Sports

Brees' passing rate suggests Saints QB is as good as ever

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (Chris Heller/The Houma Daily Courier via AP)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams during an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (Chris Heller/The Houma Daily Courier via AP)

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 per cent , and could very well wind up leading the NFL in yards and touchdowns passing while he's at it.

After completing nearly 80 per cent of his passes in New Orleans' past two games, Brees has a season-long completion rate of 71.5 per cent .

Last Sunday, Brees completed nearly 78 per cent of his passes (28 of 36) for 310 yards and four touchdowns against the Los Angeles Rams, who entered the game with the sixth-ranked pass defence in the league.

That marked the fourth time this season Brees has completed 77.1 per cent 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 defences 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 max-protect 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 defence 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 decision-making, 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 third-and-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 offence ) that goes into that as well."

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AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Allen Park, Michigan, contributed to this report.