The Bills’ defense will have their hands full this coming weekend against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. They are one of the hottest teams and one of the top-ranked offenses in the NFL. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints’ offense is ranked third in their DVOA rankings, and their Hall of Fame quarterback is ranked just the same.
Here, we’ll take a look at some of the trends that have arisen so far this season.
Let’s start out with how quickly Brees gets the ball out. The league average snap-to-throw (seconds) per Pro Football Focus (PFF), is 2.66 seconds. Brees is the 4th-quickest in that department, getting the ball out in 2.43 seconds. This means that he is able to decipher coverages quickly, process them, and distribute the ball accordingly. The Bills’ defense has seen QBs get the ball out in that amount of time. Over the last four games, QBs have averaged 2.43s snap-to-throw and, for the season, have averaged 2.54s, which is still below the league average.
Brees has only been sacked eight times per PFF, and all of those sacks have come when he held onto the ball longer than 2.6 seconds. Only two of those sacks were when he was blitzed, so getting him to hold onto the ball will be the crucial.
“Well, in our league you have to be able to affect the quarterback, sometimes with your four-man rush or with a blitz package, as well. We have to find ways to affect the quarterback, and that also means some of the things we do on the back end with our looks and disguises. You want to be able to pressure [him] at times. There are many different ways to get that done. We have to find a way against a very good quarterback this week, to not let him get confident in the pocket.” – DC Leslie Frazier
Blitzing often just doesn’t work against Brees. When blitzed, his completion percentage is 72.2%. He has thrown for 673 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt and registering an impressive 102.3 QB rating.
So, how do you defend a QB that is playing at such a high level, and one who has seen every look that you could possibly throw at him? As cliche as it sounds, I believe it comes down to limiting explosive plays and tackling.
According to Sharp Football Stats, the Saints are ranked #1 in explosive plays. Brees and the offense have racked up 27 explosive plays this season, including this 33-yard touchdown to speedy WR Ted Ginn.
Something that often goes hand-in-hand with explosive plays, and losing altogether, is tackling. The meltdown by the defense last Thursday was primarily due to bad tackling. In all, the Bills whiffed on 20 tackles last week. Frazier stated the following:
“You go back and you try to figure out why the missed tackles [happened]. That’s the thing that really sticks in your craw, because we have tackled well. Even going into the preseason, when you don’t expect to tackle well, and then throughout the regular season, we’ve tackled well. But for whatever reason, we didn’t tackle well the other night.”
Tackling the array of weapons that Brees has at his disposal is critical. During their two game losing streak the Saints forced only 3 missed tackles. During the six game winning streak they forced 38, which is over 6 per game. When you miss tackles, you allow the Saints’ offense to get big plays, and ultimately allow them to get into the end zone, much like this screen play to RB Alvin Kamara last weekend.
Drew Brees will be in the hall of fame for a reason. He is able to easily process defenses and quickly spread the wealth among his weapons. Blitzing him should not be the primary game plan. As DC Frazier said, they must disguise as best they can on the back end in order to get Brees to hold it just a click longer, which may allow some pressure from the front four. The apparent return of CB EJ Gaines should help them do that a little more, but if they are unable to disguise consistently, or to get him to hold onto the ball, then the Bills’ defense must tackle well. If the pass is quick, then they must rally and bring down the receivers. They cannot let the Saints get big plays, as it leads to a bevy of points and puts too much pressure on the offense. That could cause this game to get out of hand, and quickly.