- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. – New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton don’t seem too worked up about the fact that the Saints’ wide receivers haven’t been heavily involved in the offense so far this year.
That’s not surprising, considering the Saints are 5-1, they rank second in the NFL in passing yards per game (311), and they rank in the top seven in total yards per game, points per game, completion percentage and third-down conversion percentage.
“At the end of the game I look at efficiency,” Brees said. “So it doesn’t matter who it went to. But were we completing it, moving the football and scoring touchdowns?”
Brees has targeted wide receivers on only 36 percent of his throws this year, the lowest percentage in the NFL according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only two other regular quarterbacks are below 50 percent -- the Kansas City Chiefs’ Alex Smith and the San Diego Chargers’ Philip Rivers.
But that’s only slightly down from the norm for the Saints, who have been relying heavily for years on weapons such as tight end Jimmy Graham and running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas in the passing game.
In both 2011 and 2012, Brees completed only 44 percent of his passes to receivers.
The reason that the lack of receiver production has become a hot topic lately is that it was so noticeable during the Saints’ Week 6 loss to the New England Patriots. The Patriots put their best cornerback, Aqib Talib, in man-to-man coverage on Graham and held him to zero catches in the game. Yet the Saints’ receivers still caught only five passes in the game for 82 yards (including a 34-yard touchdown by Kenny Stills in the fourth quarter).
A week earlier, the Saints also relied heavily on check-down passes against the Chicago Bears’ zone coverage. But that was an efficient, ball-control game plan that led to a victory. So it wasn't a big concern that the Saints’ receivers caught only three passes for 50 yards in that game.
Still, it's unusual that top receiver Marques Colston has caught only three passes for 26 yards in the past two games combined.
Personally, I think that’s just a two-week trend that’s based on the particular defenses the Saints have faced this year --especially when it comes to Colston’s low numbers. After the first four games, Colston was on pace to gain nearly 1,200 receiving yards this year.
It also hasn’t helped that veteran receiver Lance Moore has been out with a hand injury since Week 3. But Moore was back practicing fully on Wednesday and might return to the lineup Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
Chances are, the Saints’ receivers will start to be more heavily involved in the coming weeks – especially if Graham is sidelined by the foot injury he suffered in that Patriots loss.
“I don’t know if there is any one thing that you would point at,” Payton said, when asked specifically about why the Saints’ receivers have caught only three touchdown passes so far this year. “Jimmy and Darren Sproles have had real good production. … A lot of times, teams are playing more coverage down there, brackets, double on the outside players. When that happens, a guy like (running back) Travaris Cadet ends up getting an underneath escape route for a touchdown. That would be the first thing that comes to mind.
“We are here at six games. Normally you might have more than that, but I think overall just being more efficient and monitoring what we are doing well and what we can improve on are the key things.”