Packing the Stats: Release Times of Brees, Rodgers

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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:

BREES RODGERS
2.7 COMP
1.4 COMP
2.2 COMP
1.9 COMP
2.6 INC
1.7 COMP
2.4 INC
4.9 SCRAM TD COMP
1.2 COMP
1.6 COMP
3 COMP
2 COMP
2.1 COMP
2 COMP
2.5 TD COMP
3.4 PA INC
0.8 WRB COMP
2.1 RBS COMP
2.9 COMP
1.5 COMP
2.8 SCRAM COMP
2.2 COMP
5 TD COMP
3.9 PAB INC
2.3 COMP
2.9 COMP
1.8 COMP
1.4 INC
2.7 INC
4.6 INC
1.3 COMP
3.5 PAB INC
1.2 COMP
2 SHOV COMP
3.6 COMP
2 INC
1.8 TD COMP
2.2 COMP
2.9 INC
1.6 COMP
2.7 COMP
1.7 COMP
2.2 INC
1 COMP
3.6 INC
2 RBS COMP
1.4 COMP
1.6 COMP
2.6 TD COMP
3.4 PAB INC
2.7 INC
2.7 COMP
3.2 PA COMP
2.9 COMP
3.3 PA INC
2.3 INC
2 COMP
1.5 COMP
1 INC
0.8 INC
2.6 COMP
2.3 COMP
2.6 COMP
2.5 INC
2.6 COMP
4.2 COMP
0.9 COMP
5 BOOT INC
2 INC
1.9 COMP
3.2 PA TD COMP
2.7 COMP
1.8 COMP
2.3 PA INT
2.4 COMP
2 SACK
2.7 COMP
1.9 RBS COMP
2 COMP
2.6 INC
2.4 INC
5.6 BOOT INC
3.3 PA INC
5.9 SCRAM INC
2.7 INC
1.8 INC
2.6 INC
0.8 WRB COMP
3.3 COMP
2.4 COMP
2 SHOV COMP
1.6 INC
1.8 TD COMP
2.2 SACK
3 COMP
2.2 INC
1.8 COMP
2.8 PA INC
2.3 COMP
0.8 WRB INC
1.5 COMP
2.2 INC
1.6 COMP

Key:

  • 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:

Brees Rodgers Release Times

DREW BREES RELEASE TIMES

Brees Release Times Box Plot

AARON RODGERS RELEASE TIMES

Brees Release Times Box Plot

Notes:

  • 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. . .

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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  • FireMMNow

    I love this stuff. Good job and thanks for putting in the time.

    It should be noted that when a player gets a clean release, which is what graham and colston were getting in the soft zone it allows them to get out into the pattern quicker. if you jam them at the line it forces them to take and extra half a second or so to get into their routes. but brees was excellent at getting the ball out quickly and making good decisions.

    • ELo

      Great point. Having our DB’s play a little more physical at the line should add time. It seemed we gave up a lot of space. I understand the break, don’t bend approach of DC’s defense, but I’m surprised we didn’t press more at the line.

    • Chad Toporski

      The problem is when players are in bunched or stacked formations, which the Saints used a good amount of. If you try to press men at the line, they can easily use that against you to create natural picks, allowing even more open routes. Now, there are things the Packers could have done better, but I think those start to lean on individual technique within the scheme.

  • Chad Lundberg

    Rodgers is better than Brees hands down. Next subject.

    • Tarynfor12

      “Rodgers is better than Brees hands down”.

      The only way I can agree with that assessment as easily as you state it…
      wait…I can’t possibly….you drank all the ‘kool-aid’!!!

      I’ll wait for your definition of ‘hands down’ but,hands down means no contest to me.

      • Chad Lundberg

        Just what is your problem anyway? I would expect a fellow Packers fan to get along with me, and agree to disagree, but I guess not.

        Take your condescending negligence and share it with people who can appreciate.

        Which would probably be nobody.

        Rodgers 2008-2011 years are better than the best four years that Brees has to offer.

        • Tarynfor12

          When Brees isn’t a worry to a defense or makes fans fret he may pull off the comeback,then and only then would it be a simple case closed.

          A hand full of QBs do that to defenses and are all equally dangerous and the line of separation is merely swayed by stats which never tell a whole truth and by fans who are team blind.

          Have a nice day!!!

    • Chad Toporski

      This wasn’t really meant to be “who’s better?” post. The Saints and Packers do different things with their offenses from a schematic standpoint, so you can’t really judge anything based on this data.

      I just threw in Rodgers’ numbers because I thought it would add some extra interest to the article. The main focus was Brees’ release time and its relationship to the Packers’ defensive performance.

      • Chad Lundberg

        And I don’t mean to make it that way Chad. I know you were just doing what you do, but I was only showing my fan-hood of Rodgers, and how strongly about what i believe.

        If you feel that I put any negative criticism towards you, or your article, I apologize. That is not my intention.

        It’s just that I hear so much about how Brees is just as good as Manning and Brady, but I’ve done my own research on that subject and after doing so, I couldn’t POSSIBLY disagree with that statement more as I do now.

        • Chad Toporski

          Don’t worry, I didn’t take your comment negatively. I get the frustration. ;-)

  • Dan

    As mentioned, Brees recievers were open way quicker then Rodgers were. Arods recievers were played tight, like in most of our games now. I did notice then bunch formations during the game. The Pack must find a way to put more pressure on the bunch recievers next time , because the DBs got smoked in this game. I hope other teams don’t use this strategy, because it killed our pass D.

    So the Saints QB was pressured a bunch in the previous 3 games, but only 6 times in our game….not good.

    • PackersRS

      Bunch was the doom of the 2009 Packers’ D. It appeared to be corrected in 2010, but after last year I take it’s a work in progress.

      Not all teams have the 4 elements that the Saints have, though, which are a great QB, receivers that are matchup problems both in size and speed, a quick tempo that forces unprepared D’s to make communication mistakes, and the use of bunch formations that prevents the Packers’ D to play to it’s strenght, man press coverage.

      Their defense is pathetic, but I’m glad they won’t make the playoffs. And, as has been said already, the defense will only get better as the rookies get more familiar with the scheme and speed of the game.

  • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

    Fantastic work here, Chad. Really appreciate the effort…

    • PackersRS

      Yes. It’s really impressive work.

  • Ron LC

    Great stuff Chad. I blame the difference on the very, very soft coverage coming off the line of scrimage on Caper’s. Brees had his targets wide open in the underneath zone. Packer receivers are still too slow in seperation.

  • Chad Toporski

    Thanks, guys! Truly appreciate the comments.