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Saints position spotlight: Quarterbacks

With the New Orleans Saints coming off their bye week, I’ll be taking a position-by-position look at the roster over the next few days, starting with the quarterback.

Snaps played: Drew Brees 368

Key stats: Brees 150 of 218 (68.8 percent), 1,574 yards, 9 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 91.8 passer rating, 64.2 Total QBR

My take: We’ve dissected Brees quite a bit over the past week after he had his worst performance of the season in a 37-31 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But as I’ve continued to stress, I don’t see any real signs of regression with Brees at age 35.

Brees was actually extremely sharp during the first four weeks of the season, even in the loss at Dallas. He led all full-time quarterbacks in completion percentage through four games, and he’s been outstanding at moving the chains on third downs -- including many third-and-long situations.

Brees’ biggest problem against Tampa Bay was throwing interceptions when he tried to force throws under pressure. But that’s something that’s always been one of his few flaws, so it wasn’t necessarily a red flag.

The one element, though, that has started to disappear from the Saints’ offense is the downfield passing game. As I’ve written, I don’t believe it’s a matter of declining arm strength. But it’s a combination of many legitimate concerns going forward (the way defenses have started covering the Saints, receivers not getting enough separation, inconsistent pass protection against Tampa Bay, Brees admittedly needing to get back his rhythm and comfort level with those throws).

That’s the one area where Brees and the entire Saints’ offense need to show the most improvement going forward, especially if tight end Jimmy Graham is out for a significant period of time with a shoulder injury.

ESPN scouting Insider Matt Williamson’s take: “I guess if we were to give grades, I’d give him a B. It’s below his usual standards, but I still think he’s playing better than the league average quarterback. I’m not seeing greatness out of him this year. I’m not starting to think that he’s at the end or anything. I just think it hasn’t gone his way and his receivers haven’t helped him as much, and the defense hasn’t helped as much. But I guess it’s time to wonder if maybe he’s starting to decline slightly.”

On whether he’s seen any decline in arm strength: “I would probably have to study it more. I know they’re struggling to complete the deep ball, but that doesn’t mean [arm strength]. If he loads up and he throws the deep ball, he can throw the ball a long distance. I don’t think that’s the problem with the deep game. I haven’t seen a ton of true arm-strength throws, though -- the deep outs into tight windows where you’ve really gotta zip it. But he was never a huge-arm guy.”