FLOWERY BRANCH — Cornerback Dunta Robinson is eager to prove the Atlanta Falcons were wise to guarantee him $22.5 million as a free agent six months ago.
There’s no better way to do so than to help Atlanta beat the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints and quarterback Drew Brees.
When the Falcons (1-1) visit New Orleans (2-0) on Sunday, Robinson will face Brees for the first time since 2004, when he was a rookie in Houston’s season opener and Brees played for San Diego.
Brees is 7-1 in eight games against the Falcons for 2,343 yards passing, 16 touchdowns and a 66.2 completion percentage.
“Any time you’re facing the absolute very best in the business, you’ve got to be happy because that’s your goal — to be the best,” Robinson said Thursday. “Drew is definitely one of those top tier quarterbacks in this league, and we definitely see it as a challenge.”
With the Texans, Robinson matched up twice a year against another of the league’s best quarterbacks — the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning — but Houston kept losing to one of the best passers in NFL history. A home defeat last Nov. 29 was the Texans’ 15th loss in 16 games with the Colts.
Manning is renowned for his uncanny ability to frustrate opponents by deflating pressure with quick passes. Falcons left end John Abraham says Brees, whose Saints upset Indianapolis in the Super Bowl, does the same.
To beat Brees, Abraham is adamant that hits are insufficient. Sacks are what count.
“The hits are good to a certain extent, but we want to get him erratic throwing the ball,” Abraham said. “With Drew Brees, the hits don’t really matter. I’m not saying the pressure is not going to help. We’ve just got to get him down.”
Brees’ protection is a big reason the Saints’ passing attack has succeeded so wildly since he signed as a free agent in 2006. Over the last four seasons, New Orleans’ 75 sacks allowed are second-fewest in the NFL.
Abraham believes it’s no coincidence the Saints won last season’s Super Bowl. They gave up just one sack.
Atlanta’s pass rush was efficient last week in a 41-7 win over Arizona, and Abraham says he and starting left end Kroy Biermann combined for 11 hits on quarterback Derek Anderson.
Anderson was sacked just twice, and Abraham is even less impressed that the Falcons caused 14 hurried passes.
“Yeah, that’s good for the game, but you’ve still got to get to the quarterback as a unit,” Abraham said. “We want to be an elite D-line. Not knocking anything we did. We played well.”
Atlanta, which has allowed just two touchdowns (both passing) this season, will rely on its weekly staple of a heavy personnel rotation. The wave of personnel subpackages usually works for Mike Smith, but the third-year Atlanta coach is 1-3 against the Saints.
Brees has been sacked a total of five times in the seven victories over Atlanta.
“You see them pressuring quite a bit, making a lot of plays,” Brees said. “They’ve always played a pretty aggressive style, and they’re flying around. Definitely we’re going to have to do a great job this week offensively of handling that pressure and just the overall execution on our part.”
Smith complimented New Orleans’ receiving corps as having four No. 1 receivers and a strong committee of tight ends and running backs that can hurt the Falcons’ pass defense, even with star running back Reggie Bush out because of injury.
Among Brees’ corps of wideouts and slot receivers, Marques Colston (size, hand strength), Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem (speed, evasiveness) and Lance Moore (quick inside target) create multiple matchup problems.
“I wouldn’t want to call any of those guys No. 2s and No. 3s,” Smith said. “They’re very talented, and I think that each one of them has a little bit of a different skill set in terms of what their strengths are.”
Notes: WR Michael Jenkins, out since early August with a shoulder injury, practiced for the second straight day. He and RB Michael Turner (groin) were limited in their participation. ... SS Erik Coleman (knee) did not practice.