Personnel changes do little to slow Saints

Drew Brees has moments in the Saints’ film room when he asks

himself what he would try to do if he were an opposing defensive

coach trying to slow down New Orleans’ league-leading offense.

In the end, he’s just glad it’s not his problem.

“You have to go into the game expecting the unexpected,

especially against our offense, just because we have so many

weapons and so many facets to it,” Brees said. “You just wonder

how a team is going to come in and what they feel like they have to

take away in order to win the game.”

Despite lineup changes or various defensive ploys aimed at

stopping certain players, the Saints have averaged an NFL-best 426

yards and scored 35.8 points per game en route to a franchise best

13-0 record.

All of the Saints skill players know any week could be their

week which keeps them ready and opponents guessing. So far, 13

offensive players have scored touchdowns this season.

Heading into last Sunday, Reggie Bush had nearly become an

afterthought in New Orleans’ offensive scheme. Then he burst back

into the limelight with 102 total yards and a pair of receiving

touchdowns out of the backfield in a 26-23 victory at Atlanta.

The previous week, Bush had played little in a 33-30 overtime at

Washington. The two games before that, both blowout wins over Tampa

Bay and New England, Bush didn’t play at all because of soreness in

his left knee.

Head coach Sean Payton said he didn’t necessarily head into

Atlanta with the idea of featuring Bush, but wasn’t surprised by

his success, either.

“He’s part of a good offense,” said Payton, who designs and

calls the plays. “Each week, you don’t know how that thing’s going

to spread around. Drew does such a good job of locating it and

finding the right guys.”

In Washington a week earlier, Robert Meachem had 142 yards

receiving and a game-tying 53-yard touchdown. He wasn’t even a

starter when the season began, playing behind Marques Colston,

Devery Henderson and Lance Moore.

But when Moore hurt his left ankle, Meachem began playing more

and is now second on the team in receiving touchdowns with eight,

one behind Colston.

“Every week, the game plan is set for everybody. It just

depends on what coach calls and what he sees,” Meachem said. “If

he sees a mismatch, he’s going for it.

“Everybody knows, when you’re on that field and there’s a pass,

be ready for the ball, from the backs to the tight ends to the

receivers. We all know that.”

The Dallas Cowboys will be the next team to try to stop the

Saints on Saturday night. Head coach Wade Phillips said it won’t be

easy if the Cowboys can’t figure out how to disrupt Brees.

“They have a lot of outstanding players, but the quarterback’s

the key to all of it,” Phillips said. “Drew Brees is one of my

favorites, not to play against, but just to watch him play, see how

he plays and see how he gets the ball to whoever’s open.

“He disperses the ball to so many different people and they

have a lot of playmakers. He’s the catalyst for all of it. They’re

hard to stop.”

Brees said he and Payton meet a couple days before each game to

discuss the personnel that will be available on offense and which

plays suit those players best. The Saints go into each game hoping

to exploit certain matchups that they believe will work in their

favor, but maintain flexibility to adapt if a defense takes away a

mismatch they thought would exist.

Opponents “might make adjustments defensively during the course

of the game that kind of steer your thought process elsewhere,”

Brees said. “I feel like with our skill guys … they can’t cover

’em all.”

The Saints have been a good passing team since Brees and Payton

arrived together in 2006. Even last season, when the Saints were

8-8, Brees became only the second quarterback in history to pass

for more than 5,000 yards in a season, coming just 15 yards short

of matching Dan Marino’s all-time single-season mark of 5,084

yards.

This season, the Saints are more balanced, ranking third in

yards passing and fifth in yards rushing. When defenses have loaded

up in pass coverage, the Saints have hurt opponents with the run

and have used several of running backs do it.

Currently, Pierre Thomas leads the Saints in rushing with 713

yards and five TDs. When he was hurt early in the season, the

Saints still thrived on the ground with Mike Bell, who averaged

114.5 yards rushing during the first two games.

As explosive as Bush can be, he’s the Saints third-leading

rusher, with 310 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

“None of the backs are selfish,” Thomas said. “Everybody goes

in and does their job. It’s a good thing that we have a three- or

four-back rotation, because we’ve got fresh legs out there

constantly – and you keep hitting the defense.”