Saints receivers catching a break

Unit not nearly getting the notoriety they deserve

What’s wrong with the Saints?

Is it the coaching? The play calling?

Is it the defense that’s gone from one of the best to one of the worst?

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Is Drew Brees showing signs of age and diminishing skill?

Is the injury bug annihilating the team?

Of all the questions being asked of how the NFL prognosticators’ trendy Super Bowl pick has fallen flat, little to no attention has been focused on the Saints’ receivers. Yes, dropped balls, missed assignments and injuries have hurt the team through the first five games of the season. But talent at wide receiver definitely needs an upgrade if the Saints are going to capitalize on another Super Bowl run in the autumn of Brees’ quarterbacking career. 

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At this point in the season, the Saints top five receivers are TE Jimmy Graham, with 34 receptions for 376 yards and three touchdowns, WR Brandin Cooks (32, 255, 1), RB Pierre Thomas (22, 187, 1), WR Marques Colston (15, 248, 1) and RB Travaris Cadet (10, 83, 1).

In recent years we’ve been spoiled by Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Lance Moore carving up defenses. Henderson and Meachem had the speed to stretch the defense, opening shorter routes for Colston, Moore, and our stable of tight ends and running backs. Moore and Henderson are gone, and Colston and Meachem are starting to appear as shadows of their former selves. Without speedy receivers, defenses are having an easier time containing the Saints’ powerful offense.

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Seattle showed us in the playoffs last season that double-teaming Graham can effectively shut down our offense. And this year, several other copy-cat defenses have had success with the strategy.

The Saints have several young receivers on the roster, but they haven’t yet been able to adequately fill the position to expectation. Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks were brought in to stretch the field to spread open defenses and replace the talents of departed free agent Darren Sproles, respectively. To his credit, Stills has been dealing with a quadriceps (thigh) injury. Joe Morgan has gotten playing time, while Nick Toon has been missing in action since he was drafted three years ago.

There are some whispers that Brees’ preseason oblique injury hasn’t fully healed and is affecting his power and accuracy. Through five games, he is completing 68.8 percent (150 /218) of his passes, for 1,574 yards, nine touchdowns, six interceptions and a 91.8 QB rating. The offense has successfully converted 55 percent of their third down tries, a number that should be improved if the Saints expect to be perennial playoff contenders (Opponents are only converting 46 percent of the time).

Is there hope for this season?

We’ll see.

Graham left the last game before halftime with a sprained shoulder and did not return. His prognosis is pending. Depending on the severity of Graham’s injury, he could be out for a while. RB Mark Ingram was enjoying a breakout year carrying the ball, but has been out with a hand injury. He’ll be back after the bye week, hopefully picking up where he left off. If Brees’ oblique is still injured, it’s not likely to fully heal during the season. That’s a prospect that could make us Pelicans fans that much quicker this year.

If anything, Saints fans have proved they have faith. We’re five games in, have a 2-3 record and sit second in our division. Hopefully this early bye gives the team a chance to refresh, get healthy and focus on dominating the rest of the season. We’re only a game behind Carolina with 11 to go.

I’m not ready to give up, nor am I ready to say, “Wait ’til next year.” But if receiver play does not improve, it’s going to be a long season. And GM Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton will need to bring in veteran talent or a game-changing draft choice to hoist another Lombardi Trophy before Brees’ window is closed.



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