Saints struggle with play action

There are many dramatic differences between this season’s New Orleans Saints and the team of last season.

I just found one category that’s stunning as I looked through our weekly packet from ESPN Stats & Information.

New Orleans’ play-action passing game has been nothing short of miserable. Drew Brees has complete 9 of 23 play-action passes (that’s a league-low 39.1 percent) for 83 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Brees also ranks last in the league with a 4.6 Total QBR when throwing play-action passes.

Now, let’s go back to last year. Brees complete 132 of 185 (71.4 percent) of his play-action passes for 1,583 yards. Each of those numbers led the NFL. Brees was also second with 14 touchdown passes and was intercepted only four times, while compiling an 81.8 Total QBR on play-action passes.

What’s the difference? I think it’s pretty obvious. The Saints haven’t been running the ball a lot, partly because they’ve often been playing from behind. Defenses aren’t taking their running game -- or at least the threat of their running game -- very seriously.

The other three NFC South quarterbacks have fared much better when it comes to play-action passing.

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan leads the NFL with an 85.7 completion percentage (24-of-28). He’s thrown for 259 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and his 95.4 Total QBR in those situations ranks third in the league.

Carolina’s Cam Newton has completed 23 of 31 (74.2 percent) of his play-action passes for 330 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a 73.4 Total QBR.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman has completed 60 percent (15-of-25) of his play-action passes for 165 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 69.3 Total QBR.