There were several acts to Drew Brees’ performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There was the slow start to the game, a slight uptick in the second quarter, a poor third quarter, and then a solid fourth quarter. After suffering an injury to his shoulder in the second quarter, you could see when he cooled down and when he started warming back up late in the third quarter.
His play coming out of halftime was probably as bad as Brees has ever looked on a football field. He threw a pass behind Brandon Coleman, underthrew one to Marques Colston over the middle, and then underthrew a pass to Brandin Cooks by at least 10 yards that was intercepted. His throw to Willie Snead off a flea flicker was also woefully short.
But once he got beyond that stretch, Brees settled in, and the execution of the passing game actually might have looked the best it has all season. Brees was sharp throwing passes in the short and intermediate areas of the field, and the offense started to click. Some of that was Brees making throws. Another big reason for it was that the play calling in the second half consistently put the Saints in a position to succeed.
The letdown wasn’t exclusively due to Brees’ shoulder. Without a pair of fumbles and a dropped pass near the end zone, it’s conceivable this team could have found a way to win. The flip side to that is one could argue New Orleans might have won if Brees hit Cooks on the deep pass that appeared to be a sure touchdown.
It remains unknown if Brees will play this week against the Carolina Panthers. If he does — and is capable of making the throws he made late against Tampa Bay — it’s possible New Orleans could be competitive. The Saints would simply need to limit the amount of passes he throws deep and attack the middle of the field, where he completed 16-of-21 attempts against the Bucs.
QUARTERBACK: 2 out of 4
It certainly wasn’t the best performance Brees has had, and much of that is due to the aforementioned injury. The only major nitpick on him missing a receiver came on a dropped pass by Austin Johnson in the first quarter. On the same play, Brees had a receiver underneath and Cooks open deeper down the field. While the pass blocking left him exposed several times, Brees often had time to let plays to develop. His average time to throw was 2.83 seconds.
RUNNING BACKS: 2 out of 4
Khiry Robinson’s ability after contact continues to stand out. He gained 48 yards on five rushes, and a large majority of those yards were gained through his ability to keep churning after being hit by a defender or making guys miss. The backs averaged 1.8 yards per carry during the first half, and it was largely the result of not having running lanes to work with. Robinson averaged 7.3 yards per carry with eight men in the box. Ingram averaged 3.3 yards per carry. He faced eight in the box on 10 of his 16 carries.
RECEIVERS: 2 out of 4
The Saints did a better job of getting the receivers open in the second half when the team started to run shorter routes. Colston might not have the same speed as he did during his prime, but he’s still excellent at finding soft spots in zone coverage. Coleman showed glimmers of this same ability late in the second half. Cooks did his best work running routes over the middle.
OFFENSIVE LINE: 1.5 out of 4
The offensive line didn’t give up a ton of pressure. But the ones they did often resulted in sacks or hits. Zach Strief struggled to keep up with speed rusher Jacquies Smith, who beat Strief up the field three times to sack Brees. One of those, which occurred in the second quarter, resulted in Brees injuring his shoulder. Smith also beat Strief with an inside move on an Ingram run stuff.
DEFENSIVE LINE: 2.5 out of 4
The Saints used their base defense on 42 percent of their snaps, which is higher than what’s usual for this team. With some mixing and matching going on across the defensive line, this group combined for three sacks by Kasim Edebali, Hau’oli Kikaha and Cam Jordan. Most of the pressures, of which the Saints recorded 12 to go along with the sacks, were the result of a team effort.
LINEBACKERS: 2.5 out of 4
There are going to be growing pains with rookie linebacker Stephone Anthony. He’s flashed positively several times throughout the first two games, showing up in coverage and sniffing out plays in the backfield, but he’s also prone to mistakes. The rookie missed two tackles within the first eight plays against Tampa Bay and added another two later in the contest. He also got beat a few times in coverage, once allowing a 22-yard reception to Vincent Jackson when the receiver crossed into his zone, but that’s an excusable loss.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: 2.5 out of 4
Delvin Breaux was widely mocked for losing the ball on a 54-yard reception by Louis Murphy. It certainly wasn’t a good moment for the first-year player, but it should be noted that he had to cover for 5.6 seconds on the play. Free safety Kenny Phillips also deserves some blame for not coming through in support despite being in the area. Breaux was solid on every other play. He was targeted two other times and did not give up a reception on those plays.