Atlanta secondary hopes to limit Brees’ damage

A week after manhandling Jacksonville rookie Blaine Gabbert, the

Falcons will try to contain Drew Brees and the New Orleans

Saints.

Nothing comes easily for Atlanta against Brees.

The Saints have won six straight, including a 26-23 overtime

victory over the Falcons five weeks ago. It came as no surprise

that Brees played a nearly flawless game, improving to 9-2 in the

NFC South rivalry with 3,332 yards passing and 22 touchdowns.

Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes, who picked off Brees’ pass in

Atlanta’s overtime win last year at New Orleans, understands the

difficulties of defending his loaded receiving corps.

”He throws to everybody on the field, but he tends to go to

mostly to (tight end Jimmy) Graham, (receiver Marques) Colston and

(running back Darren) Sproles, so it’s hard to focus on one guy,”

Grimes said. ”That’s part of what makes them a great

offense.”

Brees stands 305 yards shy of breaking Dan Marino’s NFL

single-single passing record (5,084 yards in 1984) and needs 220

yards to reach 5,000 for the second time in his career. Brees can

become just the second quarterback to pass that number twice.

As a matter of pride, Atlanta free safety Thomas DeCoud wants to

keep Brees from breaking the single-season mark against his

team.

”You’ll see the highlight reels for the rest of your life,”

DeCoud said. ”For us to be successful, it’s just staying

consistent, knowing what they’re going to and realizing they’re a

concept offense. They’re going to give you the same concept, but

just with different looks and window dressing, so we have to stay

disciplined.”

Though the Falcons earned a narrow win last year at New Orleans,

Brees and coach Sean Payton have beaten Atlanta in six of the last

meetings in the Superdome. A victory by the Saints, who are 11-3

and have wrapped up a playoff spot, would give them the NFC South

title. The Falcons (9-5) are still fighting to get in the

postseason.

Strong safety William Moore likes Atlanta’s chances now that

Grimes, an alternate Pro Bowl pick last season, is returning from a

three-game absence following minor surgery on his right knee.

”He’s a leader in our secondary right now,” Grimes said.

”It’s going to be huge having him back. (Dominique) Franks did a

great job of stepping in recently, but it’s great having Grimes

back because we can rotate a lot of defensive backs.”

Moore will draw plenty of assignments against Graham, New

Orleans’ leading receiver. In the Saints’ Week 10 victory at the

Georgia Dome, Graham had two drops, but he stayed patient and ended

the game with seven catches for 82 yards and one touchdown.

”It’s going to be a big challenge for me this week, especially

for me having to go man-to-man a lot against him,” Moore said.

”I’m going to have my hands full all night.”

Atlanta has built a tough reputation of stopping the run first

and using lots of zone coverage against the pass. The Saints rank

eighth in rushing, and Atlanta ranks fourth, but the Falcons’

formula wasn’t good enough in the last game.

The Falcons held New Orleans, the NFL’s statistical leader in

several offensive categories, to just 41 yards on just 16 rushing

attempts, yet lost the game.

”We have to stay disciplined and also remember it’s a 60-minute

game,” DeCoud said. ”With an offense this good, you’re going to

have to play for the full four quarters and overtime if

necessary.”

Grimes says the Atlanta defense has moved past the residual

disappointment from five weeks ago, when head coach Mike Smith

decided in overtime to run on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons 29.

Michael Turner was stopped for no gain, and John Kasay’s 26-yard

field goal gave New Orleans the win.

Had Smith decided instead to punt, the Atlanta defense could

have had a chance to stop the Saints in their territory.

Then again, that’s no easy task.

”We know coach Smith believes in us, but he also believes in

our offense,” Grimes said. ”He rolled the dice, and we came up

short, but it wasn’t one play the decided the game. You can also

say that had we stopped them at some point earlier in the game, we

never would’ve gotten to point, but Drew Brees and his receivers

are a big reason for that.”