Proud Patriots defense bracing for Brees

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Aqib Talib will be focused on Drew Brees.

The New Orleans quarterback likely won't be looking back at him, though.

"He's great at that. He'll never stare down a receiver and throw it straight to him," New England's cornerback said. "He's

going to look you off on screens and everything. He's going to do a great job with his eyes."

So, while Brees' right arm is responsible for setting a slew of NFL records and leading a New Orleans renaissance, it's his

eyes that have allowed that to happen.

The Patriots (4-1) will be prepared to defend against both weapons Sunday when Brees leads the Saints (5-0) into a showdown

against the AFC East leaders.

"He does a great job of looking guys off and understanding what defense you're in," Patriots safety Steve Gregory said, "and

trying to manipulate guys to move in certain directions so that he can open up some spaces for his receivers."

New England's defense this season already

has slowed some of the league's better quarterbacks. Atlanta's Matt Ryan

struggled

in a loss two weeks ago, and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton was held

without a touchdown pass last week while barely eclipsing 200

yards in the air.

But the league's second-ranked passing offense is a different animal.

Brees is a seven-time Pro Bowl standout, and is on pace for his third straight 5,000-yard season. He has thrown for 1,722

yards — second only to Denver's Peyton Manning — with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in guiding the Saints to their

best start since 2009.

That's also the last time these two teams met, a game the Patriots probably would like to forget.

Brees carved up New England's defense in a

38-17 victory Nov. 30, 2009, throwing for 371 yards and five touchdowns

while amassing

a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

"They definitely play at a high tempo. They like to get up to the ball and get things going quickly so we'll have to be ready

for that," Gregory said. "It's something that we see a lot with our offense practicing against those guys.

"So it's not something that's new to us, but we'll have to be ready for it."

Gregory has spent the past year-and-a-half trying to stop quarterback Tom Brady in practice, a skill that could help defend

against Brees' wandering eyes.

"A lot of guys have that ability to kind of look guys off and be real good with their eyes and their mannerisms and things

like that," Gregory said. "Drew's one of those guys. Tom's one of those guys."

Jimmy Graham, however, is as unique as they come.

Brees' favorite target has been virtually unstoppable this season. Graham, a tight end, has 37 receptions for a league-leading

593 yards and six touchdowns.

"He'll be a tough matchup just because they

use him in every way possible. You don't know where he's going to line

up each

play. He's outside, he's inside," safety Devin McCourty said. "I

think the biggest thing is just trying to compete with him.

There's going to be some balls that are going to be thrown to an

area that only he can catch, and we'll just have to try to

make it tough.

"He's a great player and we know Sunday he's going to make some of his plays. We've just got to make some of ours."

• NOTES: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, who has

been practicing in various capacities since the start of the regular

season, spoke

with the media Thursday but failed to shed any new light on his

status. "I'm improving every single week and just working

hard," Gronkowski said. "Obviously when I started at the

beginning, conditioning was pretty rough. But that's what practice

is for and working hard is for. Just improving every week, taking

it day by day and will be super excited when I get out there."

. Brady didn't throw a touchdown pass the last time he faced the

Saints. That has happened just four times in the past 69

regular-season games, including Sunday at Cincinnati. ... New

England has only defeated one team — the New York Jets (3-2)

— with a winning record.