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
”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
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
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
”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
”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).