New Orleans Saints coaches did cornerback Delvin Breaux a favor last Thursday when they assigned him to cover Atlanta's Julio Jones man-to-man when the defensive scheme called for such an alignment.
True, Jones – arguably the best and most dynamic receiver in the NFL – had had 440 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his first three games this season. But Breaux, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound New Orleans native whose circuitous route to the Saints has been well chronicled, wanted the job.
"First of all, (the mood is) excitement, because I know I only have this task to focus on," Breaux said. "Them telling me this is what they want me to do, it just makes it so much easier on me because I can go in the film room and study this one person understand what he likes to do and how he likes to come off the ball.
"It's just excitement. I just like having my little island."
Well, Jones caught six passes for 93 yards in the game. But Breaux played to rave reviews in the 31-21 victory, effectively shadowing Jones when the defense called for him to do so, finishing with a couple of pass breakups – including a beauty in the right flat, on first-and-goal for Atlanta from the Saints' 7-yard line in the second quarter – and solidifying the belief that his offseason acquisition could turn out to be the Saints' best defensive addition this year.
"He's been playing with a lot of confidence," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "He's got the size, No. 1. I think that's important. We've got a group of corners that are big and it was probably one of our big goals this offseason.
"The other thing is his foot quickness. We were going to be smart, we didn't just sit in man (against the Falcons), we were in and out of man and zone and probably a lot more zone later in the game. But he was going to star Julio in all of those man (coverages) and travel with him in certain zone coverages.
"It's understanding the leverage, understanding where he's lined up. I think (Falcons offensive coordinator) Kyle (Shanahan) and those guys in Atlanta have done a really good job of mixing up where you find (Jones). Sometimes he's in the bunch, sometimes he's in the slot, sometimes he's sitting at 'X.' So it becomes more problematic as you put your coverages together.
"(Breaux) was very competitive – he had a close play down in the red area, almost intercepted a ball. And most importantly, we stayed on top of him. That all being said, a great player like Julio and (Falcons quarterback) Matt (Ryan), they get together and there are some combinations inside for some chunk plays. But all in all, (Breaux has) really been doing a good job. One of the big points of emphasis here in the last few weeks is just reducing his penalties, and I was pleased (Thursday) night. I thought that was important for us."
Breaux's first NFL game, in fact, was noteworthy mostly because of his penalties. He committed three against Arizona – four, in fact, except two were committed on the same play and only one could be accepted.
Mostly, he said that was attributable to his Canadian Football League background. Defensive backs are allowed to be more physical down the field whereas in the NFL, it's hands off past five yards.
But he has exhibited a quick learning curve. He has committed three penalties in five games since the opener and has become noted more for his play than because he's a homegrown talent.
"Man, that's my game," Breaux said. "Shadowing any team's top receiver, that's what I do. I could have done that in Week 1, that's just how I play. Certain refs make calls, (but) that's how I play. (Thursday) night was one of my great challenges.
"I'm the same. My game is, I play week after week and I do the same thing. (Thursday) was just one of those great things, especially in getting a win. I was just doing what I do."
And he's eager to keep doing it, hoping to join the list of elite cornerbacks in the NFL.
"I'm doing well," Breaux said. "I don't have everything mastered down to be elite, like a Darrelle Revis (of the Jets) or (Patrick) Peterson (of the Cardinals) or Richard Sherman (of the Seahawks).
"But I try to take on that role and do the best I can each week. I just want to win. That's my thing. The coaches give me the assignment and I just try to do the best I can."
Second gallery of Photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)