The New Orleans Saints have won five consecutive games without Drew Brees having to put up eye-popping numbers.
The Saints have played very good defense, run the ball well and passed it efficiently during the win streak. But Brees hasn't had to throw 40 passes or accumulate 350 yards or toss three or more touchdowns with any regularity.
For the season, he is throwing five fewer passes per game compared to his Saints career, his yardage is down 30 yards per game and his touchdowns are down 0.6 per game.
But the passing statistics could be more impressive when New Orleans (5-2) hosts Tampa Bay (2-5) on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Buccaneers, losers of four in a row, are ranked 30th in pass defense (274.7 yards per game).
"I think we still execute a lot of the same stuff," Brees said Wednesday. "We still take shots, we still take our chances when they're there, but some of that you play according to how the game's going or what other stuff is working on offense."
The Saints are running the ball fairly well and playing with a lead more often than in the recent past and therefore not being forced to throw with as much regularity.
"I think from week to week you find different ways to win depending on who the opponent that you're going up against, depending on the adjustments you might have to make throughout the course of the game and I'd say we are running the ball as efficiently as we have in a long time, that I can remember on a consistent basis from week to week," Brees said. "Some other elements of our game I think are improved, but I think there's a lot of things you can improve upon that we're not doing as well as I know we can for us to take it to the next level."
New Orleans has scored a touchdown on its first possession just once this season, in the 20-12 victory against Chicago last week.
It has been just average on third-down conversions, ranking 17th in the league with a rate of 38 percent.
"I feel like we're operating the same way we have for a long time," Brees said, "but we spend a lot of time on task with our system and our offense and understanding our opponent, understanding the game plan each and every week and at times it modifies from week to week, but there are some things that remain constant and that's running the ball and protecting the quarterback and me doing my job getting the ball out and to the open receiver, moving the chains, all those things."
The Buccaneers are last in the NFL in sacks with just seven through seven games, and a lack of a pass rush would give Brees a greater opportunity to make big plays.
51st regular-season meeting. Saints lead series, 31-19. The winning percentage (.620) is New Orleans' highest against any opponent. The Saints hold a 17-10 edge in New Orleans, but the inaugural meeting was in the Superdome and was memorable for the Buccaneers, who prevailed, 33-14, in 1977 for their first NFL victory after 26 consecutive losses. The home team won both meetings last season.
STOPPING BIG RUNS?
The Saints' statistics defending the run the last two weeks have been below average, primarily because of big plays. Chicago rushed for 157 yards and an average of 5.1 yards per carry, but 50 yards came on one run by Jordan Howard. Otherwise, New Orleans allowed 3.6 yards per carry. A week earlier, Green Bay rushed for 181 yards and averaged 7.5 yards. Aaron Jones had a 46-yard run. Otherwise, the Packers averaged 5.9, still a healthy rate but appreciably different than the overall number.
There's certainly room for improvement, but the down-by-down performance hasn't been as bad as the game totals might suggest. "But those are still runs that occurred," head coach Sean Payton said, "and so one of the things this week is we have to be better at eliminating the explosive plays defensively."
The Saints reach the halfway point of the season Sunday, but the head-to-head matchups in the NFC South are lagging. This is New Orleans' second game against a division rival this season. The Saints beat the Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., 34-13 on Sept. 24. Four of the Saints' last five games will be against NFC South opponents, including the finale at Tampa Bay on Dec. 31.
G Andrus Peat (hip) was an unexpected addition to the injury report Wednesday. He did not participate.
G Larry Warford (abdomen) did not participate. He missed last week's game after being injured a week earlier at Green Bay.
T Terron Armstead (shoulder) did not participate His absence likely was a precaution because he has played in the last three games as he works his way back from shoulder surgery in June.
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