NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The way Tennessee Titans safety Chris Hope sees it, the New Orleans Saints' offense is a challenge not unlike stopping a basketball team that likes to run and gun by using a physical defense and a half-court set offense.
Behind quarterback Drew Brees, New Orleans is first overall in the NFL in total offense, passing yards, first downs and third-down efficiency and eighth overall in rushing yards.
"You don't want to give up big plays on defense, and your offense needs to come out and control the tempo. With those two combinations, you have a chance to slow them down and beat them,'' Hope said. "They want to play fast break. You have to pick your poison, because you don't want to get in a scoring contest with them because there are not too many offenses that score that way and you don't want to get Drew Brees into a rhythm.''
Keeping Brees off balance won't be easy. He leads the NFL with his 4,031 yards passing and has 30 touchdowns by air and just 11 interceptions.
"Probably in a lot of categories they're the No. 1 offense in the solar system, and we've got to bring them back to Planet Earth,'' Titans defensive end Dave Ball said.
The Titans (7-5) will gladly give up yards if they can find a way to keep points off the scoreboard. That worked for safety Jordan Babineaux who was a part of the Seattle team that upset New Orleans 41-36 in the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff.
"I think the biggest thing, from what I known from playing these guys over the years, is they're going to get their yards, and that's fine. I'm OK with that, and we accept that,'' Babineaux said. "We just can't let them in the end zone. We've got to hold them to field goals. That's a key point as to how well we come out Sunday.''
While the Titans' offense doesn't want to get into a shootout with Brees and the Saints (9-3), coach Mike Munchak says it is important for Tennessee to capitalize on any scoring chances it gets. Controlling the clock and keeping the Saints' offense on the sideline won't be enough, he said.
"We can't just keep the ball. We've got to score points. I think against Detroit they had the ball for 20 minutes and scored 30-something points,'' Munchak said. "They can score points quickly from anywhere. Offensively, we need to stay on the field and do things. We just can't blow opportunities, because you only get the ball so many times when you play a team like this.''
Brees sees the Titans' defense as a challenge though, given that Tennessee's defense ranks seventh in the NFL where it counts most - points allowed per game. He complemented the play of rookie linebackers Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy as two of Tennessee's top young playmakers.
"I see a tough physical defense that has done a great job this season,'' Brees said. "Eight of their 12 opponents this year have scored less than 17 points. They play extremely well at home, they have won like seven of their last eight games and they are just a tough, physical defense, smart, don't make a lot of mistakes, don't give up big plays. They do all the things that you coach good defenses to do. They have some really good young talent, especially those two rookie linebackers.''
McCarthy acknowledged Brees' talent but said he and his teammates can't get caught up in the quarterbacks' stats.
"He's a hell of a quarterback and we know that. But you can't caught up in his numbers,'' said McCarthy, whose two fumble recoveries and forced fumble at Buffalo earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. "Coach (Jerry) Gray has us set up with a great game plan this week, and we'll be ready for it. We know they have all the threats at their skill positions. It's not going to be easy whatsoever, but we've got to stop it.''
NOTES: Titans receiver Nate Washington (ankle) and cornerback Jason McCourty (concussion) did not practice on Wednesday. Munchak is hopeful that one or both might practice by Friday. Center Eugene Amano was given Wednesday off to rest a sore knee, while linebacker Barrett Ruud remains out with a groin injury.