Drew Brees back at QB for Week 4

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints plan to start Drew Brees on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, coach Sean Payton said Friday.

"I think he's planning on it, and I think we're planning on starting him based on the workweek and the reps," Payton said. "He's thrown well. I thought he looked sharp today."

Asked whether there is anything that could get in the way of Brees starting, Payton said, "No, just like I said, he's taking the reps, he looks good."

Brees told ESPN's Ed Werder on Saturday that he believes his passing shoulder is healthy, that he's capable of making every throw necessary for his team to succeed and that he's not putting his health at risk by starting Sunday night's game against the Cowboys in the Superdome.

The Saints listed Brees as probable on their injury report.

"Each day you just pay attention to how he's functioning. He looked crisp today. So I think he's gonna end up starting," Payton said. "Based on the way the week unfolded, each day I felt like he has made the progress we were looking for. Deep balls and all that stuff. So it was good."

Brees missed Sunday's game at Carolina because of a bruised right rotator cuff suffered in Week 2 -- the first time he had missed a game with an injury since high school.

But Brees made steady progress all week, starting with a visit to Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama, and continuing with regular practice reps each day.

Brees said Tuesday was the turning point for his right shoulder. In detailing his injury for the first time, Brees said he injured two muscles in his rotator cuff and another in the shoulder capsule against the Buccaneers. He underwent an MRI after the Tampa Bay game that revealed the injuries and went to Andrews' facility Monday for a full evaluation and an intense rehab session there with physical therapist Kevin Wilk, who has worked with Brees for more than a decade.

"Basically what the doctor told me was the cuff muscles at times will just shut down if they're inflamed," Brees told Werder. "They're basically telling the body, 'I'm injured. I need time to heal, I'm not going to work until the inflammation goes away.' It wasn't a pain thing. I mean, it hurt, but that wasn't the issue. It was just functionality. I did strength exercises all last week. The tough part was with the balance between resting it, getting the inflammation out of it and, at the same time, strengthening it."

Not only is Brees expected back, but defenders Jairus Byrd, Keenan Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe also could make their 2015 debuts Sunday. Only guard Jahri Evans was ruled out for the second straight week with a knee injury, while the rest of the team was listed as no worse than probable.

The Saints hope Brees' return can provide a much-needed boost to a team that has started 0-3 this season and has lost six straight games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said backup quarterback Luke McCown was "fantastic" last week in a 27-22 loss at Carolina, "but there's a reason that Drew is who he is."

"You want your best guys in the game ... especially in a game that obviously is important for us because we can't keep losing," Strief said.

Payton and Brees have both insisted that the quarterback wouldn't play if he didn't have the strength and functionality needed to make every throw. So Brees is not expected to be limited to shorter throws.

But New Orleans' offense has struggled to get the ball downfield all season, with Brees and McCown in the lineup.

The Saints have only three passing plays of 25 yards or more this season. Their passers are completing just 18.2 percent of attempts thrown 20-plus yards downfield this season with zero touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Information from ESPN's Ed Werder was used in this report.