Until Jon Gruden did it this week, I’m not sure Drew Brees has ever been compared to a stock car that flies around speedway tracks. If you see the Saints quarterback walking pit road at Daytona, it has every chance of him being Grand Marshal rather than behind the wheel of a car.
Yeah. I know. NASCAR. Brees. The national anthem. Black Lives Matter. Got it.
Hyperbole is common among football coaches previewing an opponent. Gruden is an expert at it. He can praise any team he’s about to encounter with the best of them. He can make a Honda sound faster than a Porsche.
“(Brees) is like a race car driver,” Gruden said. “Some of these guys can drive up to 200 miles-per-hour and handle a car. It’s a physically exhausting thing to do.”
Gruden says Brees has similar command of the Saints’ offense. “He’s back there. He knows where everybody is.”
Such should be a main concern of the Raiders’ defense as it once again tries to prove itself.
It’s a pretty stale narrative.
Happy Birthday, MNF
Monday Night Football turns 50 when Las Vegas welcomes New Orleans to Allegiant Stadium. But beyond the surreal vision of the first NFL game here being contested in an empty venue is this: The Panthers aren’t the Saints and Teddy Bridgewater isn’t Brees — no matter how well the former filled in for the Hall of Famer with the Saints last year.
The Raiders opened with a 34-30 win at Carolina, despite Las Vegas totaling just one sack and three hits on Bridgewater. He wasn’t bothered at all against whatever level of pressure the Raiders tried to create. Which didn’t appear to be much.
Put another way: Nobody is rating the Carolina offensive front among the league’s best. It would barely be mentioned among the Top 20. And yet the Raiders couldn’t develop any consistent pressure.
Clelin Ferrell, the second-year pro and No. 4 overall draft pick, graded out at a 73.8. Best among all Raiders defenders. He had three tackles and a pass defended.
Sort of tells you what kind of day it was on that side of the ball.
“Up front we know we didn’t play well,” said second-year end Maxx Crosby, who led the Raiders with 10 sacks last season but posted just two tackles against the Panthers. “Personally, I didn’t play to the level I want to. We have to disrupt (Brees) and not let him sit back there and get comfortable. We have to be in his face the whole game.”
And therein lies the problem.
It’s not just that the Raiders have ranked tied for 24th, dead last at 32 by a large margin and tied for 23rd in sacks the past three seasons. It’s that New Orleans has been as good protecting Brees as Las Vegas has been unsuccessful reaching quarterbacks.
Some of it is personnel with the Saints. Wasn’t always that way. Brees was sacked 37 times and hit another 80 in 2013. The following season, he was sacked 31 times. But through free agency, trades and the draft, New Orleans has built one of the league’s top offensive lines.
In the past three years, the team has allowed 20, 17 and 25 sacks. Brees was hit just 51 times in 2018.
A lot if it also has to do with a certain brain.
Process information fast
Brees gets the ball out quickly. The sky is also all blue and water is wet. But you’re not the NFL career leader in pass completions, pass attempts, completion percentage, passing yards and touchdown passes because you spend plays watching things develop. You know before they do.
Elite quarterbacks have always owned the skill to diagnose action earlier than others. Brees is one who processes information so quickly that even the heaviest of pressure can’t always reach him in time. Those who process it at a slower rate are the ones getting hit all the time.
“Drew spends an awful lot of time watching tape,” said Saints coach Sean Payton.
New Orleans opened its season by beating Tom Brady and Tampa Bay 34-23 last week. Neither team played well. But over 32 dropbacks, Brees was only sacked once and hit just three times. So even when the Saints aren’t that great, they keep the star quarterback clean.
Just like the racer leading the pack and pushing his stock car through a wall of undisturbed air.
Or, in the case of Brees, a 41-year-old Honda the Raiders really need to catch.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.
NFL records for Drew Brees
Pass attempts: 10,191
Passing yards: 77,576
Completion percentage: 67.6
Touchdown passes: 549
** Also holds the NFL record for most 300-yard passing games, highest single-season completion percentage, most consecutive games with a touchdown pass, most 5,000 passing- yard seasons, highest completion percentage in a game and most pass completions in a season.