METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints quarterback Drew Brees is averaging fewer yards per game passing than at any point in his 11-plus seasons with New Orleans.
Yet he sees no evidence of a drop-off in his effectiveness, or that of his receivers.
Overshadowed by dramatic improvements in the Saints’ running game and defense is the fact that the 38-year-old Brees has been as efficient as ever.
He’s keeping defenses on their heels with a personal best completion percentage and drive-sustaining third down conversions when New Orleans has needed them during its seven-game winning streak.
”When we’re running the ball effectively and when we’re playing the type of defense we’re playing, it’s not necessary to throw the ball 35, 40 times a game,” Brees said. ”If we can throw the ball mid-20s and rush the ball 40-something times and win the way that we have, then, man, that’s great.
”I’m sure there’s going to be games where we’re going to need to throw it (much more) to win the game – and we’re ready to do that,” Brees added. ”We’ve done that many times before.”
The Saints have finished the regular season leading the NFL in yards passing six times since Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006.
New Orleans has never finished a season worse than fourth in yards passing; that was the 2009 season, which ended with New Orleans’ only Super Bowl triumph.
Now New Orleans ranks fifth in yards passing per game at 260.2 – still elite in a 32-team league, but below the Saints’ usual passing production since Brees joined forces with coach Sean Payton.
However, Brees’ completion rate of 71.7 percent, if he sustains that through the end of the season, would set a NFL record, breaking the mark of 71.6 percent set by Sam Bradford last season (when he broke Brees’ 2011 mark of 71.2 percent).
Brees’ career-low interception rate for a whole season is 1.8 percent in 2013 and 2015. Though nine games this season, he’s been intercepted on only 1.3 percent of his passes.
”A the end of the day, you want to be as efficient as you possibly can, so that’s what we talk about when it comes to anything around here – it’s efficiency,” Brees said.
”How efficient are we at the passing game? How efficient are we in the running game? How efficient are we on third down and in the red zone? And all that together results in a winning formula.”
In a 47-10, cold-weather victory at Buffalo that really seemed to get the rest of the NFL’s attention, the Saints rushed for 298 yards, making them only the fifth team in NFL history with as many as 295 yards and six touchdowns rushing in a game.
But Brees still connected on 72 percent of his passes (18 of 25), including connections of 30 yards to Brandon Coleman and 28 yards to Michael Thomas.
”The total numbers are never important. It is more of what we are doing each week,” Payton said. ”Obviously, in today’s NFL, you have to be able to convert third downs. You have to be able to attack certain defenses and we feel confident that that’s something that each week we’ll put the time in and be able to do.”
Thomas finished the victory at Buffalo with nine catches for 117 yards, and said that when he has reviewed game video this season, he has seen a Saints passing game that is highly in sync and productive, even if overall attempts and yards are down.
”Any game,” Thomas began, ”Drew could go for 500 (yards) if he needs to, but we’re not asking him for that.”
Redskins coach Jay Gruden, whose team will have to try to stop the Saints in the Superdome on Sunday, said fewer attempts or yards by no means indicate a drop-off in Brees’ effectiveness as a passer.
”Sometimes that is better. A lot of people worry about stats and fantasy football numbers … but when you have balance, I think it makes it easier on the entire offense, the play-caller and the quarterback, the receivers, everybody,” Gruden said.
”An effective passing game doesn’t mean it has to lead the league in yardage. It just means it has to be effective getting the ball down the field and in the end zone. That’s what they’re doing right now.”
NOTES: Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who missed last Sunday’s game with a groin pull, returned to practice on Wednesday on a limited basis. … Running back Jonathan Williams, whom the Saints signed off Denver’s practice squad, practiced with New Orleans for the first time.
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