Saints offense thriving on unpredictability

Marques Colston’s latest big game came without warning, which is

precisely the way the New Orleans Saints like it.

New Orleans’ offense, which ranks sixth in the NFL, isn’t

helping many of its skill players pile up Pro Bowl-type stats.

Rather, the approach of coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew

Brees has enabled a wide range of play-makers to emerge

periodically with high-production outings.

In a game the Saints needed to win to remain atop the NFC South,

Colston caught nine passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns in a

31-13 victory over Carolina on Sunday night. In his two previous

games, Colston had a total of 67 yards and no TDs.

This week, figuring out how to prepare for Brees’ equitable

distribution of the football is a task for St. Louis Rams coach

Jeff Fisher, who describes New Orleans’ versatile attack as a

”championship offense.”

”Defenses, often times, will dictate where the football goes

and Drew knows that. He puts it where he needs to put it,” Fisher

said. ”It’s hard to find teams better than the Saints from an

ability to attack defenses because you just watch the tape and Drew

knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Beyond Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, who has 1,046 yards

receiving and 14 touchdowns, is the only Saints with a chance to

lead the NFL at his position. Graham has been targeted 117 times.

No other player has been targeted more than Colston’s 81 times.

Meanwhile, the Saints have not often emphasized the running

game. They’ve run the ball on only 36 percent of their offensive

plays this season and rank 25th in the league in yards rushing per

game (91.4).

Yet they rushed for 242 yards – with Mark Ingram gaining 145 –

in a victory over Dallas. The Saints also gained 131 yards rushing

in a narrow loss at New England.

”They’re going to do what they need to do to win ball games and

if they feel they need to run it, they’re certainly equipped,”

Fisher said. ”They can do whatever they want to do.”

Following New Orleans’ victory over Carolina, Payton

acknowledged Colston’s selfless approach by noting that the way the

Saints use their receivers doesn’t necessarily help them win

postseason awards.

Payton said his offense is ”less conventional” in the way he

mixes personnel or has the same receiver alternate between multiple

roles in the same formation. Colston, for example, might sometimes

line up in the slot and other times out wide in what otherwise

looks like a typical three-receiver formation against a ”nickel”

defense (with five defensive backs).

”So because of the substitution patterns, it’s not just as

simple as he’s always at one position or any one receiver is at one

position,” Payton explained.

Rookie receiver Kenny Stills is another player whose production

has wavered. He’s had five games with 11 yards or fewer, and three

games ranging from 75 to 129 yards.

The running backs, likewise, have at times played central roles

in the passing game and only peripheral roles at others.

Sproles has had 76 or more yards receiving in three games, once

gaining as many as 114 yards on seven receptions against Miami.

Against Carolina, Sproles had a relatively quiet three catches for

23 yards.

”You’re changing formations. You’re changing personnel groups.

You’re changing a lot of things, so it’s really like a completely

different game plan that you’re having to kind of memorize from

week to week,” Brees said. ”Everybody going into every game

knows, `Man, this could be my game.’ Then we kind of see how it

shakes out.

”It’s a lot to manage at times, but Sean does a great job of

it, the whole coaching staff does, I try to do my part and we just

have a bunch of really unselfish guys that have bought in and

understand how good we can be as a group, as a unit, and they take

a lot of pride in that.”

Notes: Payton said the Saints will leave outside linebacker

Victor Butler on the physically unable to perform list the rest of

the season rather than giving him a chance to play during the

Saints’ playoff push. Butler tore his anterior cruciate ligament in

June. Payton said his rehabilitation has gone ”extremely well”

but that the Saints did not want to risk bringing him back too

soon. … Glenn Foster practiced for the first time, on a limited

bases, since injuring his knee in Atlanta on Nov. 21. … Missing

practice were: DT Brodrick Bunkley (back), TE Josh Hill

(hamstring), S Rafael Bush (ankle), LB Keyunta Dawson (calf) and LT

Terron Armstead (nose).