The Saints' 62-7 victory over the white-flag waving Colts on Sunday was relatively meaningless as far as the playoffs are concerned. Back-to-back victories over Tampa Bay and Atlanta in weeks 9 and 10 will give us a clearer picture if the Saints are the unbeaten Packers' biggest competition in the NFC. Meanwhile, the Saints have a scored a league high 239 points and Drew Brees is using the short pass to help open up the downfield passing. The Saints have been very effective when they go deep.
Brees is completing a league-best 62.5 per cent of his passes 21 yards or more downfield this season. Since the start of the 2008 season, Brees leads all quarterbacks in completions, completion percentage and touchdowns on such passes. The addition of running backs Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles has improved the offense. Sproles has been an upgrade over Reggie Bush in the screen game.
In 2010, Bush's 36 receiving yards were the fewest on screen passes among running backs with 10 such catches. Through seven weeks, Sproles has almost doubled Bush's full-season total from last season. Sproles has 1,491 total yards this season: Rushing, 289, Receiving, 329, punt returns 121 and kickoff returns, 376. Sproles has made an impact splitting out wide. Entering Week 7, he was targeted 31 times when lining up as a wide receiver, catching 22 passes for 172 yards. No other running back had more than nine targets or catches when splitting out wide.
Play-action passing is another key to the offense, with Brees attempting the most such passes this season. While most teams use play action to go over the top, the Saints go even shorter. The average air yards per pass attempt in the NFL this season is 7.3, which jumps to 8.7 on play-action throws. Brees is averaging 6.8 air yards per play-action attempt this season. Brees' favorite play-action target is his tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham leads all NFL tight ends in targets (19), catches (13) and yards (175), and is tied for the lead in touchdowns (3) on play-action passes.
by Ed Staton
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