Granted, it’s early, but Saints receiver Kenny Stills’ past two weeks have showcased performances which could catapult him into the next big target for Drew Brees.
While veteran receiver Marques Colston, and more recently, tight end Jimmy Graham have produced historical numbers under Brees in the Saints offense, Stills is the hot hand entering Sunday’s matchup against Carolina at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Two weeks ago, he caught eight passes for 98 yards in a losing effort against Baltimore. And Sunday, he continued his December to remember with five catches for a career-high 162 yards during a 35-32 upset win at Pittsburgh.
Stills’ timing was perfect for the Saints (5-7), who are missing rookie receiver sensation Brandin Cooks (out for the season with a broken thumb). Graham was held without a catch against the Steelers.
“When you have a great quarterback, he finds the guys that are open,” said Stills, passing much of the credit to Brees, who beforehand, passed it to Stills.
Stills now has 44 catches this season for a team-high 691 yards.
“He’s a guy that you don’t have to overcoach,” Brees said.
Brees also complimented Stills as a receiver that has the ability to adjust routes on paper into game-time situations.
Sounds like Colston, a ninth-year pro whose 66 TDs from Brees rank sixth all-time in the NFL’s quarterback-receiver combinations. Meanwhile, Brees-to-Graham (50 TDs) ranks third in just five seasons.
Stills has far to go to catch up — his 69-yard score at Pittsburgh marked his third of the season, the eighth of his two-year career.
“He’s someone who picks things up pretty quickly,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “His skill set (is good). Obviously, he’s a player that can run. His transition ability is important, the way he’s able to get in and out of cuts.”
Home sweet home?
The Saints are about to test just how sweet — or not — home is.
After losing three consecutive games at the Superdome (San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore), only to travel to Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field to end the losing skid, the Saints return to the city to host the Panthers.
“It gets back to playing good football, whether you’re on the road or at home,” Payton said. “I think that being able to do a lot of the little things we were able to do last week ... by the time game time comes, being able to play 100 miles an hour because you know what you’re doing. I think that, No. 1, is important.”
The November stretch was supposed to mark an opportunity for the Saints to take control of the NFC South. After all, they were undefeated at home last season and since 2008 rank behind only New England (48-6) and Baltimore (43-11) with a 40-14 home record.
NFC South rival Atlanta is second (39-16), followed by Pittsburgh (37-17).
Out of the spotlight
To Saints right tackle Zach Strief, the extremes of the NFL draw in more followers.
Either be a dominating team or an awful one.
Saints, with five wins, are in the middle, Strief said.
“If you’re terrible, that’s kind of fun for people to read,” he said. “You might be the hottest team in the NFL (and) that’s fun for people to read. Obviously, the reality is we’re neither of those things.”
But, still a team which should be taken seriously, said Carolina coach Ron Rivera.
“They’ve won five games. That’s who they are,” Rivera said Wednesday afternoon during a conference call with New Orleans-area media. “The truth of the matter (is) if you take them likely, you’re going to get beat. I’m not saying that’s what Pittsburgh did, but they beat a very good football team in Pittsburgh.”