New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is torching any defense that jumps in front of him.
The Falcons (4-6) are set to face Brees and the streaking Saints (9-1) at 8:20 p.m. Thursday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Brees and the Saints lead the NFL in scoring a 37.8 points per game and have scored at least 40 points in six of 10 games this season. After losing their season opener, they’ve ripped off nine consecutive victories.
“He’s the maestro, and the maestro does a great job of performing under pressure,” Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel said.
In the teams’ previous meeting, the Saints prevailed over the Falcons 43-37 in overtime Sept. 23. The Saints amassed 534 yards and were playing without power running back Mark Ingram. He’s since been reinstated from his suspension, and the Saints’ offense has continued to roll.
“Ingram has come back and has given them great balance,” Manuel said. “That allows Drew to be who he is. (Alvin) Kamara plays the role of a back who can do everything. He’s really a receiver that he hands it off to.”
The Falcons’ defense has given up an 100-yard rusher in the each of the past two games. The unit must do a better job against Ingram after allowing Cleveland’s Nick Chubb 176 yards and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott to run for 122 yards.
“It’s a challenge,” Manuel said. “The guys just have to be (ready) and understand that they are going to make some plays. They are hot right now.”
The Saints are coming off a 48-7 plastering of the defending Super Bowl-champion Eagles. They beat the Bengals 51-14 in the previous week.
When Brees has his running game rolling, he’s free to find wide receiver Michael Thomas. The Eagles took Thomas away with a double coverage, according to Saints coach Sean Payton, and Brees just moved the ball around to wide receivers Tre’Quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr and tight end Dan Arnold.
“It’s real tough,” Falcons defensive end Brooks Reed said about facing Brees. “It’s extremely challenging. We’re up to the task. We are definitely up for the challenge. We look forward to the quick turnaround given the outcome of our last game.”
Reed agrees that the Saints’ offense starts off with Ingram and Kamara.
“That’s a nice one-two punch that they have, with Ingram being more downhill and in between the tackles,” Reed said. “Both are involved in the screen game. Kamara is more of guy who’ll try to get to the edge, get outside and get in space. We definitely have to get hats to the ball.”
The Falcons had one sack and two quarterback hits in the previous meeting with the Saints. Brees has been sacked only nine times this season. A total of 35 quarterbacks have been sacked more times that Brees.
“That’s always hard,” Reed said of sacking Brees. “They do a lot of check-downs. A lot of their offense is quick-game and play-action. They disguise everything really well.”
Brees’ arsenal of offensive weapons doesn’t allow for the pass rush to getting into a rhythm.
“It’s always tough to get a good beat before the snap to really know what’s going on,” Reed said. “That’s going to be a big factor in this game is if we can get to him affect him and get him moving a little bit.”
Once the Saints get into their rhythm, they’ve been unstoppable.
“We have to get them off their timing a little bit, that really makes a difference,” Reed said.
Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley had two sacks against the Cowboys. His other sack this season was against the Saints.
“We’ll be ready,” Beasley said. “They are a good team, but we’ll be ready.”
Beasley wasn’t real excited about his two-sack performance Sunday.
“That was nice, but I would have rather had the win,” Beasley said of his team’s 22-19 loss against the Cowboys.
Defensive end Bruce Irvin had his snaps increase against Dallas from 14 to 24. He was with the Raiders when the Falcons played the Saints earlier in the season.
“It just didn’t turn out to be a game that we featured as much of our nickel package as we usually do,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “The last game it felt better to get him more involved in the game. He now knows some of the guys and how to flow with the players, that’s a big part of it.
“It’s nice having him here, that’s for sure to have three guys to rotate in at the end, we can use them all together or packages. We’re getting more familiar with that as we get going.”
The Saints also use some unconventional formations and move backup quarterback Taysom Hill all over the offense.
“It’s like facing Percy Harvin,” Manuel said. “He’s just a bigger version.”