Saints quarterback Drew Brees. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, November 02, 2013 6:14 PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Rex Ryan said he expects his defense to be a lot better this weekend.
The Jets have to be, the coach insisted. Otherwise, Ryan could imagine Drew Brees throwing for 700 yards against them today for the New Orleans Saints.
He was kidding. Sort of.
“He’s an amazing guy, just the consistency,” Ryan said. “It is almost taken for granted. His numbers are historic that he puts up.
“Man, I was hoping he wasn’t going to make the trip.”
Sorry, Rex. No chance. But Brees did laugh when told of Ryan’s warning.
“Obviously,” Brees said, “that’s a slight exaggeration.”
Well, last week, the Jets (4-4) gave up 325 yards passing and five touchdowns to Andy Dalton in a 49-9 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Meanwhile, Brees threw for 332 yards and five TDs — two each to Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills — while connecting with 10 receivers as the Saints (6-1) rolled to a 35-17 victory over Buffalo.
“Here’s the thing, for us we just want to be efficient, and so it doesn’t matter the yards or anything else,” Brees said. “We have high expectations for ourselves, for this offense.”
The Saints’ defense also has been markedly better than last season, when it ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed and considered by some, statistically, the worst in league history. With Rob Ryan, Rex’s twin, now the defensive coordinator, New Orleans is 12th overall.
It’s a job that has impressed Rex and added a little extra spice to an already competitive sibling rivalry.
“You know Rob wants to beat his brother,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “I don’t think he just wants to beat him. He wants to destroy his brother. I think he’ll be geeked up for this week and I think Rex, he feels the same way.”
Here are five things to watch for as the Saints come to town to take on the Jets:
After last week’s performance, Brees is on pace to hit at least 5,000 yards and 40 TDs for a third consecutive season, something that’s never been done.
Brees is the only player to do it twice in a row.
Despite all that, and the fact that his 35,861 yards passing and 263 TDs since joining the Saints in 2006 lead the NFL during that span, there are still some who don’t immediately think of Brees when mentioning the league’s best quarterbacks.
“Well, that’s for you to say and you to write and not me,” Brees said. “I’m just trying to do my job and be as consistent as I can and continue to improve.”
In order to stop Brees, the Jets will need to be a lot better than they have been lately on the back end of the defense.
Once a strength of the team, New York’s secondary has become mediocre at best. Darrelle Revis not being there is a big factor, but so is the subpar play of Antonio Cromartie and the shoddy performance by first-rounder Dee Milliner, who has been benched twice this season.
“Clearly, we have to do a heck of a lot better of a job than we did this past week,” Ryan said.
It has been a roller-coaster season for rookie Geno Smith, and that has led to the win one/lose one trend that has marked the Jets’ results.
Smith has shown flashes of brilliance in some games, but has looked every bit a player in need of seasoning in others. The second-round pick has eight touchdown passes and 13 interceptions, third most in the NFL and just two behind leader Eli Manning of the Giants. He has also been sacked 28 times, second most in the league.
Including college teams they’ve coached on, Rex owns a 6-3 advantage over Rob.
Since Rex became the Jets’ head coach in 2009, he has beaten Rob-coached defenses twice: 26-20 over Cleveland in 2010, and 27-24 over Dallas in 2011.
“We are going to try and beat each other’s brains in and you want to have your hand raised in victory at the end of the game,” Rex said. “That’s the most important thing.”
As good as the Saints have been throwing the ball, their running game has struggled.
New Orleans ranks 25th in the NFL with 85.3 yards a game. Darren Sproles has been far more productive in the short passing game than as a rusher, and Pierre Thomas only narrowly has more yards rushing (253) than receiving (224).
The offensive line hasn’t opened the holes, and also hasn’t protected Brees consistently. He was sacked four times last week and 18 times in seven games this season — compared to 26 times all of 2012.