Photos of Delvin Breaux from the 2015 Season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)
The challenges have been non-stop, and so has Delvin Breaux's improvement and ascension.
He has lined up, jammed, backpedaled, swiveled hips, run and cloaked some of the best receivers that the NFL has to offer in his first season.
True, the likes of T.Y. Hilton of the Colts, Odell Beckham, Jr. of the Giants, DeAndre Hopkins of the Texans and Calvin Johnson of the Lions have won their share of the matchups. Elite receivers don't become elite receivers simply by name; they earn their stripes and they do it by producing against Breaux, and others.
But Breaux, who has been tasked with some of the toughest assignments given to a Saints defender, has held up well and now, as the season is about to conclude with Sunday's game against Falcons in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, he is playing his best football of the season.
It's happening at the right time, because during some coverages Sunday, he'll be asked to shadow Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who probably is the best in the business.
Jones leads the league in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,722), and his eight touchdown catches almost are half of Atlanta's 19 receiving touchdowns.
"Another week, another game," Breaux said. "I've got to go out there and continue to compete, try to keep him from making his explosive plays and just have fun."
Likely, few Saints are having more fun these days than Breaux, and not just because the New Orleans native is living out his dream of playing in the NFL after breaking his neck as a high school senior, a dream scenario that is sweetened by the fact that he gets to play for his hometown team.
Breaux has been at the top of his game the last several weeks, capped by his performance against Jacksonville last Sunday. In the Saints' 38-27 victory, he had an interception, a pass breakup that led to an interception by defensive end Bobby Richardson, two more passes defensed and four tackles.
For the season, he leads the team in interceptions (three) and passes defensed (24), and has 45 tackles.
After a somewhat rocky debut – he committed four penalties in the season opener against Arizona; only three were accepted because two occurred on the same play – Breaux has been the Saints' best cornerback this season.
In the 14 games since, he has committed nine accepted penalties while becoming a reliable commodity.
"It's attention to detail," he said. "I knew things I things I needed to work on to get better, like penalties and such, so I just worked on it repeatedly at practice over the weeks. My play, I've been just doing a little bit more film study.
"As the weeks get on and the later it goes a lot of guys tend to fall off, but you have to stay on top of it and that's what I've been doing, just doing a little extra."
That applies in multiple for this week's game.
Jones has 18 receptions for 296 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games, including a 70-yard, jump ball situation against Carolina in which he outleapt Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly for the pass and scampered into the end zone, the highlight play of Atlanta's 20-13 upset over the then-undefeated Panthers.
"I have to watch more (film)," Breaux said. "We all have to watch more as a secondary.
"This guy is just tremendous. He's an animal. He's a beast. We've just got to keep him calm and keep him from making those explosive plays, keep him from getting over the top."
New Orleans was able to do precisely that in the first matchup between the teams, a 31-21 Saints victory in a game that Atlanta entered with a 5-0 record. With Breaux as a primary defender, Jones caught six passes for 93 yards but was relatively quiet.
"Just played my game, do what I do, follow the game plan and went out there and attacked it," Breaux said.
"I'm competitive, he's competitive. I'll spend more extra time in film study because I know he's one of the best receivers in the game. I just have to do a little extra to prepare myself mentally and physically for the game."
That seems to have been working so far, especially as the end of the season nears. New Orleans will be hoping for a similar result when Breaux again puts himself to the test against one of the league's elite.