Pro football Focus recently posted some eye-opening stats that illustrate how little the Saints have been able to stretch the field this season. Both Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Brees sit at the bottom of the league with regard to their average depth of target (6.2 yards). Brees is currently ranked 28th in air yards per target (5.3) while Bridgewater is ranked second to last in the same category (4.8).
Though Brees currently ranks first in completion percentage (74.3%) while Bridgewater ranks ninth (67.7%), it appears those accomplishments are partly due to the fact neither of the Saints’ signal callers have thrown the ball more than 10 yards downfield much this season.
Michael Thomas has been fabulous all season long with an unreal catch percentage rate of 83.5% along with 11.9 yards per reception; his longest reception was for 42 yards. Beyond Thomas, however, the other Saints receivers have not produced as consistently.
Of course you wouldn’t think it after watching him drop a crucial pass against the Falcons, but Tre’Quan Smith actually has a higher catch percentage rate (85.7%) and more yards per reception (14.7) than Thomas. In fact, Smith has caught six of his seven targeted passes. The problem with this is he’s only been available for three games, two of which were losses. His presence on the field hasn’t positively impacted the Saints’ record since their week one win against the Texans.
After Smith and Thomas, the receivers with the next highest catch rate percentages are both named Hill. Tight end, Josh Hill, has a 71.4% catch rate and has averaged 10.7 yards per reception. The third string quarterback, Taysom Hill, has actually served as one of the Saints’ best tight end options. The do it all gadget player out of BYU has a 75% catch rate and has averaged 11.1 yards per reception.
The Saints’ starting tight end, Jared Cook has averaged slightly more yards per reception (11.5) than Taysom Hill, but his catch rate is far more pedestrian (56.8%). Though Cook has blocked well, his offensive production simply hasn’t met the expectations the Saints had for him when they signed him away from the Raiders.
There is a player on the team who was supposed to fill the shoes of a traditional “deep threat,” but unfortunately Ted Ginn Jr. simply hasn’t done so on a consistent basis. Ginn had a 41 yard reception against the Texans and a 45 yard reception against the Bears, but neither of those ended in a touchdown.
As it has turned out, Ginn’s seven catches for 101 yards against the Texans was his best game of the season. It’s been downhill from there.
Besides the three catches he had for a paltry 19 yards against the Cowboys, Ginn hasn’t had more than two catches in a game since week one. He hasn’t seen the end zone since Bridgewater completed a 33 yard touchdown to him against the Buccaneers a month ago.
Known for running the 40 yard dash in 4.28 seconds, Ginn is supposed to be the Saints’ best deep threat option. Instead, the 34 year old speedster has been MIA, just like he was at the “40 yards of Gold” 40 yard dash tournament that he suggested in the first place and then failed to attend.
Some Saints fans hoped their team would submit a waiver claim for former Patriots receiver Josh Gordon, but after doing their homework and entertaining the idea, the Saints decided not to. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway since the one team that did put in a waiver claim, the Seahawks, were two spots ahead of the Saints on the waiver wire.
It’s rare that a legitimate deep threat receiver would be available this far into a season, and Gordon was most likely the last and best option left on the market. Antonio Brown is off limits until he meets with the league, and if the Saints were hesitant to sign a pothead, they should be even more hesitant to sign a seemingly mentally ill locker room distraction. Michael Crabtree and Dez Bryant won’t stretch the field and both of their best days are already behind them.
So the Saints need to fill the void from within their own ranks. That’s going to be tough to do, but Ted Ginn Jr. and Tre’Quan Smith have the skill set to stretch the field. If Jared Cook can dominate the intermediate routes like Thomas has been doing all season, that would also open things up for the rest of the wide receivers.
They just need to start causing more separation from the defenders covering them. Why does Michael Thomas, who ran a slower 40 yard dash (4.57 sec) than both Ginn (4.28 sec) and Smith (4.49 sec), get better separation? He executes his routes better, and the other Saints receivers need to follow the example of their MVP caliber teammate in order to make the Saints offense more dynamic and complete.
The injury to Andrus Peat doesn’t help either, and now Brees might find himself enjoying even less time in the pocket to deliver downfield bombs. But, it’s going to be a really long second half of the season if the Saints don’t figure out how to add a deep threat dimension to their offense immediately.