I read a piece on Drew Brees early this week where he mentioned that he was continually trying to improve every year, and he claimed that he felt he’s been able to do that. I don’t know what you call 2009 version Brees versus 2010 version Brees, but I wouldn’t call that improvement. Anyway, he’s clearly bounced back from what most consider a down season by his standards in 2010 to get off to a very solid 2011 campaign 10 games into the season. And obviously there were reasons, injury being the major one, for Brees struggling a bit in 2010. The quote Brees has often made that always sticks with me is “you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse”, which I think applies to all facets of life. The minute you feel secure that you’re stable in one area, you’re getting worse. That’s a good lesson for anybody and it’s a healthy mindset for Brees to have. All athletes should approach their craft the same way. But is he actually improving in his 6th season with the Saints? Obviously there are external factors out of his control, but let’s look purely at the numbers:
|YEAR||ATT||COMP||YDS||COMP %||YDS/ATT||TDS||INTS||TD %||INT %||RAT||SACKED|
So if you look at the collections of stats, first of all, 2010 was clearly the year where despite an injury that remained undisclosed all season, Brees threw the ball the most. The Saints were more predictable and that was one of Brees’ worst seasons across the board. This year has be markedly better. His rating is the second highest of his career with the Saints, despite the fact that he’s on pace to get sacked more times than any other season. He also has the highest completion percentage of his career this season. You’ll also notice that 2009’s numbers are particularly inflated and that was clearly Brees’ dream season. For him to replicate that kind of efficiency will be near impossible. That said, his TD % is second highest to that season this year, and his yards per attempt is much higher than a year ago. I do think if you take away 2010, 2008 through 2011 has been more explosive than 2006 & 2007. His completion percentage the last three seasons especially has soared, and so has his touchdown percentage. He’s also throwing more interceptions per pass, and that’s obviously the one area I’d say he has to clean up. There is no question, though, across the board, that 2011 is MUCH better in terms of performance than 2010. Not even close. It’s also significantly less impressive than 2009. So the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. He’s not operating at the level he was in 2009 which is the year the Saints won the Super Bowl and the year that I’d say to this point was his peak. He’s also bounced back to perform much stronger than 2010, which was not a bad year by any means. So he’s getting better than he was a year ago, and he’s still “in his prime” from an approximate standpoint, but this is not his prime season.
It is worth noting that the Saints averaged rushing for 4.5 yards a carry in 2009 and that clearly helped boost the passing game. That was by far better than any other year in the Brees era (2010 was 4.0 by comparison), until this year. That’s right, this year the Saints are averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Those are the best two seasons from a rush average standpoint, and those are also Brees’ best two seasons from a rating standpoint. So clearly those two factors go hand in hand. The more efficient the running game is, the more efficient Brees is.
Brees hasn’t gotten better every single season, but it’s undeniable his 6 year run with the Saints has been one of the best 6 years in terms of efficiency in NFL history. There is no doubt we are spoiled to get to root for and watch a quarterback of his caliber every single Sunday. Enjoy it because having an elite quarterback is something all teams want and very few teams experience. I want to make it clear when analyzing his numbers, we’re comparing “getting better” to his standard which is incredibly high. Even at his worst, Brees is much better than most quarterbacks out there. At his best, he’s a top 10 quarterback in NFL history, and when it’s all said and done he may be higher than that. The Saints may never have a passer this good again.