Falcons know they can't afford mistakes against Brees

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are ready to prove they aren’t defenseless against New Orleans quarterback Drew


Since Brees joined the Saints in 2006, Atlanta is 2-10 in the NFC South series, and the Falcons know why.

Brees hasn’t just beaten Atlanta with his right arm. His footwork, field vision and game preparation are just as lethal.

“That’s why we’ve got to finish plays,” Falcons safety William Moore said. “That’s the biggest thing. You will think the play’s

over, and Drew will step up and hit something big.”

Maybe when the Falcons (8-0) visit New Orleans (3-5) on Sunday, Atlanta will have a better chance at success now that Mike

Nolan is their first-year defensive coordinator.

Atlanta has lost three straight in the series, and its blowout loss in Week 16 last December at the Superdome was one reason

the Falcons weren’t exactly disappointed when Nolan’s predecessor, Brian VanGorder, left for Auburn.

Nolan, in his 14th year as an NFL coordinator, said Brees not only has great players around him, but that the record-setting

quarterback is also blessed with an elite intangible — pocket presence.

Nolan said he respects Brees’ innate ability to avoid sacks and pressure by knowing which way the pocket is moving while keeping

his eyes downfield.

“Whether it’s to step up or move to the left or the right and to avoid it when a guy’s coming, he’s not looking at you,” Nolan said. “The good ones look down the field. They’re not thinking about all the stuff going on around them, but

they have an ability to kind of move where the pocket allows them to stay alive. He does a great job with that.”

This season started out tough for Brees in the pocket. With head coach Sean Payton suspended for the season and unable to

help New Orleans correct its protection problems, Brees was sacked an uncharacteristically high 12 times in the first five


During the last three games, however, Brees has been sacked a combined three times. Not surprisingly, the Saints have won

two of three.

Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan

Babineaux is planning on Sunday’s matchup being as tough as any

Atlanta’s defense will face.

He remembers a 2010 loss at the Georgia Dome in which the Falcons

had 10 free runs at Brees, but finished with just one sack.

“His pocket presence is better than most quarterbacks we’ve faced this year, so it will be a challenge for us and particularly

our young guys, Babineaux said. “Our hands are going to be full.”

Under Nolan, Atlanta is hardly

conventional with its schemes, dropping defensive ends deep in coverage,

using a four-man front

with three defensive tackles, moving four-time Pro Bowl end John

Abraham from side to side and deploying disguised blitzes.

Despite his numbers in 12 series games — eight 300-yard games and 10 games with at least two touchdowns — Brees said he expects

to see some different looks from the Falcons.

“Even though it’s a new system, everybody does their offseason study,” Brees said. “They might acquire a guy here and there

that brings a different strength. You definitely can see some new twists to what they’re doing. They’re playing extremely


In winning their third straight over Atlanta last December, the Saints kept Brees on the field in the fourth quarter of a

blowout victory at the Superdome. By finishing the game, Brees set the NFL single-season record for yards passing.

Far worse for the Falcons was getting knocked out the division race. They had to settle for a wild-card playoff berth and

were crushed two weeks later at the New York Giants.

DeCoud said Atlanta won’t focus on the

past. There’s too much at stake, particularly having to cover New

Orleans’ route combinations

in which they might send Devery Henderson and Lance Moore deep,

send Graham over the middle, have Colston on a slant pattern

and running back Pierre Thomas ready for a screen or short pass in

the flats.

“On first and second down, they’ll try a

tricky play-action and steal something over the top, but then on third

down they

get into their concepts,” DeCoud said. “If you study enough film —

and even games that aren’t in our breakdown of what we’re

given this week — you can get a feel for what they’re going to


But just because they know what’s coming doesn’t necessarily help the Falcons.

“Our hands are going to be full,” Babineaux said. “We just have to make sure we wrap up. He’s very slick. He can move around

and get away from a lot of pressure. We’ve got to make sure when we’re there that we wrap up and get that sack.”