Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan knows that his revamped unit faces a difficult task in the opener against the New Orleans Saints and star quarterback Drew Brees at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Brees has been a Falcons-killer since joining the Saints in 2006 after playing five seasons in San Diego.
Brees is 13-4 all-time against the Falcons. He has thrown for 5,140 yards and 34 touchdowns against them.
“Drew is a great quarterback,” Nolan said. “He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback. He obviously hasn’t been voted in, but there is no question the guy is going in. He’s awesome. He’s a great one to compete against. If you’re a competitor, that’s who you want to go against. I think our players feel the same way.”
The Falcons have dropped the last two games against the Saints. They beat the Saints 23-13 on Nov. 29, 2012 when Brees threw a career-high five interceptions.
The Falcons elected to mix up their coverages and that seemed to work. They’ve had very little success blitzing Brees.
“He’s very good at recognizing the blitz and getting rid of the ball,” Nolan said. “He’s good at avoiding the sack in the pocket. He does a lot of things that the great ones do. We have our work cut out for us more than a typical week.”
The Saints beat the Falcons 23-17 last season in New Orleans to open the season and 17-13 on Nov. 21, 2013 at the Georgia Dome.
“We face him twice a year and our guys know him, he knows us,” Nolan said. “The challenge is there not only from a scheme standpoint, but from a player standpoint. When it gets right down to it, the players are the ones who want to make the plays and have to make them.”
Brees’ pass protection is stout, while the Falcons are trying to improve their pass rush.
“The first thing that comes to mind is that their two guards are two of the better guards in the league,” Nolan said. “So, they also know how important it is to protect the middle of the pocket. They do an outstanding job of that. I know they have a new center. He’s an experienced player and very good.”
Brees is listed as being 6-foot tall, but doesn’t have any trouble finding his receivers down the field.
“He does have a knack for finding the lanes,” Nolan said. “Any good quarterback will tell you that they see through the lanes. They are not going to see over a 6-5 guy, they never do. They kind of look in the lanes. It does help to be a little taller to get the vision, but it doesn’t seem to have affected Drew very much because he finds it.”
The awareness of his route-combination is also superb.
“I think part of that is knowing how every play is going to develop,” Nolan said. “He knows where guys are going to be. He doesn’t have to look over the field to find the open guy. I that he knows that guy is going to be up the rail, that guy is up the numbers and that guy is up the hash. He just goes from one to the next and when that lane opens, he can see it.”