Drew Brees takes aim during a 2010 USO tour visit with the US Marines.
DEFENSE IMAGERY/CREATIVE COMMONS
Back at the start of the 2013 season, weighted down by rumors that his ability had declined and by his team's lack of talent at receiver, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was struggling. Through the first three weeks of that season, he completed just 57 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of just 79.4, one of the worst in the NFL. The Patriots averaged just 19.6 points per game.
They won all three.
In the past two weeks, after a slow start to his season, Drew Brees has completed 75 percent of his passes for 894 yards with 10 touchdowns, compiling a stunning passer rating of 130.4. Over the past two weeks, Brees has averaged over 10 yards per pass attempt — the Saints average a first down every time he throws the football. They have averaged 40 points per game.
Despite all this, they are 1-1, with their lone win coming only after Brees threw a game-tying seventh
touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants — the only time in NFL history a quarterback had to throw a seventh touchdown to avoid losing.
Brees is in the middle of a career resurgence, much like the one Brady has enjoyed over the past year or so, but while the Patriots parlayed Brady's resurgence into a Super Bowl title, the Saints are wasting Brees'.
By many measures, Brees' combined performance these past two weeks has been the best of his career. It's the only time he's thrown 10 touchdowns in two games, and his 130.4 rating is significantly outdone only by the 145.7 he produced in weeks 11 and 12 of the 2009 season, a span that included the Saints' famous 38-17 primetime destruction of New England.
Brees has led his team to 80 points in eight quarters, but his defense has allowed 83. These numbers should stagger you, but since you're a Saints fan you are likely desensitized to bad defense, because the Saints have, with few exceptions, played only bad defense for much of the last decade and a half.
Maybe you're thinking of the interception Brees threw yesterday, which was bad, which hurt the team, but which, given his overall performance and the depths to which this defense has sunk yet again, is something like complaining about your dinner as you cling to the sinking bow of the Titanic
As the heights of 2009-2011 fade into history, the larger story of the Brees-era Saints has begun to take shape. It's a story about waste. It's easy to forget how bad the Saints' defense was in 2009, since it was saved by its a freak takeaway epidemic it has never come close to repeating, and it's a little easier to remember how bad the Saints' defense was in 2011, because it blew three
fourth quarter saves by Brees, ultimately allowing 49ers quarterback Alex Smith to end the Saints' chance at second title.
More and more Sean Payton's Saints career has been shaped not by his ability as an offensive tactician but by his unending failure to field a competent defense (or special teams unit, for that matter — surely the countdown to the day kicker Kai Forbath is replaced has begun). After ten years and four defensive coordinators, the only consistent result has been disaster, and the only common factor has been Payton.
In 2012, the rightfully vilified Steve Spagnuolo catastrophe of a defense allowed opposing quarterbacks to produce a 93.8 passer rating. This year, Rob Ryan's improv comedy routine of a secondary is giving up a 112.0 rating, which means the Saints spot every team they play a Hall of Fame quarterback before the game starts.
So what now? The 2015 season has displayed, in detail, the historic strengths and weaknesses of Payton's Saints. Early this year, neither the offense nor the defense were very good. The offense has gotten a lot better and, somehow, the defense has gotten worse.
There's always hope, because football is a funny game. Maybe, after ten mostly bad years, the Saints are just about
to turn the corner on defense. Maybe they need only another week, another month, another season, to get it all together finally.
That just seems unlikely. Past performance may not dictate future performance, but it's a pretty decent guide. So what's next? Will the Saints move on from Rob Ryan and turn their defense over to Dennis Allen, this year or next? Maybe. Just be aware that the best defense Dennis Allen ever coached was the league's eighteenth-best.
With a resume like that, it's a wonder Sean Payton hasn't given him the job already.