Going into Monday night’s game against division rival Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had several goals that he set out to accomplish, such as winning the division and possibly gaining a first-round bye, but one other goal that loomed large was Dan Marino’s all-time passing yards record, an astonishing 5,084 yards, for a single season.
Brees needed a mere 305 yards in the final two weeks of the regular season to top a 27-year-old record set by who many see as the greatest quarterback ever. Now, Brees can consider himself in that category, as he threw for 307 yards to top the record with an entire game left.
The record-breaking pass came in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, with the Saints leading 38-16. On second and goal from the 9-yard line, Brees broke the huddle with ‘Pro’ or 21 spread — two backs, one tight end flexed– personnel and stood in the middle of a split-back shotgun set awaiting the ball.
It was only fitting that his target on this play was running back Darren Sproles, an electric and multidimensional prized free agent acquisition that had a big night of his own with 236 all-purpose yards.
On this play, the Saints had Twin set of receivers on the backside, the top of the screen, of the play with the number one at the top running a Fade route, serving as a clearout, while the number two ran a Stick route, a 10-yard vertical stem (in this case) with an outside break. Accompanied by the Stick route was a flat route run by the fullback to Brees’ right. What this concept does is horizontally stretch the outside linebacker (Mike Peterson) by forcing him to run with the flat route, leaving a hole in the zone for the Stick route runner to sit in for the grab.
On the playside, flexed (3 yard split from the line) tight end Jimmy Graham served as a ‘clearout’, essentially a decoy, for the underneath pattern run by Sproles. Graham ran a Corner route, targeting the far left corner of the end zone and drawing the attention of the cornerback as well as the safety. Meanwhile, Sproles ran an Angle route, which is an outside diagonal stem that widens the defender covering him to make it look like a flat route before planting the outside foot and breaking it back across the formation.
Although the scheme and talent played a major role in getting Sproles free over the middle for the record-breaking catch, Brees’ ability to manipulate the safety also played a role in creating an opening for the touchdown against the Falcons defense. As Brees dropped back, he executed a three-step drop, reading from middle of the field to the corner route in an effort to draw the attention to common red zone target Jimmy Graham before bringing his eyes back over the middle for the touchdown.
Despite having some issues at times Monday night, Brees came through big for his team and fans as they ultimately defeated the Falcons 45-16 to wrap up the NFC South division. With the passing yards record in the rear-view mirror, Brees is able to focus on locking up the number two seed in the playoffs as well as another record — highest completion percentage in a season.
The record holder?
The man himself.