Brees: Job is to direct Saints, not rack up air yards

  • Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
  • Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
  • Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate

Drew Brees chuckled when asked about the growing narrative that he might be showing signs of decline to start his 20th NFL season.

“Well, my job is to execute the offense. … My job’s not to have the most air yards or throw the ball down the field most or anything like that,” the New Orleans Saints quarterback said after his team flopped in several areas during a 34-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football.

“I think I’ve always evaluated myself on being a great decision-maker. And so at the end of the day, I’ll throw the ball to the open guy, move the ball down the field, score points, help us win football games. So that’s my job,” Brees said. “My job’s to help us win. My job’s to help put everyone around me in the best position to succeed.”

However, the numbers do show a noteworthy trend. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Brees’ average of 4.82 air yards on his passes this season are the lowest of any quarterback through two games since Brett Favre in 2009.

And as ESPN analysts Louis Riddick and Brian Griese pointed out after Monday’s loss, Brees has looked less comfortable in the pocket and hasn’t been as “surgical” as usual on those short and intermediate throws. Brees, 41, has completed just 44 of 68 passes this season (64.7%) after topping 74% in each of the past two seasons (the two most accurate seasons in NFL history).

He completed 26 of 38 attempts for 312 yards, one touchdown with one interception Monday night. His first interception of the season was a costly one just before halftime — turning a potential scoring drive into a game-tying field goal for the Raiders.

“Are we totally in sync right now? No, we’re not. We’re not even close to where we are capable of. Not even close,” said Brees — who was also missing his security blanket in receiver Michael Thomas (he sat out his first game in four years because of an ankle injury). “We did some good things — early on — but it just wasn’t enough for the few opportunities that we had.”

The Saints (1-1) will have to try to get back in sync on a short week before hosting the Green Bay Packers (2-0) on Sunday Night Football.

To be fair, the deep ball has not been a big part of Brees’ arsenal in recent years — and he has still managed the two best passer ratings of his career over the past two seasons while the Saints have posted back-to-back 13-3 records.

And there are plenty of reasons he and the Saints’ offense might be a little off to start this season — including the abbreviated offseason and the ankle injury that Thomas suffered in the final minutes of New Orleans’ Week 1 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brees and new Saints receiver Emmanuel Sanders have yet to get in sync consistently, with Sanders catching just one pass for 18 yards on three targets Monday.

Brees and coach/playcaller Sean Payton both described their performances as “awful” in Week 1 as well, despite the 34-23 victory over Tampa Bay.

“Again, I think we just need to be more efficient,” said Brees, who blamed himself for a bad decision on his interception — pointing out that he should have settled for the checkdown on that throw instead of rushing it under pressure.

“We called a shot play or two today — and just got the wrong coverage on both of them. So what could’ve been big-play opportunities, what could’ve been throws down the field, unfortunately had to be checked down,” Brees said. “But I think both of those [resulted in completions for about 10 yards]. At the end of the day, our job is to move the ball and score points, however we have to do that.”

As Brees pointed out, the Saints had the ball for just 23 minutes, 42 seconds on a night when their defense also struggled to stop Raiders tight end Darren Waller. And for the second week in a row, New Orleans led the NFL in penalty yardage with 129 yards on 10 accepted flags.

“We didn’t possess the ball enough offensively, and defensively … we couldn’t get off the field,” Payton said.

“We gotta do a better job coaching. I don’t think it’s gonna be a real pleasant film to watch for some of our star players as well.

“We have to be precise with what we’re doing. The last two weeks, I think it’s been average at best offensively. We’re not functioning well enough.”

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