As the New Orleans Saints struggled to run the ball early in their Wild Card win over the Carolina Panthers, it was up to quarterback Drew Brees to carry the Saints offense to victory. Following a regular season where he finished with his lowest yardage (4,334) and touchdown (23) totals as a Saint, Brees stepped up and delivered a performance unlike any he’d had in 2017.
Brees threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone, including his longest pass of the season; an 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. He finished with 376 passing yards for only his fourth 300-yard game of the season. Brees had crossed the 300-yard mark 10 times in 2016.
The future hall of famer averaged 11.4 yards per pass attempt; a season-high for Brees, and the 10th highest single-game average for any NFL quarterback since the start of the season (minimum 20 pass attempts).
Here’s a breakdown of the biggest plays by Brees against Carolina.
New Orleans Saints Wild Card Film Analysis: Drew Brees
80-Yard Touchdown Pass to Ginn, 1:46 Remaining in First Quarter
On the second play of the drive, New Orleans lined up with two receivers split out to the left with Ginn in the slot, and Michael Thomas outside. Tight end Josh Hill lined up on the right side with wide receiver Willie Snead flanking him. The Saints utilized the dagger concept as Thomas ran a dig route, Ginn went deep on a post, and Snead cut inside on a crossing route.
Carolina had eight men in the box as they did for much of the game, and they sent a five-man blitz with safety Mike Adams as the extra rusher. Panthers cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley were in deep zone coverage while safety Kurt Coleman shadowed Worley’s side.
After the snap, Bradberry hesitated on his deep drop as he eyed Snead. As the receiver cut inside, linebacker Thomas Davis picked him up, but Bradberry still watched Snead and neglected his responsibility downfield. Meanwhile, Ginn was released by Coleman, who was focused on the dig route by Thomas.
Bradberry didn’t notice Ginn running downfield until it was too late, and Brees sent a pass deep. He led Ginn to the middle of the field with his pass, and the cornerback had no chance to make a play on the ball. Ginn made the catch, slipped Bradberry’s tackle, and outran Coleman to the end zone.
Nine-Yard Touchdown Pass to Josh Hill, 9:04 Remaining in Second Quarter
On a first and goal play on the next drive, New Orleans came out in a three tight end singleback set with backup guard Josh LeRibeus off tackle on the left side. Brees faked a handoff to Mark Ingram, and the Panthers bit hard on the play-action because of the heavy formation. Only Thomas, who was split out right, and Josh Hill, the tight end on the left side ran routes.
Thomas took off on a slant, while Hill ran a corner route. The Panthers perceptually intended to run a cover 3 scheme, but there was one major breakdown. Worley, the cornerback on Hill’s side, had come up from his coverage after the fake to Ingram, leaving that third of the field completely uncovered.
Brees first looked to Thomas, and could’ve likely completed a pass to him since Coleman abandoned his middle zone assignment to chase down Hill. Coleman was too late though, and Davis couldn’t catch up to the tight end either. Brees floated a pass over the head of Davis, and Hill made the catch right at the goal line.
25-Yard Pass to Hill, 1:22 Remaining in Second Quarter
The Saints lined up with trips on the right side, and Thomas alone on the left. Hill, along with the three wide receivers ran go routes while Alvin Kamara stayed in the backfield to block. Brees took a snap from the shotgun and faced a six-man Panthers blitz with man coverage, and a single high safety.
The odds were in Brees favor that at least one receiver would get separation, but he had to make sure Coleman, the free safety wouldn’t be in that receiver’s area. Brees first looked at Thomas, who was well-covered by Worley. Coleman read the quarterback’s eyes and shifted towards Thomas.
Brees then looked to Hill, who was covered by Adams. Hill possesses a six-inch height advantage over the safety, and Brees took advantage of the mismatch. With Coleman still moving towards Thomas, Brees threw the ball to Hill’s back shoulder, and set up his receiver perfectly for a leaping catch.
Hill turned, fought off a grab by Adams, and stretched out for the catch. He managed to secure the ball as he went down despite Adams best efforts to strip it. Two plays later, New Orleans scored on a one-yard run by fullback Zach Line.
46-Yard Pass to Thomas, 6:43 Remaining in Fourth Quarter
New Orleans had Thomas, Hill, and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui stacked on the left side, and Brees motioned Hoomanawanui to the right prior to the snap. Brees faked a toss left to Kamara, and faced a cornerback blitz from Worley that was quickly picked up by left tackle Terron Armstead.
Only two receivers ran routes; Ginn went deep on a go route from the right side while Thomas ran a dig route, and eventually crossed the entire field. Brees rolled right to escape a collapsing pocket and avoid defensive end Julius Peppers on the right side. Ginn never came open, but he managed to clear out his defender, along with the deep safety.
Because of the blitz by Worley, the Panthers had linebacker Shaq Thompson cover out in the left flat. He released Thomas at the top of his route, and the receiver crossed the field with no one within 10 yards of him. Brees threw while on the run, and linebacker Luke Kuechly hustled to catch up to Thomas. The pass hit Thomas in stride, and he dodged Bradberry before being tackled by Kuechly at the five-yard line.
This play set up a Kamara touchdown run to make the score 31-19. Carolina responded with a touchdown on the next drive, but they weren’t able to close the gap thanks to a great stand by the Saints defense in the final two minutes.