One of the accepted givens for the New Orleans Saints defense entering this season was that it would receive standout play from a cornerback who was a native New Orleanian, that that player often would lock up against the opposing team's best receiver and smother the threat more often than not.
The given was not that the cornerback would be Delvin Breaux.
But with fellow New Orleans native Keenan Lewis battling to return to form, and the lineup, from hernia surgery – after Lewis served as the Saints' top cornerback the previous two seasons – Breaux snatched the baton and hasn't broken stride while emerging arguably as the Saints' best cover corner.
"I think the one area that we're better at from a year ago, significantly, is at that corner position," Coach Sean Payton said. "We've got depth, we've got guys that cover.
"We drafted two players (Damian Swann and P.J. Williams), we signed a player (Brandon Browner) and then all of a sudden a guy like Delvin comes to you on a workout from the CFL and now, the way he's playing – his instincts, his smarts, he can run, he's got exceptional ball skills – that just becomes a big plus. I think that's a position of strength right now and I don't know that we'd say that a year ago."
Two games ago, when the defense called for man-to-man coverage against Atlanta superstar Julio Jones, Breaux drew the assignment. Last Sunday, when the alignment called for a shadow of Indianapolis Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton, Breaux was on the case.
And Sunday, when the Saints (3-4) look to win their third consecutive game and to even their record with a victory over the New York Giants (4-3) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Breaux likely will match wits, skills and steps with New York's Odell Beckham Jr., a New Orleans native who starred at LSU and was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games.
Entering Sunday, Beckham has 42 catches for 524 yards and four touchdowns.
And Breaux will have another opportunity to square off against a receiver that he previously watched play when he wasn't in the NFL, having spent the previous two seasons in the Canadian Football League and years prior to that in the Arena Football League and the Gridiron Developmental Football League.
"I watched them – Julio for a couple of years, Odell last year," Breaux said. "It's crazy that I get to actually go against these guys week in and week out."
It's not so crazy that Breaux is in awe of the work, though.
Jones caught six passes for 93 yards against the Saints, most of his yards coming against zone coverage. Hilton burned New Orleans for 150 yards and two touchdowns on four catches, but his third-quarter scores of 87 and 46 yards came on plays where Breaux fell down in coverage.
"My confidence is high regardless of what the situation is just because I get the chance to do what I love again," he said. "Just the fact that I get to be on the same field as those guys is a tremendous feeling. I love the competition."
It's that drive to compete that keeps Breaux in search of improvement, trying to remain a cornerback in whom the Saints have a high level of confidence.
"I don't think I'm shutdown yet," he said. "I'm still working on my craft. I just do the best I can and at the end of the day, I just try to help my team win."
In order to do that Sunday, the secondary especially will have to be wary. Giants quarterback Eli Manning isn't just a two-time Super Bowl champion; he also is directing a quick-pass offense, hoping to avoid taking sacks (he only has been sacked nine times) by getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less.
But Breaux said the Saints' cornerbacks should be able to adapt to that approach.
"That's why the coaches brought in big corners," he said. "We can sit at the line and actually challenge those receivers, and hopefully throw off timing between him and the quarterback, and all their receivers. We have to go out there and put our technique together and slow them down."
Photos of Delvin Breaux vs the Philadelphia Eagles. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)