet Watson while the underneath safety drops deep. It’s hard to see, but the safety dropping deep is signaling to his partner to switch. The switch occurs, Brees steps up and delivers a throw that is slightly behind Watson, leading to a tip drill that ends with a Jets linebacker coming up with the pick.
This is one of the very few times I have seen Brees get tricked by a coverage. His throw was a bit off, and the Jets made a great play on the ball. The lesson: it pays to try some crazy shit and get a little bit of luck as well.
In this next play, we see the other way to stop Brees: hitting him. It’s long been known that interior pressure gets at Brees the way that other things don’t. It stops him from stepping up, and no quarterback enjoys the threat of 300+ lb. defenders in his grill. However, pressure off the edge can create the same effect, so long as it gets there in time.
On this play, the Saints line up in 21 formation (2 RBs, 1 TE). Graham motions across the formation to line up in the slot on the offense’s right. As Graham motions, he’s followed by one of the safeties, revealing a cover 3 look.
The Saints run three men downfield with the two backs acting as release valves. Marques Colston runs a fade at the bottom of the screen, while the receiver at the top runs an eight yard curl. Graham runs down the seam, matched up with the underneath safety.
After the snap, Brees looks to his left and pump fakes, moving the deep safety toward Colston. As he looks toward the other side, Graham has already made easy work of burning his man:
However, when the pass gets there, it’s late and behind, making it easy for the safety to cut underneath and get the pick:
What happened? Well, what happened was that apparently Charles Brown did something horrible to Robert Quinn or one of Quinn’s family members. That’s the only explanation I have for the mean-spirited abuse that Quinn rained down on Brown this day. From another look of the All-22, we pick up when Brees pumps left to move the safety. Quinn has already set Brown up and beat him to the inside:
By the time Brees releases the ball, he’s being nailed by Quinn:
So, if you have a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate on your line, you can do some things to slow down Drew Brees. The Eagles are very good at creating turnovers, but they do not have a very dominant pass rush. They have played well in some games, but in others (see: Orton, Kyle) quarterbacks were free to set up in the pocket and let it rip. So, uh…hey, Trent Cole. If you want to dial the clock back a few years and dominate rookie LT Terron Armstead tonight, that’d be SUPER.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T DO THESE THINGS TO STOP BREES
Now that we’ve seen a few plays where the Saints failed to execute, let’s look at what happens when it all comes together for them, hence the terror I feel right now. On this play against the Jets, we can see how deadly the Brees-Graham combo can be. The Saints are again in a 13 look, with Graham motioning to line up right next to Robert Meachem. Meachem runs a deep post, attacking the middle of the field. Graham runs a double move, faking a corner route before getting vertical again.
As Meachem gets into his break, he carries both Antonio Cromartie and the single high safety with him. That leaves Jimmy Fucking Graham one-on-one with…Jaiquawn Jarrett. If any Eagles fans are still reading this (1085 words and counting!), we are all too familiar with Mr. Jarrett. He was drafted in the second round by the Eagles and lasted all of two years in Philadelphia. Anyways, there’s the matchup. Let’s see how that goes for the Jets…
Uh oh, Breesus has stepped up in the pocket and I think he notices Jimmy. Yep, he definitely notices Jimmy. Oh, Jaiquawn, the world never gave you a chance. Why would they leave you out there with Jimmy Graham of all people?
Yeah, I don’t know either, man. People are dicks.
The last play we’re looking at is the play that Drew Brees was created by the universe to run: four verticals. It’s an Air Raid staple. Shit, it’s a football staple. It’s a wonderful play that I probably run about 30 times per game on Madden. If you want a full breakdown of its principles, click that link. For now, let’s see what happened to the Bucs on this play from Sunday:
Graham is split wide by himself, and his job is to run the fuck down the field. Stills is up top, and his job is to run the fuck down the field. Colston is in the slot, and his job is to cut the fuck across the field, still pushing vertically. And Lance Moore’s job is to run the fuck down the seam.
As the play develops, the deep safety to the strong side follows Colston to the middle. That leaves Lance Moore with one-on-one coverage up the seam. Wait, that guy’s already trailing Moore…
How does this end?
So, yeah. I’d like for the Eagles to win tonight. A huge part of doing that will be stopping Drew Brees and all that he can do. Pierre Thomas is missing the game with a chest injury, taking away the Saints’ best between-the-tackles runner. If New Orleans wants to come away with a victory, it’ll be on the arm of one Drew Brees. That’s not the worst thing to pin one’s hopes on. Hopefully Billy Davis can try some crazy shit, get lucky enough with the bounce of the ball, and generate some good pressure. If not, and Brees goes apeshit all over Lincoln Financial Field, well, the Eagles wouldn’t be the first defense to get trashed by this magnificent quarterback.