Brees as good as ever

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Brett Mar­tel

METAIRIE, LA. >> Bad mem­o­ries of Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees com­plet­ing 32 of 39 passes against his team on a Su­per Bowl Sun­day back in 2010 have come flood­ing back to Detroit Lions coach Jim Cald­well this week.

More than half a decade has passed since Brees and the Saints beat Cald­well’s In­di­anapo­lis Colts in the NFL’s cham­pi­onship game. Brees had just turned 31. He was in his prime then — and still is.

“He’s still ob­vi­ously per­form­ing great,” Cald­well said Wed­nes­day, as the Lions pre­pared to visit New Or­leans on Sun­day.

“He spreads it around quite a bit, you know, and he’s ac­cu­rate as a day is long. You can tell by his num­bers he’s dif­fi­cult to man­age, dif­fi­cult to han­dle.”

Brees’ play might not be gen­er­at­ing as much at­ten­tion as it would if the Saints (5-6) weren’t a game below .500 and strug­gling to stay rel­e­vant in the NFC play­off pic­ture.

But the fact is he might very well break his 2011 com­ple­tion rate record of 71.2 per­cent, and could very well wind up lead­ing the NFL in yards and touch­downs pass­ing while he’s at it.

Af­ter com­plet­ing nearly 80 per­cent of his passes in New Or­leans’ past two games, Brees has a sea­son­long com­ple­tion rate of 71.5 per­cent.

Last Sun­day, Brees com­pleted nearly 78 per­cent of his passes (28 of 36) for 310 yards and four touch­downs against the Los An­ge­les Rams, who en­tered the game with the six­thranked pass de­fense in the league.

That marked the fourth time this sea­son Brees has com­pleted 77.1 per­cent or more of his throws in a game this sea­son.

Ac­cu­racy is part of it, but that’s noth­ing new. Brees has been known to or­ches­trate ac­cu­racy com­pe­ti­tions with fel­low Saints QBs through­out train­ing camp.

In one ap­pear­ance on “60 Min­utes” he stood on the 20-yard line and fired a ball off the cross­bar. In a “Sports Sci­ence” episode, he hit a tar­get with ac­cu­racy sim­i­lar to that of an archer.

Ap­par­ently, he’s still got it.

“I feel like I’ve be­come smarter, wiser through ex­pe­ri­ence,” Brees said. “I work hard at my craft. The stats don’t al­ways tell the story.

“There’s cer­tainly ar­eas where I’m con­tin­u­ing to try to im­prove. But I think, all in all, I feel good. I feel good about my prepa­ra­tion, about my process, and that’s all I re­ally fo­cus on.”

Mean­while, New Or­leans has run the ball bet­ter lately, which forces de­fenses to re­spect play-ac­tion fakes.

Also, Brees’ trio of young re­ceivers has been blos­som­ing, and run­ning back Mark In­gram, who learned a thing or two about catch­ing passes from his ex-NFL re­ceiver fa­ther, has been a re­li­able op­tion on screens and check-downs.

When a quar­ter­back’s com­ple­tion rate is as high as Brees’ is, “there are a lot of things that go into it,”

Lions safety Glover Quin said. “For one, if you’re run­ning the ball well, then you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to have a lot of wide-open throws.

“You can mix in play-ac­tion, mix in quick screens, you can mix in quick (outs) be­cause (de­fend­ers) are so con­cen­trated on stop­ping the run,” Quin said.

“You can mix in a max­pro­tect and take a shot down the field. Then if the guys are catch­ing the ball, the com­ple­tion percentage is prob­a­bly go­ing to be high.”

The of­fen­sive line has played pretty well, too, giv­ing up 18 sacks, which is tied for sixth fewest in the NFL.

“We have a gen­er­a­tional player at quar­ter­back. Like, you hope you get the one in five — that’s the level he’s at. For some rea­son he doesn’t get that type of recog­ni­tion,” Saints right tackle Zach Strief said.

“You see lists and he’s not in the top five. I mean, it’s just like pre­pos­ter­ous, right? If you can give that guy time, I don’t care who your re­ceivers are and who the de­fense is, he will get it to some open guys.”

Brees leads the NFL with 3,587 yards pass­ing and 30 TDs, putting him on pace for 5,217 yards and about 44 TDs, which would be marginally below ca­reer highs he set in both cat­e­gories in 2011.

A key to his com­ple­tion rate this sea­son, Brees said, has come down to de­ci­sion­mak­ing, such mak­ing mul­ti­ple reads and of­ten opt­ing for the eas­i­est throw. The vet­eran QB re­called an ex­pres­sion he hear from Marty Schot­ten­heimer, his for­mer coach in San Diego, who told him, “You never go broke tak­ing a profit.”

“At the end of the day, even if a com­ple­tion gets you 2 or 3 yards, it’s bet­ter than tak­ing that sack or hav­ing to throw the ball away,” Brees said. “It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween thir­dand-5 and third-and-7 or third-and-8. That’s a big dif­fer­ence.

“Com­ple­tions are good. Pos­i­tive plays are good,” Brees added. “Plus I think there’s a flow and a rhythm (for the of­fense) that goes into that as well.”

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