As expected, the showdown between the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers on Sunday was a high-flying affair between two Super Bowl MVPs. Both defenses had a difficult time stopping the pass prowess of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, who put up a combined 765 yards and 7 touchdowns through the air.
A lot of Packers fans were extremely frustrated with the Packers’ secondary, which seemingly regressed in soft zone coverage after two games of playing a more aggressive man-to-man style. While this has been the scapegoat for fans, Tom Silverstein of JSOnline.com had this explanation:
The big reason was because the Saints used a lot of bunch formations. The Packers had some rules for how to play them when their splits are a certain way. When the splits were narrower than usual, they went to zone so they didn’t get picked. Wider, they went to man-to-man. The Saints are really good in dissecting defenses and making them react to the Saints. With the size of their receivers, you can’t let yourself get picked all day long or you wind up giving up even bigger plays. The problem was no pass rush.
Providing some statistics to back up this claim is ProFootballFocus.com, who mentioned the following in their Re-Focused Game Review: “After being pressured on 53 drop-backs through three games, Brees faced pressure on just six of 56 drop-backs (10.7%) against the Packers.”
Now, I consider the Saints offensive line to be one of the better units in the NFL. Both guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks represented the NFC in the 2012 Pro Bowl, and tackle Jermon Bushrod was a reserve player. When stating this recently on a comment thread, another poster brought up the quick releases of Drew Brees.
With that as the impetus for my research, I took to NFL Rewind with my stopwatch to time the releases of both Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. While there is some human error in the process, I did time each throw at least twice. (The span of time recorded is from snap to release.)
Here is the raw data, split by drive:
- PA = Play Action
- PAB = Play Action Boot
- SCRAM = Scramble
- BOOT = Bootleg
- RBS = Running Back Screen
- WRB = Wide Receiver Bubble Screen
- SHOV = Shovel Pass
- TD = Touchdown
- SACK = Sack
- INT = Interception
- COMP = Completion
- INC = Incompletion
Using the above data, I generated some basic statistical information about each player. The first pair of columns summarizes every throw made by each player. The second column only uses times from pocket passes, which do not include things like play action, scrambles, and bootlegs. The third and final pair of columns uses just the times for completions.
Below that, I’ve also added box-and-whisker plots for each player. Take a look:
DREW BREES RELEASE TIMES
AARON RODGERS RELEASE TIMES
- At least in this game, Drew Brees definitely gets the ball out more quickly than Aaron Rodgers. Not only are his median and mean times quicker, but the standard deviation is almost half of Rodgers’. This indicates that his throws are generally closer to the average 2.2s time.
- You can also look at the box-and-whiskers plots to note that Rodgers’ numbers are skewed higher than Brees, who is pretty consistent along the data. Rodgers also has a few more outliers at the upper end that highlight both his tendency to hold on to the ball and extend plays.
- That said, Rodgers’ release times in the pocket are generally quicker than when he scrambles. Just look at the raw data above and you can see how much more time Rodgers spends outside of the pocket than Brees.
- There’s not much of a difference between completions and the overall data in both players’ cases, meaning incompletions don’t necessarily take longer or shorter to throw.
- This is just a one game sample for both players. For example, Rodger’s times this game are probably much different from his times against San Francisco and Seattle, since he had considerably more time in the pocket to throw. The Saints defense was held to zero sacks, one hit, and eight hurries. Similarly, the Packers defense only had two sacks, zero hits, and five hurries.
In looking at our primary reason for this research, it’s interesting to see just how quickly Brees makes his throws. The quick, up-tempo nature of the Saints’ offense makes it very hard to stop, and it is a big reason for their productivity over the years. When Drew Brees is averaging 2.2 seconds per pass, it’s going to be hard to get pressure that quickly. (Remember that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy set his training camp clock to 2.5 seconds.)
However, we must remember that an average is just that – an average. There are going to be times when Brees takes longer to throw and times when he takes shorter to throw. In fact, the two sacks the Packers had against the Saints were completed in 2 and 2.2 seconds, well within the average release time of Brees.
While it might be easy to point the finger at just one spot of the defense, we might have to consider that both the pass rush and the coverage units were at fault. The secondary needs to prevent the faster releases, while the rushers need to take advantage of the longer passing plays. For the full answer, we’ll of course need to go back to the film room. . .——————Follow @ChadToporski