Brees featuring TE, RBs in Saints passing game
Saints players know by now that with Drew Brees at quarterback, one doesn't have to play receiver to rack up a lot of receptions.
So far in 2011, Brees has completed more passes to second-year tight end Jimmy Graham (32) and running back Darren Sproles (31) than anyone else.
In their victory over Carolina on Sunday, the Saints reminded future opponents that they are just as likely to throw to running backs when they need a key first down or a touchdown. Of Brees' two touchdown passes in the game, the first went to fullback Jed Collins and the second went to running back Pierre Thomas, who also happens to rank fifth on the squad in receptions with 14, ahead of Devery Henderson and Marques Colston.
''That's been the nature of our offense ever since we've been here,'' Brees said. ''You see it every game where there are nine or 10 guys catching balls. Rarely do we have a guy who's up in the 10-plus range. We have a lot of guys who are six, seven, eight catches, very productive. Every guy contributing on third down and the red zone - that's what we do. It keeps defenses off balance when they try to game plan for us''
Of Brees' 12 scoring passes this season, only half have gone to receivers. Three have gone to the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Graham, and one each has gone to Sproles, Thomas and Collins.
Fortunately for the Saints, none of their receivers have the outspoken, ''Diva'' persona that seems to be common at their position league-wide.
''In this offense, if you're going to be selfish you're not going to be here anyway,'' said Robert Meachem, who has 22 catches to rank third on the team and first among New Orleans receivers. ''Being a play-maker, you always want the ball. Don't get me wrong. But in this offense you know pretty much, `Hey, be patient. It's going to happen.'''
The Saints haven't relied too heavily on any one player in the passing game since coach Sean Payton began calling the plays and Brees began executing them back in 2006.
Generally, Brees simply seeks out the most favorable matchups each play. While that has often meant throwing to Colston in past years, the 6-foot-4 receiver has been limited this season by a fractured collar bone that caused him to miss two of New Orleans' first five games.
With only 12 receptions so far, he is bound to become more involved as the season progresses, but the Saints still won twice without him and are second in the NFL in passing with 336.6 yards per game.
Tampa Bay coach Rahim Morris has mixed feelings about what he sees when he breaks down video of the Saints' offense. As a football fan, he said, ''It's an unbelievable offense to watch.'' As the next opponent on the schedule, it's a concern.
''I can't say enough about Drew Brees. What Jimmy Graham's been able to do this year has been unbelievable. He's physical, fast, and violent. It will open it up for the receivers down the stretch here,'' Morris said. ''It's just an explosive offense that gets the ball around to everybody and uses their talents well.''
Sproles, whose reception total is tied for fifth in the NFL, said one of the reasons he came to the Saints as a free agent was his confidence that Brees would use short passes to get him the ball in space, where he could use his explosive speed.
Sproles also knew defenses would not be able to make him the focus of their pass coverage because of the way Brees has shown he can go down field to the likes of Meachem, Moore, Henderson, Colston, and now Graham.
''You get those big guys out wide, they kind of forget about us'' running backs, Sproles said. ''The little dump-offs, they're always there.''
Notes: Henderson (left calf), RT Zach Strief (right knee) and TE Dave Thomas (concussion) were the only players to miss practice on Wednesday. LB Jonathan Vilma (left knee) was limited. C Olin Kreuts (left knee) and Martez Wilson (left shoulder) both practiced fully after being limited in practice last week and not playing at Carolina. ... Brees was named the first US national ambassador for the World Food Programme. His first mission in that role is to appeal for help fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa. Brees has two young sons and also once visited the Horn of Africa while on a USO tour with the US military. ''I had a chance to get out and see firsthand some of the issues that a lot of those people are facing. It's one thing to see it on TV or hear about it, it's another thing to see it in person, especially when you have small children like I do,'' Brees said. ''You're heart just gets torn out whenever you see that kind of thing.''