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Scouting report: New Orleans Saints

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Brees and Bush lead a Saints offense that, when clicking, can be one of the most potent in the league.

Coming off their much needed bye week, the well-rested Texans play host this Sunday to the 4-5 New Orleans Saints, who had their four-game winning streak snapped this past weekend by the then-winless St. Louis Rams. Plagued by inconsistency, the surprise team of 2006 has not enjoyed as much success in 2007, but head coach Sean Payton still finds his Saints in the thick of the playoff race in the wide-open NFC South.

Offense

The high-powered Saints offense is led by quarterback Drew Brees, and the Austin native has been on fire after a wretched start to the season. In his first four games, Brees threw only one touchdown pass to nine interceptions. However, in the last five games he has rebounded with 13 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, and his 2,447 passing yards ranks fifth in the league. Brees' only backup is 13-year veteran Jamie Martin.

Running back Reggie Bush, the former Heisman Trophy winner, is a dangerous dual-threat weapon able to beat defenses with his playmaking ability both as a runner and receiver. On the year, Bush has rushed for 451 yards and four touchdowns to go along with a team-leading 55 receptions for 304 yards and two touchdown receptions.

Spelling Bush is eight-year veteran Aaron Stecker, who has rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown on the season. Fullback Mike Karney paves the way blocking for the backs and has also contributed with two touchdown receptions this season.

The Saints boast a talented group of receivers led by second-year man Marques Colston. The former seventh-round pick started the season slowly, but has gone over the 100-yard receiving mark in the last two games. On the year, Colston has 52 receptions for 636 yards and five touchdowns.

Deep-ball threat Devery Henderson starts opposite Colston, but with the Saints playing so many three and four-receiver sets, David Patten and Lance Moore see significant playing time as well.

Starting at tight end is seven-year veteran Eric Johnson. In his first year with the Saints, the Yale graduate has hauled in 37 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson's backup is former Texan Billy Miller, who caught his first touchdown reception of the season in last week's loss to the Rams.

Injury has raised a question mark on the offensive line, with the availability of starting left tackle Jammal Brown up in the air after Brown injured his left leg in last week's game. Should Brown not be able to play, backup Zach Strief will take his place.

The rest of the line is led by tough-nosed Pro Bowl center Jeff Faine, whose style of play rubs off on left guard Jamar Nesbit, right guard Jahari Evans and five-year veteran right tackle Jeff Stinchcomb.

Defense

Though the Saints' defense ranks towards the bottom of the league in several categories, its defensive line is among the most talented in the entire league when healthy. Athletic defensive end Charles Grant leads the unit, but injury knocked him out of last week's game and his availability is unknown for this weekend.

Should Grant miss his second consecutive game, backups Reynaldo Wynn and Josh Cooper will step in. The other starter at end is another talented player in former first-round pick Will Smith, who is tied for the team lead with three sacks.

The interior of the defensive line is plugged by veteran tackle Hollis Thomas, who excels in run-stopping. With veteran tackle Brian Young out after arthroscopic knee surgery, Kendrick Clancy and Antwan Lake will see time in the tackle rotation.

The linebacker corps is led on the strong side by Scott Fujita. Second on the team in tackles, Fujita rarely finds himself out of defensive position and is one of the unquestioned leaders of the unit.

Mark Simoneau starts in the middle and has racked up 41 tackles. Weak side backer Scott Shanle is at his best when blitzing, but he also may miss this week's game after sitting out the last two. His replacement would be former Texan Troy Evans.

The secondary is the weak spot of the defense, as the Saints rank near the bottom against the pass. Left cornerback Mike McKenzie is one of the better cover corners in the league, but his counterpart, free agent acquisition Jason David, has struggled. Opposing quarterbacks have routinely picked on David all season, leading to big results. The top reserve is another embattled cornerback in Fred Thomas, who was replaced by David after his struggles last season.

A pair of young, talented safeties play behind the cornerbacks. Strong safety Roman Harper, the team leader in tackles, plays well against the run and in blitzing situations, but is still recovering from last year's season-ending knee injury. Free safety Josh Bullocks has added 51 tackles to go along with his lone interception. Pushing Bullocks for playing time is free agent pickup Kevin Kaesviharn, who has made 15 tackles in a reserve role.

Special Teams

Eleven-year veteran kicker Olindo Mare has struggled this season. The former Miami Dolphin has hit only half of his 12 field goal attempts and has particularly struggled with kicks longer than 50 yards, missing all three of his attempts from that distance.

Second-year punter Steve Weatherford is averaging 43.7 yards per punt and ranks among the league leaders with kicks landing inside the 20-yard line.

Pierre Thomas and Lance Moore are dangerous on returns. Thomas returns kickoffs and ranks just outside the top 10 in return average at 25.4 yards per return. Moore returns punts and currently ranks eighth in return average at 11.7. Neither has returned a kick for a score this season.

What to Watch For

  • Reggie Bush briefly left last week's game against the Rams after receiving a helmet-to-helmet hit. On Monday, he was still feeling the effects of the hit, but he should be ready to go for his first trip to Reliant Stadium
  • Texas native Drew Brees makes his second career start at Reliant Stadium. In 2004 as a member of the San Diego Chargers, Brees led his team a 27-20 victory and threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
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