Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: New Orleans Saints

(Fuck it, Firefox tries to open some stupid "anti-spyware" program -- read, spyware-installing program -- freezes, and loses everything I had thus far. At least it wasn't too much, or I'd be spitting tacks -- effing computers). Just the Saints and then the Falcons to go, and then I'll be into the division I know best, which is the AFC West; after that, there's just one division to go until I'm done. (Small note: How the hell were the Saints once in the NFC West and the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC East? Did somebody get their directions backwards or what?) If you aren't watching the Academy Awards, or are checking later, here's the latest installment.

New Orleans Saints (7-9): Drew Brees

The Saints' quarterback is better than the team's record indicated this season, as they took a tumble to a sub-.500 showing a year after making the NFC Championship game. They probably should have won, if you ask me, since a) it was a good story to come out of New Orleans after the devastation of Katrina, and b) who really wanted the Bears in there anyway? But they didn't, and instead finished third in the South this year despite another strong showing from Brees. With star running back Reggie Bush under investigation for allegedly accepting over $300,000 in endorsements while at USC -- a big no-no under NCAA rules -- it falls to Brees to bear the most scrutiny as the chief component of the offense in the meantime. It wasn't an entirely terrible offense, as 23.7 averaged points a game ranked 12th, and 361.2 yards a game ranked 4th, but that was far and away generally due to Brees, as the 269.6 passing yards a game for the Saints ranked a surprising third, only behind the Patriots and Packers. The run game, meanwhile, languished at a 28th-ranked 91.6 (hey, thanks a zillion, Reggie) and a great deal of the Saints' problems can be attributed to their porous defense -- they were ranked 25th in points allowed with 24.2 on average, 26th in yards allowed with 348.1 on average, 30th in pass defense with 245.2 on average, and a slightly more respectable 13th in run defense with 102.9 allowed on average.

Born in Austin, Texas, Brees attended Westlake High School and as a senior, led them to a 16-0 season (see, if he can do it in high school, it's not such a big deal for the Patriots, right? Heh). He garnered offensive MVP honors for Class 5A with 3,528 yards and 31 TDs, and ended up going all the way to Indiana for college, where he enrolled at Purdue, majored in "Industrial Management" (does that mean he's going to work with the "Steelers" when he's done with football? Heh, heh, heh, all right I'll cut it out) and set Big 10 records left and right for the Boilermakers, including passing yards, (11,792) completions (1,026) attempts (1,678) touchdown passes (90) In his sophomore year, he got the unranked Boilermakers to upset #4 Kansas State in the Whosi Whatsit Bowl (actually the Builders Square Alamo Bowl, but I think my name fits better -- I wonder how they pick bowl names, anyway -- stick their hand in a fishbowl of corporate names and see what comes out?) He came in fourth and third in Heisman voting in 1999 and 2000, and in his senior year, was named Academic All-America Player of the Year, so evidently he was very good at whatever Industrial Management actually entails. He capped it all off by beating powerhouse Ohio State to get Purdue to Pasadena (read: Rose Bowl) for the first time since 1967. Unfortunately, that didn't help them against the University of Washington Huskies, who beat them 34-24, but it was a great accomplishment for them nonetheless.

Brees was taken with the Chargers' first pick in the second round of 2001, ending up alongside LaDainian Tomlinson, who he had played against in college (Tomlinson was on the TCU Horned Frogs). Together, they decided to whip an underachieving San Diego team into shape. Brees spent 2001 on the sidelines behind then-starter Doug Flutie, but got his chance in 2002, when he started all 16 games. He threw for a 60.8 completion percentage, 3,284 yards, 17 TD but also 16 INT, and a a 76.9 rating in his first pro season, and the Chargers finished 8-8, but that was better than the next. The Chargers went 4-12, Brees started 11 games and Flutie started 5, and Brees finished with a career-low 2,108 yards, 11 TD/15 INT, and 67.5 passer rating. However, Brees made a remarkable rebound in 2004 with a breakout season; he still holds the highest single-season rating for a Chargers QB because of it. He started 15 games and completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 3,159 yards, 27 TD, 7 INT, and a 104.8 rating, earning NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. But after that, he was a free agent, and the club had just pulled off the Manning/Rivers trade the year before to send Eli to Jersey and bring Phyllis to San Diego. In fact, Rivers might have been the starter that year if he wasn't too busy pulling a Brady Quinn-style holdout (who's surprised?) which gave Brees the chance to keep his job.

However, he didn't leave San Diego just yet, as the Chargers franchise-tagged him and paid him $8 million for the 2005 season. And he started 16 games that year, letting Rivers sit and think about whatever he was planning to do with his signing bonus. Brees, meanwhile, set career highs (for then) in passing yards with 3,576, throwing for 24 TD/15 INT and an 89.7 rating. A highlight of that year was leading the Chargers into Gillette in Week 4 and dumping the Patriots' home winning streak on its ass with a thud; 41-17 was the final. Brees had a 137.5 rating for the game, with 19 completions in 24 attempts, 248 yards, 2 TD, and 0 INT. But at the end of 2005, he was injured in a game against the Broncos; while trying to recover a fumble that John Lynch had helped him along with, he was leveled by Denver tackle Gerard Warren and suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder, along with rotator cuff damage. The injury was quite serious, and it eventually led to Brees' departure from the Chargers; although they wanted him back, they were concerned that the shoulder would never be at full strength again. They offered him a reduced-rate deal to re-sign, but Brees demanded franchise-quarterback-type money and the two sides couldn't come to a compromise.

The Dolphins and the Saints expressed interest, and Brees ended up signing with the latter for 6 years and $60 million on March 14, 2006. It was a sound investment for New Orleans, as Brees surpassed his career passing yards-high with 4,418 to go with a 64.3 completion percentage, 26 TD, 11 INT, and a 96.2 record in leading the Saints to a 10-6 record (first in the South). They beat the Eagles in the divisional playoffs, 27-24, and moved on to meet the Bears. Although Brees threw for 354 yards and 2 TD, he also turned the ball over three times, and the Bears beat them handily, 39-14. All was not lost, as Brees did finish second in MVP voting behind former Chargers teammate LT, but surely he'd have liked a chance to face the Colts in Miami just a bit better. The Saints had the popular sentiment behind them after Katrina, but it didn't pan out. (To his credit, Brees has also been invested in restoring his adopted hometown, donating generously to hurricane-relief charities and renovating a historic home in the Uptown district of New Orleans).

Brees continued to be successful this year and took every snap, with 28 TD and 18 INT; he again threw upwards of 4,000 yards with 4,423, his highest career total by 5 yards over last year's. He had an 89.4 rating and completed 440 of 652 attempts, but failed to galvanize the Saints to a repeat playoff appearance. Nor was Reggie Bush the dynamic difference-maker he was in college, with 157 carries, 581 yards, and only 4 TD. And of course, the defense was a problem. But with Brees under contract for the next three years and only 29, it's not likely they need to go quarterback-hunting in the draft. What they should do is go fishing in the deep defensive pool instead.

(Sheez... it's 11:46... that took forever).

No comments: