The Colts are currently in the middle of a four-week span in which they will face three future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks, including three of the five players in NFL history with 400+ touchdown passes and three of the top five in career passing yards. When you combine numbers of the Patriots' Tom Brady, the Saints' Drew Brees, and the Broncos' Peyton Manning, they have completed 65.1% of their passes for 183,821 yards (7.56 yards per attempt), 1,346 touchdowns, and 585 interceptions for a passer rating of 96.3.
Without a doubt, the Colts will face three all-time greats in a three-week span, and they face the second of those three quarterbacks this week as the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees visit Lucas Oil Stadium. Brees is the most accurate passer in league history, is fourth in career passing yards, fifth in career passing touchdowns, and seventh in career passer rating. Since signing with the Saints in 2006, Brees has thrown for 4,000+ yards in nine straight seasons (topping 5,000 yards in four of them), and he's thrown at least 33 touchdown passes in each of the last seven seasons. The Saints have been one of the top four passing offenses in the NFL in all nine of the Saints' seasons with Brees at quarterback.
In short, the Colts face a very tough test this weekend. And though the Saints are just 2-4 this season, their passing offense still ranks third in the league - showing that the problems haven't really been because of Brees (who missed a game due to a shoulder injury this year). The Colts know just how good the Saints' signal-caller is and just how tough of a challenge Brees and the Saints' offense presents.
"He's still operating that offense at a high level," head coach Chuck Pagano said on Wednesday. "Sean Payton does a great job, always has done a great job. Drew Brees, arguably going to be a first ballot hall of famer, he does a great job of managing it, spreading the ball around. The running numbers don't look great but don't be fooled, they got three backs that can all tote the rock. They all have different skillsets. They've got wide receivers. Ben Watson came alive in their last game, 10 catches against Atlanta. They've got over 300 yards, when you say they're not putting it down the field, but he's getting it out and he's getting it out quick and he's getting it out in playmakers' hands. (Brandin) Cooks is a great player. They're using the backs a ton in the pass game. (Mark) Ingram is the second leading receiver on their team. (C.J.) Spiller is a threat obviously out of the backfield. The health of (Marques) Colston is up in the air right now but they've got (Willie) Snead who has a great chemistry and relationship with the quarterback.
"They're doing a nice job," Pagano continued. "They do a great job with tempo. They do a great job with personnel groups in their first 15, to start ball games. They could be in as many as, if they wanted to, 15 different personnel groups and they do a great job of hiding substitutions. They do a great job of being efficient as far as huddle procedure, getting to the line of scrimmage, getting them in the right play and getting the ball snapped. So we got to do a great job on the defensive side of matching those things and getting lined up, communicating and being on the same page."
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky echoed the sentiments of the head coach on Thursday. "Drew is a great player," Manusky said. "Has been for many years. Actually I was coaching in San Diego when he was there. A guy that I've seen grow up from a young quarterback to a very experienced, dedicated football player that's been playing topnotch football for many years. So all the respect for Drew, his family and everybody."
"Just going against Breesy, he gets rid of the ball," Manusky said a little later. "He knows where he's going with the ball. A great student of the game, he's like a coach on the field, he knows exactly where to go and where he wants to go with it. We got to try to harass him, get pressure on the edge, up his face, across the board and try to disrupt some of the things that he wants done. That's what we're going to try to do."
Though quarterback Andrew Luck won't directly be going up against Brees on the field, the Colts' quarterback still took the time to express his thoughts on the Saints' quarterback who has played at a high level for many years. "I've always admired Drew a lot," Luck said. "Got to know him over the past couple years at various events and different things. A great guy, a great quarterback who's done it well for a long time. He's not the prototypical size, strength and speed of a quarterback. He's an incredible passer of the football, accurate, great feet, obviously a winner. A lot to learn from him I think any young quarterback at any age. He's one of those guys that's a role model in the quarterback role."
The Colts' defense will once again face a tough challenge, as Brees can sit in the pocket and pick opposing defenses apart. As a result, it's crucial for the Colts to get pressure on him, but that's a lot easier said than done - particularly since the Colts have struggled to get any semblance of a pass rush this year. They have to do whatever they can to get pressure on him, however, as otherwise the most accurate passer the NFL has ever seen will pick apart the secondary, no matter how up to the challenge Vontae Davis, Greg Toler, and Darius Butler are. The corners will need to play well, as will the pass rush, if the team hopes to slow down Drew Brees and the Saints offense.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning in a four-week span? That's a daunting slate no matter how you look at it, even if Manning isn't playing at a high level this year. Andrew Luck, though, doesn't get caught up in marveling at going up against these all-time greats.
"Not really," Luck said, laughing. "Maybe one day when I'm sitting there talking to my grandkids say, ‘Oh yeah.' But when you're in it, I think whoever the opposing quarterback is, that's not my problem."
It's not Luck's problem, but it's the Colts' defense's problem, and they face yet another tough challenge this weekend. Overall, they did a decent job last week against Tom Brady (considering the expectations), but it doesn't lighten up any, as another future Hall of Famer comes to Indianapolis this weekend.