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Slowing Brees Ultimate Litmus Test for Falcons Defense

By the numbers, the Atlanta defense is on the rise. Since the bye week, they've given up just 18.2 points per game in five games. That's more than 10 points per game less than they were surrendering before the bye. That unit has also been coming up with game changing turnovers and sacks at a higher rate during that stretch.

But that growth will face a stern test this weekend. Atlanta's defense will face the most potent offense they've seen … since they played the Saints.

Veteran QB Drew Brees has the Saints scoring 29 points per game, second only to the Falcons. And they're efficient. New Orleans is completing a league-best 49 percent of their third downs. Brees is leading the league in passing yards (4,858) and trails only Aaron Rodgers in touchdown passes (35).

Brees has been getting it done largely because he is able to spread the ball around. The Saints have three wide receivers with over 800 yards this season: Brandin Cooks leads all receivers with 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns, Michael Thomas has 82 receptions for 981 yards and eight touchdowns and Willie Snead has 69 receptions for 813 yards and four touchdowns.

So what will the Falcons defense need to do to slow down the Saints?

"It all starts up front," Allen said. "Drew can be as good as he can be, but if he doesn't have time to be as good as he can be, it's tough. If he doesn't have time to go through his second and third reads because the defensive line is doing a really good job and we are disguising it a little bit and jumping his routes he's trying to go to, it's tough."

In the first meeting between these teams, the Falcons came out on top, despite Brees throwing for 376 yards and three touchdowns. In that contest, Atlanta's defense was able to turn an interception into seven points. And they got pressure on Brees, sacking him twice in Week 3.

In addition to getting pressure on Brees, Allen said sound tackling will be an emphasis, especially with how well New Orleans is on third down.

"We are going to minimize yards after the catch," Allen said. "We are going to minimize them getting vertical on us. No missed tackles. That's when our tackling plan comes to life. They aren't always going to throw it to get first downs, so when you make those tackles, you make them count on second and third downs. First down, when they are trying to run the ball, you want to keep them long."

From the last matchup with the Saints to now, the Falcons are playing much faster on defense, an advantage when facing an offense with as many weapons as the Saints possess.

"We know for us the communication has to be on point," head coach Dan Quinn said of the improved communication on defense. "They've got a huge playbook so for us to know our communication better be right to allow us to play at max speed. I think we're a lot better version of ourselves because of the communication."

Over the past five weeks, Atlanta's defensive surge, to complement their high-scoring offense, has been a key reason many now see them as a stronger contender heading into the playoffs.

And Brees and Co. could be the ultimate litmus test for how far this team can go.

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