Saints eager to see passing game at full strength
Marques Colston's two-game absence didn't stop the Saints from putting up some of the league's best passing numbers or winning both of the games that one of their top receivers missed.
The Saints would like to think that Colston's expected return will make an already elite passing game even better in Jacksonville this Sunday, when New Orleans will have all of its top receivers healthy for the first time this season.
"Obviously I'm very excited to get them all out there," Brees said after practice Thursday. "There are still only so many balls to go around, but I think the versatility of having all of them, being able to spread them around, put them in different places, it'll be hard to key on one guy."
The Saints are passing for 338 yards per game. They've done so despite Lance Moore missing the season opener with a sore right groin and Colston missing he next two games with a broken collar bone.
Devery Henderson (12 catches, 265 yards, two TDs), Robert Meachem (14 catches, 131 yards, three TDs) and tight end Jimmy Graham (14 receptions, 235 yards, two TDs) have accounted for the bulk of the Saints' production through the air so far.
Some receivers' workloads could potentially decrease, but that might not be bad for the offense as a whole, Moore said.
"Now there's a sense of guys being fresh because there's not going to be anybody taking too many snaps," Moore said. "We'll be able to rotate guys in and try to keep the defense off balance as much as we can."
Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio was concerned enough about New Orleans' dynamic offense even before it was clear that Colston would be coming back. So far, Jacksonville's defense ranks fourth in terms of fewest yards allowed, but Del Rio seemed to sense his club would be hard pressed to maintain that ranking through the weekend.
"They're a machine right now," Del Rio said of New Orleans' offense. "It's certainly going to be a challenge for us to get them slowed down."
Saints coach Sean Payton, who calls offensive plays, said Colston's return presented some challenges for his staff as well, largely in terms of making sure receivers understood their redefined roles in this week's game plan. One thing Payton did not have to worry about, though, was massaging the egos of a receiving corps for which there will be fewer balls to go around.
Although certain plays are designed for certain players, Payton noted, Brees usually has the option of going to any of the five players eligible to catch the ball on any given play. So no one really knows until the game develops whether their chances with the ball will be diminished or not.
"That's one of the things Drew does so well, and it's just everyone else making sure that they paint the right picture in regard to the route and knowing that he'll find and target the right receiver," Payton said. "They certainly buy into that because they see it happen each week. It's not something that we have to convince them about anymore."
Colston got hurt at the end of the Saints' season-opening 42-34 loss at Green Bay, when he landed hard on his right shoulder after making a diving catch.
The reliable 6-foot-4 target was initially expected to be out four weeks, but is returning after missing only two games.
"I don't let my body heal. I heal my body," Colston said, referring to his use of an oxygen-rich hyperbaric chamber and nutritional supplements. "It's kind of an aggressive approach that I take and it's worked out well for me over the years."
Colston bought his own hyperbaric chamber a few years ago and keeps it in an upstairs hallway at his home. When healthy, he climbs into it a few hours each week. When injured, he sleeps in it.
"You get out of there, you feel fresh and recuperated," Colston said.
Colston said surgeons also inserted a titanium plate in his shoulder. The plate could come out any time, but Colston figures he won't have it removed until his NFL days are over.
Saints coach Sean Payton said that while he is working Colston into Sunday's game plan, he probably will have the receiver play fewer snaps than normal. Colston said he is healthy enough to resume his usual workload, but agrees with Payton's decision.
"It's just smart, as well as the other guys have been playing, to just work my way in and really spell those guys when they need it and get back into the groove as I get in," Colston said.