Brees Injury Throws NFC South Wide Open

Brees Injury Throws NFC South Wide Open
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Sunday dropped a few bombshells in the NFC South. The Buccaneers had already pulled off a shock on Thursday night, winning on the road against the much fancied Panthers. The Eagles recovered from a terrible start to beat the playoff contending Eagles and the Saints fell to the Rams to drop to 1-1.

All of those paled in comparison to the news that Drew Brees is set to miss nearly half the season after injuring his thumb when it met with Aaron Donald’s onrushing hands. The contact was enough to tear ligaments in Brees’ right thumb, knocking him out for the game. Now, with surgery required, Brees will be out for at least six weeks.

The worrying news for the Saints is that it could be six weeks before he is ready to throw a ball again as part of rehabilitation, especially as he will need to establish a new grip of the ball.

Drew Brees has been an ironman throughout his college and pro career, despite major shoulder surgery at the end of his time at the Chargers. In fact, Brees has missed one game since high school, four years ago against the Panthers. Now for the first time, he will miss extended time.

Is Teddy the best option?

The team has announced that Teddy Bridgewater will remain as the starter, despite a chequered preseason and struggling in relief on Sunday, albeit against a great defence in the Rams. The former Viking was 17/30 for 165 yards and the Saints didn’t make it into the endzone. That said, it was clear the game was going to be a defensive slugfest before Brees left the game.

With a full week of practice under his belt, and gearing the offence around Bridgewater’s strengths, the Saints offence should be more effective in week three. Ultimately though, excluding playing in week 17 with the backups last season, Bridgewater hasn’t played a full game under centre in nearly four years.

The other option is Taysom Hill, who has been far more exciting and productive in subpackages, although he is yet to show his worth under centre full time. It’s an understandable decision by Sean Payton given the team are playoff favourites and using Bridgewater allows them to keep a similar system to the one used with Brees.

I would expect to see a bigger package for Hill starting this week, and if he proves effective, it could be a organic transition to Taysom Hill over the next six weeks.

Saints Upcoming Fixtures

Week 3@ Seahawks
Week 4v Cowboys
Week 5v Buccaneers
Week 6@ Jaguars
Week 7@ Bears
Week 8v Cardinals
Week 9Bye
Week 10v Falcons
Week 11@ Buccaneers

The Saints have a tough run over the next six weeks, with trips to the Seahawks and Bears, as well as hosting the Cowboys. Their bye comes at a potentially opportune time in week nine, giving Brees an extra week to recover. That assumes the Saints can survive without him for six weeks, including week 8 against the Cardinals.

New Orleans need to target wins against the Bucs, Jags (who also have an injured QB) & Cardinals just to maintain a .500 record up to midseason. I would expect Brees to be targeting week 10 at home to the Falcons, rather than rushing back to play the Cardinals before the bye. Even that may be too soon though if he needs to re-learn gripping the ball.

But first they will want to avoid a 1-3 start against the Seahawks and Cowboys. The division, which looked full of playoff talent has flattered to deceive. Now the Falcons will fancy their chances, having beaten the Eagles. They also face the Saints when Brees may still be recovering in week 10.

The Panthers are only a game back but something isn’t clicking. If Cam can find his form, they will fancy their chances to overtake the Falcons and Saints over the next six weeks. And then there’s the Bucs, who won on the road against the Panthers on Thursday night. Can Bruce Arians keep them competitive in division, which could only take nine wins to conquer?

Anzalone Injured Too

One thing that has gone unnoticed is the injury to Alex Anzalone. While not a superstar on the defence, losing him to IR is brutal. Ultimately, for the Saints to succeed without Brees, they need the defence to get back to 2018 form, which they’re yet to do. Over two games the Saints average 50 more yards and five more points a game this season.

There is a crumb of comfort for Saints fans. It depends if Brees returns fully healthy though. If Brees is 100%, he’ll be more rested, similar to Tom Brady returning from his suspension in 2016, which could leave his arm more rested than last year. That said, Brees’ injury significantly harms the Saints hopes of making the playoffs, let alone getting a much-needed bye.

All this shows how costly the missed pass interference call was in last season’s NFC Championship game. Was that the Saints’ last chance to win a Super Bowl with Brees? It’s looking more and more likely.

Image: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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