Commentary

Brees, Saints run fast break on Colts

New Orleans' quarterback plays point guard in leading team to Super Bowl win

Originally Published: February 7, 2010
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- The game was football, of course. But in explaining the frenetic offense of the New Orleans Saints and the role of equal-opportunity quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees in directing a high-energy, high-octane attack, tailback Reggie Bush aptly relied on a basketball reference.

"We're kind of like an end-to-end offense and he's like the ball handler running the fast break," Bush said after the Saints' 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, an upset that provided the long-suffering franchise its first title. "He doesn't miss the open man very often, does he? He's just dishing it off to the open receiver, you know? Sooner or later, we're going to get open, and we're going to wear you down."

The game's clinching score came courtesy of Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, whose 74-yard interception return gave New Orleans a late two-touchdown lead. Interestingly, Porter, a two-year veteran, played at Indiana University, and the pick of Peyton Manning was the lone takeaway by a New Orleans defense that is characteristically larcenous -- the Saints finished second in the NFL with 39 takeaways during the regular season.

But it was the uncannily accurate Brees, and just as much the ability of his receivers to constantly break open against the Colts' largely zone coverages, that was the point of differentiation.

Brees, who completed a Super Bowl record-tying 32 passes (in 39 attempts) for 288 yards and two TDs, performed like a slick point guard, particularly after a subpar first quarter. Over the final three quarters, Brees completed all but three of his 32 passes -- and one of the incompletions was a drop by Bush in the flat and another was a spike to stop the clock.

Brees completed passes to eight different receivers, and five of them had three or more catches. Wide receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson each registered seven catches, and tailbacks Bush and Pierre Thomas combined for 10 receptions. Colston got off to a slow start, dropping the first pass directed to him when the ball caromed off his shoulder pad, but he missed only one pass directed at him after the second possession of the game.

"It's kind of like a cat-and-mouse game," Colston said. "We're the 'chase-ees' and they're the chasers. And there comes a time when the chasers get tired of chasing. I think we kind of wore them down, really. It was simple. We got open ... and he got us the ball."

Although the Saints typically prefer to go deep up the seams in the passing game, the maturation of Henderson and fellow wide receiver Robert Meachem allowed the team to run its pass routes a yard or two deeper. The Saints principally used underneath routes to find openings against the Indianapolis Cover 2 zones.

And as Brees distributed the ball all over the place, he made his throws look easy -- the NFL equivalent of an NBA point guard using the bounce pass rather than a more eye-catching behind-the-back dish.

The Saints completed only two passes of 20 yards or more -- Brees hit Colston for 27, and Lance Moore on a 21-yarder -- and Colston's catch was the only completion in which the ball actually traveled in the air 20-plus yards. Brees averaged a lofty 7.39 yards per attempt, but just 9.0 yards per completion. The former was attributable to his accuracy, and the latter came because New Orleans was content with underneath routes and rarely challenged the Colts' coverages vertically.

"I think we went down and just posted up," said tight end Jeremy Shockey, whose 2-yard touchdown catch helped the Saints to a 24-17 lead with 5:42 to play. "We hooked up in front of them and made them tackle us. They're so quick we didn't think we could go over the top of them very often, but we felt like we could use our bigger bodies to kind of get position in front of them and shield them off the ball."

As one of the best tackling and most disciplined teams in the league, the Colts don't give up a lot of yards after the catch. But the Saints timed their routes, and Brees was on target with this throws -- the eventual MVP finished the game with 10 consecutive completions. The Saints were virtually one-dimensional, running the ball for just 51 yards on 18 attempts, but consistently won the hook-up battles.

Typical of the Saints' ability to employ all of their pass-catchers was their opening possession of the second half, which commenced with the successful recovery of a surprising onside kick and finished with Thomas' 16-yard catch on a middle screen. On the 58-yard drive, the Saints had five completions for 51 yards, and four different players caught passes. Thomas also caught the first pass of the possession, a 12-yard gain on a swing pass.

"I think they had a smart, patient game plan," said Indianapolis free safety Antoine Bethea. "They didn't make many big plays in terms of long yardage, but they made a lot of big plays in terms of timing. [Brees] was all about location. Their receivers found the open spots and, to his credit, Drew put the ball right where he had to, again and again. He didn't make great passes, but he definitely delivered [the ball] when he had to, and to the right person. He used the people around him really well."

Just as a crafty point guard is supposed to do.

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.