Atlanta defenders face big challenge vs. Saints
Cornerback Brent Grimes knows the Atlanta defense must play a
nearly perfect game to have a chance against New Orleans’ explosive
“The odds are against us, obviously,” Grimes said Wednesday.
“They’re the No. 1 offense, but we’ve got a chance to make a
Unfortunately for Grimes and his teammates, the Falcons (6-6)
lead the NFL with 49 plays allowed of at least 20 yards. Opponents
are converting 46 percent of third downs, second-most in the
Facing quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints (12-0) on Sunday
seems to offer a worst-case scenario for a defense that’s managed
just two interceptions over a seven-week stretch – during which
Atlanta has lost five games.
It’s possible that Grimes, who had his only interception of the
season six weeks ago at the Louisiana Superdome, could start at
right cornerback if Chris Houston isn’t recovered from a strained
The Falcons also don’t know the status of rookie cornerback
Chris Owens, who started the last two games on the left side but
was limited in practice Wednesday because of a tender shoulder.
Brees completed 25 of 33 passes for 308 yards, two touchdowns
and one interception as the Saints beat Atlanta 35-27 in their
first meeting. The nine-year veteran, now in his fourth season with
New Orleans, leads the league with a 111.3 passer rating and 29
“We turned it over four times the first time we played them,”
Brees said. “We can’t do that again. There’s no doubt. I know we
need to be prepared and ready to handle their pressure packages.
They’ve been able to get after some teams and they’ve got some
pretty good pressures that obviously we’re going to need to be
ready for and have a plan for.”
The Falcons, however, have allowed 15 touchdowns in 22 red-zone
drives over the last five weeks, not encouraging numbers for coach
Equally troubling is Atlanta’s difficulty in not letting
offenses get outside of its defensive containment.
“When you’re in the middle of the field, (the defense has) more
players that can make the tackle,” said Smith, a former defensive
coordinator with Jacksonville. “I would say percentage wise more
plays on the perimeter go for longer yardage because there aren’t
as many players out there.
John Abraham, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has just 1.5
sacks since Week 1, and the Falcons have only 23 this season to tie
Carolina for third-fewest in the NFC.
Smith insists the defense can correct its mistakes. He refuses
to give opponents too much credit.
“Very rarely do you see a great throw and a great catch,” he
said. “It’s usually either a mental error, a missed tackle or poor
leverage. Those are the three things that contribute to an
explosive play. It’s something we’ve been working all season long,
trying to address, and something we haven’t gotten fixed.”
Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux believes Brees and his
receiving corps of Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert
Meachem, tight end Jeremy Shockey and running backs Pierre Thomas
and Reggie Bush will keep Atlanta moving from sideline to
New Orleans’ goal is to exhaust the Falcons long before the
start of the fourth quarter.
“That’s how most people game-plan us coming into it,”
Babineaux said. “We’ve done a good job stopping the run the last
few weeks, and I think teams are noticing that and going outside
the box to get the corners and safeties to tackle more. We’ve just
got to be disciplined in everything we do and keep the ball in
front of us.”
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.