Brees aims to end N.O.'s red zone drought
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
METAIRIE — Drew Brees sees no reason why the offense he leads shouldn’t approach the 40-point plateau on a regular basis.
So even though the New Orleans Saints have a chance to improve to 3-0 this Sunday when they host Arizona, Brees is a bit unsettled by the fact that his unit has had a hard time seeing drives all the way through to the end zone.
“We’ve certainly had some opportunities and just haven’t taken advantage of it yet,” Brees said. “Eventually, that will bite us if we don’t get it fixed.”
New Orleans’ offense accounted for one touchdown in 16-14 victory at Tampa Bay in Week 2. That happened only once all of last season — and even then it was in a highly unusual game that saw Brees throw five interceptions in Atlanta.
Through the first two games, New Orleans has converted only one of seven red-zone chances into touchdowns. That’s a 14.3 percent conversion rate, which ranks last in the NFL.
Last season, the Saints ranked second in red-zone efficiency at 68.4 percent.
“We’re used to having four or five of those (games) a year where you’re racking up 40 (points). That’s the level that we expect ourselves to play at. We haven’t been at that level. I hope that it happens soon,” Brees said following practice Wednesday. “We’re averaging below 20 points a game. That’s not what we’re used to. We’re used to being much better than that. So there’s a big sense of urgency around here, despite the fact that we’re 2-0.”
Brees said the Saints should have scored at least three touchdowns in Tampa Bay and should not have had to rely on a clutch, last-minute drive that concluded with a last-second, 27-yard Garrett Hartley field goal.
The Saints failed to score late in the first half after having first-and-goal from the 1. That series wound down with Brees’ throw-away on first down, followed by three fruitless runs.
Later, the Saints marched deep into Bucs territory when Brees was intercepted at the Tampa Bay 15 by Mason Foster, who galloped 85 yards for a touchdown.
Brees and coach Sean Payton both blamed two stalled red-zone drives on penalties. Each involved holding calls on All-Pro right guard Jahri Evans.
Right tackle Zach Strief added that the offensive line has had too many let-downs. He said team statisticians counted 10 times that Brees was under pressure in Tampa Bay. Brees was sacked four times, and one of those took the Saints outside the 20 and led to a field goal.
“That makes things tough on him,” Strief said.
The lack of production is puzzling in that New Orleans’ offense still features most of the key players from the unit which set NFL records two seasons ago and which was second in the league in yardage last season. Along with Brees, there are running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore, and tight end Jimmy Graham.
If any older players among that group have lost their edge, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn’t see it, and isn’t buying the idea that a Payton-coached offense full of established play makers will struggle in red zone efficiency for long.
“That offense is always high-octane,” said Arians, a former offensive coordinator. “They’re just a play or two away.”
If anything, Arians only hopes New Orleans — which ranks ninth in the NFL with 395 yards per game — doesn’t explode out of its red-zone funk against his team.
“You’re always afraid of that,” Arians said. “The ball bounces funny, but I know what they’re capable of. What we’re getting ready for is what I think they’re capable of.”
Notes: Payton said reserve CB Patrick Robinson would miss the rest of the season because of his right knee injury against the Bucs. CB Chris Carr was re-signed to fill the roster spot that opened with Robinson was placed on injured reserve. ... RB Mark Ingram, who was on the practice field, in pads during the early portion of practice — mostly stretching — that was open to reporters, did not end up practicing on Wednesday, according to the Saints’ injury report. The club said he had a toe injury. Also sitting out practice were: S Roman Harper (knee), Evans (hamstring), De Tom Johnson (hamstring), DE Glenn Foster (ankle), S Isa Abdul-Quddus (ankle) and NT Brodrick Bunkley (calf). ... DE Tyrunn Walker (knee) returned to practice on a limited basis.