Saints’ offense has slowed recently

Published 12:17 am Thursday, December 24, 2009

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — When Drew Brees threw for five touchdowns in New Orleans’ 38-17 victory over New England late last month, it appeared the star quarterback and the Saints’ offense could do anything they pleased.

The past three weeks have shown otherwise, though Brees maintains he’s not worried.

‘‘We have so many weapons and I feel like we’ve been together long enough now that we operate at a very high level,’’ Brees said. ‘‘We’ve seen enough ways that defenses have tried to stop us or slow us down or take something away or whatever it might be that I think we just have an ability to adjust.’’

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Although the Saints continue to lead the NFL with about 420 yards and 34.5 points per game, they are coming off of their worst game of the season. Their 336 yards of total offense in a 24-17 loss to Dallas was about 90 yards below their season average coming into that game, and their point total was a season low.

A week earlier at Atlanta, the Saints had a below-average 391 yards and 26 points, their second-lowest point total of the season.

No longer is New Orleans on pace to break the 2007 Patriots’ scoring record of 589 points. To do so now, the Saints would have to average 54 points in their last two games against Tampa Bay this Sunday and at Carolina Jan. 3.

Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris dismissed the idea that the Saints’ offense would stay quiet for long, noting that such slumps have been few and far between for the Saints since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006.

‘‘Whenever you’re going up against a Sean Payton-coached offense, it’s always a test of what you’re going to do,’’ Morris said. ‘‘I remember when we were highly ranked on defense throughout the years and they’ve always come in here and put up an enormous amount of yards.’’

Brees noted after the Saints’ 26-23 victory over Atlanta that the Falcons sought to take away deep passes. By keeping plays in front of them, they were able to force the Saints to move the ball more methodically. The Saints countered by converting eight of 12 third downs, enabling them to sustain scoring drives with short gains.

Dallas also was determined to limit downfield throws. Brees spotted Devery Henderson in single coverage deep a couple times, but one pass was underthrown and intercepted and the other was dropped by Henderson in the end zone.

‘‘There’s opportunities for big plays no matter who you’re playing. It’s just kind of finding the right situation, the right timing,’’ Brees said.

Payton said New Orleans brings a number of long passing plays into each game plan and understands the need to hit on some of them.

‘‘Drew does a real good job of getting the ball down the field. A couple weeks ago at Washington we had a number of big plays, real big shot opportunities and those ended up helping us win,’’ Payton said. ‘‘It’s important offensively to do that.’’

Unable to hit such plays against Dallas, the Saints faced seven third downs and converted only one.

‘‘We didn’t execute, but there are things that can be fixed,’’ Brees said. ‘‘We have been a good team on third down. We have ever since coach Payton’s been here and we’ve all been here for four years. We just didn’t do it very well the other night.’’

Indeed, even after the loss to Dallas, the Saints still had a third-down conversion rate of 46.2 percent this season, fourth in the NFL.

New Orleans could help its cause by getting its fifth-ranked running game going again. The Saints had only 65 yards rushing against Dallas and 55 against the Redskins three games ago. New Orleans fell behind early in both games, forcing them to pass more as they attempted to come back.

Mike Bell said Saints running backs must perform better early in the game to give Payton the confidence to keep the ball on the ground.

‘‘We have great running backs and it’s unacceptable, so we’re going to take accountability on our shoulders and find a way to get better,’’ Bell said. ‘‘We’re going to clean things up and start playing New Orleans football.’’

NOTES: Reggie Bush said his right hamstring injury against Dallas was more of a cramp, and that he was able to practice at ‘‘full speed’’ on Wednesday. He said he expects to play Sunday. … LB Scott Shanle sat out practice with the lingering effects from a concussion that occurred against Dallas. Shanle never came out of the game and said he did not believe he’d had a concussion until he noticed symptoms persisting after the game. Gay also sat out because of a concussion that occurred against Dallas. … The Saints said reserve safety Usama Young had sports hernia surgery. Young could return for the playoffs unless the Saints decide to place him on injured reserve.