Numbers Never Lie, Except for Drew Brees
"Numbers never lie" is a common misconception that NFL fans have bought into for years. It’s why some still cling to the “fact” that Andrew Luck is better than Russell Wilson, or that Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of this generation despite his lone Super Bowl ring to show for it. Yes, numbers are not only necessary, but crucial when analyzing the quarterback position, but analysts often sell fans on arguments predicated upon a quarterback’s statistics rather than the eye test.
In 2014/15 Drew Brees amassed 4,952 yards – tied with Ben Roethlisberger for most in the NFL, 33 touchdowns, and posted a quarterback rating of 97. Paired with his 17 interceptions, the numbers tell us that Brees had an above average season, when in truth, inconsistency and uncharacteristic turnovers plagued him and the Saints in their disappointing 7-9 season. Although Brees remains a good option at quarterback for any team, last season was certainly not one the future Hall of Famer will recall with fond memories.
After opening the season throwing a mere three touchdowns to two interceptions in the Saints’ 0-2 start, Brees needed a comeback game quickly. Following two first quarter touchdown drives, the Saints took a 13-0 lead, but the offense was shut out by Minnesota in the third quarter, and only amassed seven points against the NFL’s 14th ranked defense. The next week, Brees’ statistics were incredibly misleading, as New Orleans was beat 38-17 by Dallas on Sunday Night. The Cowboys forced the Saints to punt twice, miss a field goal and went on to intercept Brees before claiming a 24-point lead. After their first points of the night in the third quarter, New Orleans fell behind 31-3. This sent Dallas into a prevent defense, and Brees was able to pad his stats and ultimately compile a statistically impressive 340 yards while losing by 21 points.
Brees’ struggles continued against the NFL’s 28th ranked pass defense, Tampa Bay, as he threw three interceptions, but still managed to throw for 371 yards – see a trend here? Against Detroit, the Saints had the game in hand up 23-17, but Brees threw an interception that put Detroit on the New Orleans 14 and the Lions won 24-23. His 342 yards and two touchdowns may have looked nice on the stat sheet, but it was his costly mistake that lost the game.
The next two weeks looked promising for New Orleans, as they moved back to .500 with an impressive win against Green Bay and a gritty win against a decimated Panthers team. Brees’ struggles would soon continue as New Orleans lost the next three in a row. A 27-24 loss at home to San Francisco put Brees on the hot seat as he threw for two costly interceptions, but it didn’t look that bad, all things considered. The blowout loss to Cincinnati did, and once again Brees’ misleading stat line of 255 yards, a touchdown and a 100.7 quarterback rating bolstered his statistics, but his team fell short by 17 points. Similarly, his 420 yards and three touchdown throws against Baltimore doesn’t look as good when one recognizes New Orleans was forced to play catch up after being down 14 with under three minutes to go.
Drew Brees is still a future Hall of Famer, and despite a sudden drop in his play, he still performed admirably at times, especially away against Pittsburgh to keep their playoff hopes alive in the weakest division in football. But as mentioned before, 2014/15 was Brees’ most inconsistent season, and the numbers certainly did not lie in this case, as the Saints lost 41-10 the week after, and Brees posted a 69.7 quarterback rating. After following that up with a great performance against the Chicago Bears who mentally checked out after week four, Brees ended the season throwing for 594 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions and lost out on a playoff spot for the second time in three years.
Clearly last season was not one that properly reflects Brees’ career or overall quarterbacking ability. One can argue that New Orleans’ running game was not efficient enough to support Brees, but they were in the top half of the league at 13th in the NFL. His receiving corps included dangerous weapons such as Marques Colston – sort of, and Jimmy Graham, which is more than what’s provided for some elite quarterbacks who still manage to have success.
Never once did Brees battle back in a close game to provide the Saints with the late game magic expected of an all-time great. Not only that, but some of the more crucial numbers “didn’t lie” either… His yards per attempt numbers went down, as well as his quarterback rating, touchdown to interception ratio, and overall yardage. In wins, Brees threw 17 touchdowns to seven interceptions in 2014/15 opposed to 2013/14 in which he threw 32 touchdowns to five interceptions. Brees’ numbers were certainly misleading in the sense that they were too good to properly reflect his play, and they were far worse than last season, giving reason for some to believe he may be in decline.
Hardly anyone wants to see Brees decline, it just seems as though many analysts fail to recognize that he struggled mightily throughout the 2014/15 season. After going game by game, it’s clear that the New Orleans quarterback failed to pile up good numbers in an efficient manner, and maybe it’s not all his fault. What’s certain is that fans hold quarterbacks like Brees to a higher standard, and putting up big numbers is great, but it’s all about how you put them up, and if you win. Let's be honest with ourselves here: Numbers... absolutely can lie.