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Production expected to increase for Tre'Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints receivers

'Historically...a lot of different guys have been involved in the passing game'

2018 Season Saints 21 - Browns 18 Saints 1-1 in 2018 Regular Season New Orleans Saints 2018 Season Michael C. Hebert

To point out the obvious, the numbers in the passing game for the New Orleans Saints heavily have been tilted toward receiver Michael Thomas in the first two games.

Thomas has 28 catches, the most in NFL history after two games, while accounting for 43 percent of Drew Brees' 65 completions. He has 13 more catches than his nearest teammate, running back Alvin Kamara, 19 more than the nearest receiver (Ted Ginn Jr.) and 16 more than the rest of the receivers have combined.

Coach Sean Payton believes the numbers will adjust, and that the production of players like rookie Tre'Quan Smith (one catch for 18 yards) will increase as the season progresses. Smith was a standout during training camp and preseason.

"(Smith is) playing well and what I mean by that, practicing well, training camp – we've got to find ways to get him more touches," Payton said Wednesday morning. "He's handling our installation, he knows what we're doing gameplan-wise and I think he's ready to prove that.

"A lot of that just comes by, A, design (and) B, opportunities where the coverage or the play design puts the ball toward him. That's one of the things that we've got to keep building on."

Brees has had more time to develop chemistry with Thomas, Ginn and others, but he was able to work with Smith, the Saints' third-round draft pick, before and during training camp.

"I think part of it is just, here we are two weeks in and some of the things we've done, relative to the first two weeks, I think that you're going to see those numbers change some," Payton said. "Historically, offensively with Drew, a lot of different guys have been involved in the passing game and I think that'll be the same case this year."

SEARCHING FOR THE RIGHT MIX: The linebacker rotation has been fluid through two games. It, too, should settle soon, Payton said. "Early in the season, one of the challenges is sorting through the snaps and the exact roles for that position, and I'm kind of going through the same thing relative to some of the receiver snaps. And hopefully, quicker than later, it'll begin to become clearer.

"And it's not like it's an ongoing competition – we're always competing – but it's trying to package your personnel groupings that you think give you best chance to win. So you saw a little difference from Week 1 to Week 2, some of that might be predicated on the type of team that we're getting ready to see. But I do think it's something that is not uncommon at the start of the season as team begin to start play, where you're trying to figure out the balance of what you're doing with your tight ends (for example), and specifically to a couple of positions."

WOUNDED BIRDS: The Falcons will be without two of their best defensive players for Sunday's game in Atlanta. Safety Keanu Neal, a Pro Bowler last season, tore his ACL in the season opener and is out for the season. And linebacker Deion Jones, a New Orleans native and former LSU standout who also was a Pro Bowler in 2017, injured his foot in the season opener and was placed on injured reserve, with the expectation that he will return later this season.

Jones especially has been a thorn for the Saints. Three of his seven career interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and eight of his 23 passes defensed have come against the Saints.

"Those are two real good players, and extremely competitive guys," Payton said. "I think that to (Atlanta coach) Dan (Quinn's) credit, and (defensive coordinator) Marquand (Manuel) and those guys on their staff, they coach a real high-energy defense, when you watch them pursue and get to the ball. They'll play a lot of single-safety, it's the same package from a design standpoint that you've seen on film.

"And I think that players need to understand the coverage structure, both in the running game and the passing game. But those are two good players. When you watch them, though, they played Carolina very well last week."


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