Personnel changes can’t slow Saints

Published 5:57 am Friday, December 18, 2009


AP Sports Writer

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — 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.

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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.”