Falcons ready for another tough matchup vs. Brees

Facing Drew Brees is never easy for the Atlanta Falcons.

New Orleans’ record-setting quarterback is 8-2 in the NFC South

rivalry and has put up some staggering numbers: 3,010 yards

passing, a 68.1 completion percentage and 20 touchdowns.

”I really don’t think there’s anything to stopping him. I would

say slowing him down is the key,” Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton

said. ”He’s a very special player.”

Sunday’s home matchup could be one of Atlanta’s toughest against

Brees now that new running back Darren Sproles complements an

already talented group of receivers.

The Saints rank at or near the top of nearly every NFL offensive

category, including a league-high 44 possessions in the red zone

and an overall scoring average that ranks second.

”Sproles is a big factor in the red zone because he’s a fast

guy,” defensive end John Abraham said. ”They use screens and a

lot of things to get him the ball. You would think the rookie (Mark

Ingram) would be doing stuff in there, but you see Sproles in the

red zone really getting a lot of touches.”

Brees is having one of the best seasons of his remarkable

career. He is the first NFL passer with 3,000 yards in the first

nine games of a season and has thrown a TD pass in 36 straight

games to tie Brett Favre for the league’s second-longest

streak.

”The thing is when we get to him we’ve got to get him down,”

said Abraham, a four-time Pro Bowl selection. ”He’ll throw the

ball in any situation. He’ll flip in the backfield. He’ll do a lot

of different things to get the ball out of his hands. We’ve got to

wrap him up when we get to him.”

Sproles’ numbers are impressive, too. After spending his first

six seasons with San Diego, Sproles leads the NFL with 9,759

all-purpose yards since 2007. He’s on pace to break New Orleans’

single-season record for a running back (Reggie Bush had 88 catches

for 742 yards in 2006).

At 5-foot-6, 190 pounds, Sproles zips through the backfield as

elusively as he runs through coverage units on special teams. His

1,499 all-purpose yards lead the NFL this season.

For Lofton, it was already hard enough trying to defend a New

Orleans scheme that includes tight end Jimmy Graham, running back

Pierre Thomas and receivers Marques Colston, Devery Henderson,

Robert Meachem and Lance Moore.

Brees doesn’t give a defense much time to attack the pocket.

”He sets (his feet) short and gets the ball out of his hand

quick, so our pass rush is going to have to get there and knock him

off point,” Lofton said. ”We may not get sacks, but we can’t let

him sit back there and have all that time. We’ve got to mix up our

coverages. It can’t just be sitting ducks for him.”

Abraham believes the Falcons (5-3) have improved their tackling

since starting the season poorly. They can’t afford to be

fundamentally weak against the Saints (6-3).

”Even in the playoff loss (last season) against Green Bay, we

were blitzing,” Abraham said. ”We just weren’t getting them down,

and I think it ended up biting us in a big way. This year I think

people are a lot more confident blitzing and I think they

understand what they have to do.”

Defending the Saints on third down will be critical. New

Orleans’ 55.7 percentage ranks second in the league. Atlanta’s

defense ranks 24th.

Lofton knows how important it is to avoid getting frustrated.

The Falcons’ defensive captain estimates that Atlanta had 10 free

runs at Brees in a Week 16 home defeat last season, finishing with

just one sack.

There was some satisfaction in causing Brees to throw two

interceptions, but not nearly enough.

”We definitely want to get him a little antsy back there,”

Lofton said. ”He has a tendency to move around and extend plays.

Sometimes that works out for him and sometimes it’s been good for

us. We definitely want to keep that going this year. He’s an

elusive guy. Then again, Sproles is, too. It’s going to be a tough

matchup, but we’re a confident team right now.”