Next challenge for Saints' rising star Delvin Breaux: Megatron

The Saints' defense has struggled overall, but cornerback Delvin Breaux has been one of the bright spots. Rich Schultz /Getty Images

METAIRIE, La. -- Safety Kenny Vaccaro is one of the most insightful players in the New Orleans Saints locker room. But he didn’t have to get very extensive with his analysis of Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson when asked what kind of problems Johnson causes.

“I mean, everybody knows,” Vaccaro said. “Any time you’ve got a nickname, ‘Megatron,’ you’re an issue.”

Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux, meanwhile, is much less of a household name. But the first-year pro who arrived from the Canadian Football League is quickly developing a stellar reputation.

Breaux might not shadow Megatron the whole night when they meet up in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday. But it will be a fascinating matchup to watch whenever they do square off.

“Delvin Breaux is playing amazing football,” Saints coach Sean Payton said Thursday, unsolicited, when asked about the job new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has been doing. “If you really charted his production as a corner the last month, he’s been fantastic.”

Pro Football Focus pointed out this week that Breaux has allowed only one catch over the past three weeks. And the New Orleans Advocate’s Nick Underhill has him with five catches allowed for 33 yards over the past five games.

I wrote about Breaux’s breakout performance earlier this year after he gained notice by quieting Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones. And Breaux’s backstory is one of the best in the NFL this year – he broke his neck in high school nine years ago and wasn’t able to play college football.

But it’s hard for Breaux to generate too much buzz since the Saints’ pass defense has become so infamous for its bad play this year.

The Saints are on pace to allow the most touchdown passes and the highest opponents’ passer rating in NFL history.

Vaccaro -- who demanded credited for telling everyone how good Breaux was back in OTAs -- said that’s a reminder of why team success trumps everything.

“It doesn’t matter how good certain players are playing, when it’s put out there, ‘Oh the secondary’s giving up this, the secondary’s giving up that.’ So the whole world thinks, ‘Oh, they all suck,’” Vaccaro said. “That’s why it’s critical if you want the individual accolades, to be good as a team.”

Perhaps a standout performance against Johnson, Golden Tate and the Lions on Monday Night Football could enhance everyone’s reputation.

The Saints are coming off of their best pass-defense performance of the season last week. They held Jameis Winston to 182 yards and one touchdown in a 24-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Breaux (6-foot-1, 196 pounds) said it’s not just Johnson that the Saints have to worry about in Detroit’s deep passing attack. But Breaux did acknowledge that Johnson was “definitely one of my top three” guys that he dreamed of facing in the NFL, along with Jones and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.

“Calvin Johnson, man he’s tremendous,” Breaux said. “Just watching him all these years, now I get to get on the field with him and get to compete with him. I can’t wait.”

Breaux has gone through some growing pains this year. Early in the season, he had to learn how to avoid a rash of penalties for getting too physical with receivers. He has drawn 10 flags this year, but only three since Week 5.

Breaux also had a handful of high-profile slip-ups, once losing a deep ball in the lights and twice tripping and falling while allowing deep TD passes to Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. He also had some trouble against New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. during the Saints’ 52-49 shootout victory in Week 8.

But Breaux has been stifling again for the past month or so, including an impressive group effort to quiet Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins in Week 12.

“I’ve settled in, but I still have work to do. I want to be able to compete at the highest level every snap,” Breaux said. “I just have to continue to keep working on my craft and being the best I can be. Keep working on the small things, which I’ve been doing.”

Breaux has started every game since taking over for injured veteran Keenan Lewis late in the preseason.

“I just wake up each morning and thank God each day for giving me this opportunity to play the game,” Breaux said, when asked what his own expectations were for this season, since he wasn’t originally projected to be a full-time starter. “I just come in and do my best, put my best foot forward every time I step on the field. I hated that Keenan Lewis went down, but like Coach said it’s the next man up. And once you get that opportunity, you can’t let go. So that’s what I’ve been sticking with.”