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O. As in offense. Take nothing away from the galaxy of offensive playmakers who'll line up in Thursday night's NFL season opener at the RCA Dome. It is, after all, an assemblage that includes at least one future Hall of Fame wide receiver, two other pass catchers with 1,000-yard seasons on their résumés, three superb tailbacks, and, oh, yeah, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who led the league in passing yards in 2006.
|Colts QB Peyton Manning torched the Saints the last time he saw them.|
Now it's four years later. The Saints' offense has improved with Brees and Reggie Bush and Marques Colston. Those numbers from 2003 may seem like little more than appetizers for the offensive feast that will be on display. It will be the league's sixth Thursday night opener, and most likely its highest-scoring one (the current high is 51 combined points in 2004).Since neither man has much to do with his own team's defense, it isn't as if Payton and Manning will be matching wits in the much-anticipated opener. But the two may have to match points and hope their respective defenses break serve at some point. Clearly, these are two men capable of elevating the offenses over which they preside.
|Saints coach Sean Payton crafted the league's top offense last season.|
Payton is adroit at putting even modestly talented performers into position to make plays. He craftily employs personnel packages, motion and route combinations to characteristically create advantageous matchups.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, there is no better quarterback in the league, maybe in recent NFL history, at identifying coverages and getting the ball to the open receiver than Manning."Obviously, they approach it with the same kind of mentality," Brees said. "I think Sean's background as a quarterback allows him to see things developing through the eyes of a guy who has played the position." A three-time All-American, Payton departed Eastern Illinois having thrown for the third-most yards in Division I-AA history at the time. He had cameos in the Arena League, CFL and NFL but came to understand that his greatest strength was designing an offense, not running it. On Thursday night, on a national stage, he'll get to see how those designs stack up against the Super Bowl champions and their superstar quarterback.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.