SANTA CLARA – New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees will look across the line of scrimmage on Sunday and see very few familiar figures in the 49ers’ defense.
Many of the notable 49ers defensive players who played against Brees during a competitive four-season stretch – standouts such as Patrick Willis and Justin Smith – are no longer with the organization.
“I guess that happens in this league,” Brees said Wednesday in a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “It seems to happen pretty often. New coaches come in, personnel changes over, whether guys choose to retire or they go other places. I think that’s just the nature of the business. I’ve watched our roster turn over quite a bit here over the last three years, as well.”
One notable exception is outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who has produced some of his best games against the Saints. Brooks, an 11-year NFL veteran, is in his sixth season as a starter with the 49ers.
“Maybe I just have a ray of light over me when I play against them,” Brooks said. “I’ve done an exceptional job against them every time I play against them.”
In the past four games against the Saints, Brooks recorded 4.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and intercepted two Brees passes, including one he returned for a touchdown.
“I know he’s a really good player,” Brees said. “And he’s really good in both the pass rush and in the run. And when he drops into coverage, he’s a really athletic guy who has good ball skills. He’s picked me off a few times, too. I just know he’s a really good player and he’s been in that system for a long time, and he’s been one of the anchors of that defense for a long time.”
One of Brooks' most memorable plays, however, was one that went against the 49ers. He was penalized for unnecessary roughness for a hit to the head and neck area of Brees on a fourth-quarter play in 2013 that could have clinched the victory and helped the 49ers gain home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Brooks ultimately won his appeal of the $15,750 fine. But the 49ers lost that game and went on to lose the NFC Championship that season in Seattle. Brooks said there are lessons from that play that will still apply on Sunday at Levi's Stadium.
“We’ve watched him on film these past couple of days,” Brooks said. “He’s a shorter guy at quarterback. So if we do get a chance to hit him, you got to get him low. He also ducks, so you got to get extra low on him, if you can.
“He ducks to escape from the pressure.”