NFL offensive coordinators are bent on passing the ball, and as a result records are being broken by quarterbacks at an unprecedented pace.
On Sunday, Drew Brees broke a record that stood for more than 50 (!) years. With at least one touchdown in his 48th straight game, Brees eclipsed legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas’ record for most successive games (47) with a passing touchdown. Fittingly, the record breaker came on a 40-yard deep ball — a ball that Brees is arguably the best at throwing in the league — to teammate and receiver Devery Henderson.
Brees’ mind boggling record came at the right time, with his team heading into a bye week in good spirits. The Saints struggled in the first quarter of the season, starting off 0-4 mark, but their winless streak stopped this past Sunday with a strong performance from their signal caller, which helped them get over the hump and beat the San Diego Chargers.
Furthermore, the record and win came in front of a home crowd, with suspended head coach Sean Payton looking on. Payton was granted special permission to attend the game and was able to witness four years of offensive excellence wrapped up in one throw.
As reported by Chuck Schilken of the Los Angeles Times, the presence of Payton was significant, according to Brees, who said state the coach gave the team a “good mojo” by attending and witnessing the “special” moment.
The touchdown came with 3:13 left in the first quarter on 3rd down with six yards to go. Third down is where quarterbacks separate themselves from the rest of the league at the position, and it’s where Brees has always been one of the league’s best. So it was no surprise that he came up big for his team once again.
With the ball just outside the 40-yard line, Brees stood in shotgun with an Empty set accompanied by three receivers — one of which was Henderson — and two tight ends: Jimmy Graham and David Thomas. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers defense was in a nickel package, featuring five defensive backs behind a 3-3 front.
At the last second, strong safety Atari Bigby came flying down into the tackle box to serve as an additional rusher and create an eight-man box, consequently creating Man-Free (Cover 1) coverage on the back end. Despite his late rotation, Brees identified Bigby after a hard count and made a check to the play — a combination concept that would look as if it was a flood into the flats but ultimately featured an out-and-up route — to account for him.
When the ball was snapped, there were false looks given from both teams.
The Chargers blitzed the two linebackers across from Brees and dropped their third — outside linebacker Melvin Ingram — along with the strong-side defensive end. They also sent Bigby downhill as an interior rusher. Because of the defensive end and outside linebacker dropping in coverage and their teammates blitzing, it looks to be a zone blitz. But it’s not: it’s man coverage behind it, with only the deep free safety playing zone.
Offensively, the Saints were giving a false look too. Thomas was running a flat route, it was widely expected that Henderson would run a deeper out route to the same side of the field to create a flood concept. However, he didn’t, and instead he ran an out-and-up and it worked to perfection because of the indiscipline of cornerback Quentin Jammer.
There are various ways a cornerback can miss their assignment in coverage, and one of the most common ways is by looking into the offensive backfield to read the eyes of the quarterback. When a cornerback does that, he’s prone to blowing coverage because he has taken his eyes off of his assignment, and he’s usually stopped moving his feet to properly read the up-field shoulder of the quarterback and (hopefully) break on the ball.
That’s what happened here with Jammer, who moved forward as he read Brees…
…and watched Henderson run right by him for a record-breaking touchdown.
Brees has been one of the league’s best quarterbacks and model citizens, which is why it’s fitting that he was the one to break this record.
As per usual, he shredded a defense with the deep ball, this time to Henderson for 40 yards. He would go on to throw three more touchdowns on this magical night, leading the Saints to their first win of the season. The victory comes at the right time as the team has a bye week before clashing with the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 7.