KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs passed tests from Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Derek Carr with mixed results, but the toughest examination for coach Andy Reid’s pass defense takes place Sunday against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, leader of the league’s top aerial assault.
“I don’t have enough good things to say about him,” Reid said speaking of Brees. “He’s a phenomenal player. Works at the profession – he’s relentless that way.
The Chiefs (3-2) hosts the Saints (2-3) for a noon kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium, with sky-high potential for offensive fireworks.
Brees already holds four seasons with more than 5,000 yards passing – equal to the number posted by all other NFL quarterbacks in history combined – and remains on pace for a fifth. The Chiefs defense sports credentials of its own. Ballhawking cornerback Marcus Peters leads the NFL in interceptions with five, and the team possesses the second-longest active streak of holding opponents under 300 yards passing at 17 games.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson likened strategizing against Brees to a game of poker, playing close to the vest and avoiding tells that let Brees pick a part a defense.
“You’ve got to have plan for him,” Johnson said. “And execute it. Everybody has to do their job really good. If not, he’s going to find the weak link, and if you’re the weak link, he’s going to go to it and exploit it.”
That Brees continues piling up passing yards in his 16th season at age 37 impresses on its own. Yet his trio of young wide receivers combined have fewer than six NFL seasons under their belt.
Third-year veteran Brandin Cooks, sophomore Willie Snead and rookie Michael Thomas provide Brees with one of the most athletic receiving corps in the league.
“I love these guys, their work ethic and their attention to detail,” Brees said. “The bottom line is that all these guys want to be great players and they’re willing to do whatever they need to do to get to that level.”
Perhaps most frightening for the Chiefs and future Saints opponents, Brees believes the group improves week-by-week.
“The thing of it is, we’re still growing as a group,” Brees said. “Little by little we’re still chipping away at it and we’re starting to enjoy some of the fruits of that labor with guys making plays.”
The weakness of the Saints, however, lies in their lack of execution in the run game. While the offense averages 335.2 passing yards and 31 points per game, the Saints rank 29th running the ball with a meager 78 yards per game.
Brees would like to see his offense more balanced, finding a way to get the running game going.
“We also want to be efficient when we’re doing it,” Brees said. “When we are running the ball, we want to be getting four, five or six yards when we do go that route. We don’t want to be getting two or three yards a carry.”
The Chiefs best defense against Brees and the Saints maybe a good offense. Last week the Chiefs stymied a high-octane Oakland Raiders offense by keeping it off the field, controlling the ball with a ground-and-pound attack.
The Saints remain susceptible to the same strategy. The Saints defense allows the 419.4 yards per game, the second most in the league behind the Raiders.
Saints coach Sean Payton remains wary of Reid’s offensive game planning and quarterback Alex Smith’s ability to execute it.
“He’s got great control of their offense though, and he’s an extremely accurate passer,” Payton said of Smith. “He can get the ball downfield, he can move, he can run and he does all those things you look for in a quarterback.”
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and the Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.