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.”