Graham Ailing But Saints Have Firepower

Jimmy Graham isn't 100 percent healthy but Drew Brees still has plenty of options in the passing game. (Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY)

METAIRIE, La. — Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.

Recent performances by receivers Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks have left little doubt about that.

Colston and Stills are coming off of their best games of the season against Detroit's top-ranked defense; Colston had 111 yards on six catches, while Stills caught five passes for 103 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown.

"It was encouraging last week we got the ball down the field a little bit and we had a couple of those big plays that we've been waiting on," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Part of that's me giving them the opportunity."

While New Orleans' 314 yards per game through the air ranks second in the NFL, Brees relied heavily on Graham early this season. The tight end's 376 yards and three touchdowns receiving continue to lead the club, even though he did not have a catch last Sunday against the Lions — a game in which he was targeted by Brees only twice.

"We wanted to be smart and obviously not ask (Graham) to do too much," Brees said. "But I thought we made a lot of big plays down the field with those receivers."

Cooks had just two catches for 23 yards against Detroit, but he has had several games in which he was among the club's leading receivers, going over 70 yards in a game twice in the first six outings of his career. Cooks' 34 receptions are tied with Graham for the team lead in that category, evidence that Brees has a great deal of trust in the rookie.

"We've had limited time together," Brees said of his rapport with Cooks, "and yet he's so sharp in his ability to pick things up and we use him in a lot of different ways and he continues to amaze."

Brees said Stills showed similar strengths during his rookie season a year ago.

"It hasn't seemed too big for him. We can put him in different places as well, different receiver positions and it's not mind-blowing for him," Brees said. "He's able to grasp it and go out and execute it well."

Stills was hampered by a quad injury during much of the preseason and sat out the regular season opener, but appears to be regaining his form.

Then there's Colston, who is in his ninth season, owns all of the Saints' significant receiving records and is the lone veteran among the receiving corps who retains a prominent role in the passing game. He has surpassed 100 yards receiving twice in six games, and his 359 yards rank second on the team in that category.

"He's one of the most consistent guys I've ever played with — continues to be," Brees said of Colston. "There may be those times where he's not getting it as much as he has in the past or on a consistent basis as he has in the past, but that's by no means an indication of anything. ... I look to him as much or more than I always have."

While Cooks was relatively quiet in Detroit, he came away from that game with the sense that the Saints' air attack was gaining strength as New Orleans prepares to host surging Green Bay on Sunday night.

"It was a good day for the receiving corps," Cooks said. "We're getting close to where (opposing defenses) have to start picking their poison because Kenny went off, Colston went off and I have had a couple good games. ... So I feel like it's getting close to just busting out."


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