By good, we mean that he’s a demigod. And by demigod, we mean a superhuman being capable of ruling over and commanding Superman, Megaman, Aqua Man, and the Million Dollar Man.
Overstatement? Absolutely. But Brees’ superior skill when compared to the 14 other starting quarterbacks the stout and sturdy 49ers defense faced during the regular season is still surprising, even by his lofty, record-busting standards. That means the air will be filled with footballs during the divisional round matchup between the two teams this weekend, and stopping those footballs from sailing far and landing in waiting Saints hands could be problematic for San Francisco.
Now, before we continue, let’s make something abundantly clear. The 49ers defense is vicious, and just a few weeks ago we made the argument that with a healthy Patrick Willis for the full season, the 2011 49ers would have been a poor man’s 2000 Baltimore Ravens, a label San Francisco is worthy of because of both their defense, and their grinding style offensively led by workhorses Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.
The problem is that while they’re pretty efficient at taking the ball away from the opponent when it’s in the air with their 23 interceptions and two players with six apiece (Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson), San Fran is far more vicious against the run than the pass.
On the ground, the front seven is downright menacing, holding the opposition to 77.2 rushing yards per game this year throughout the regular season. There was a fair distance to the second-place team in that category, with Baltimore finishing at 92.6. The 49ers also didn’t allow a rushing touchdown until Week 16 against the Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch, a game when Willis was still sidelined.
They’re not bad against the pass either. Not bad at all, and although their 16th overall ranking may seem average, their 230.9 passing yards allowed per game is still more than respectable. A problem arises, however, when we look a little deeper into that number, and compare the incredibly weak 14 opposing quarterbacks the 49ers faced to the incredibly superior quarterback they’ll face this Saturday afternoon.
Of those 14 starters, four of them were either backups pressed into duty because of an injury, or a starter who’d later become a backup because he really sucks (A.J. Feeley, Kellen Clemens, John Skelton, and John Beck). We’re sticking specifically to starters here too, so that list of woe doesn’t include Richard Bartel, the Cardinals’ third stringer who came in for Skelton in Week 11. Also included on that list of 14 is rookie Andy Dalton in his third career start, along with Josh Freeman and Colt McCoy, two quarterbacks who habitually abused their job titles.
The 49ers also faced four of the top 10 QBs in passer rating, but Ben Roethlisberger was severely hobbled and likely would have better served his team sitting on the bench in Week 15. Two of the other three had very solid but not spectacular outings, with Eli Manning throwing for 311 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and Matthew Stafford finished with 293 yards, two touchdowns, and a completion percentage of 56.0. It was Tony Romo who exploded, throwing for 345 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime win.
So if containing the good but not Brees-level quarterbacks was difficult, deductive reasoning leads to the conclusion that stopping or even slowing Brees will be an especially awful task. It gets worse when we consider a set of averages. Specifically, this set…
Drew Brees 2011
- Completion percentage: 71.2
- Passer rating: 110.6
- Passing yards per game: 342.2
- Yards per attempt: 8.3
14 San Francisco regular season opposing quarterbacks
- Completion percentage: 59.4
- Passer rating: 81.3
- Passing yards per game: 232.1
- Yards per attempt: 6.9
The second set consists of primarily league-average numbers, but that’s the point. Those numbers reflect a secondary that’s mostly faced league average quarterbacks, and is now preparing for a record-setting quarterback, one with a passer rating that’s nearly 30 points higher than what San Fran’s used to this year. The most staggering is Brees’ passing yards per game, a difference of 110.1.
Saturday’s challenge will be beyond steep for the 49ers’ secondary. It’ll be mountainous.