NEW ORLEANS -- If it takes a master to recognize a masterpiece, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who at 37 is having perhaps the most explosive season of his 16-year NFL career, sees nothing but beauty and the beast when he analyzes the Seattle Seahawks' defense he will try to decipher Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (1 p.m. ET, FOX).
"They really invented that scheme that a lot of people are trying to replicate, but it's hard to do when you don't have the personnel," Brees said of the Seattle defense, responsible for an epic 6-6 tie last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, the first NFL game to end in a tie since 2014. "They're so good in so many areas, from the front four to the linebacking corps to the secondary.
"There is really not a weak link in the defense. You just have to be your absolute best when it comes to execution and put yourself in favorable positions as an offense, making sure you're in third-and-manageable situations and you're understanding the pressure and just making sure you get positive plays."
Despite the Saints' 2-4 start, Brees is defying NFL actuarial tables, completing 68.5 percent of his passes for 17 touchdowns against five interceptions. He is averaging a career-best 350 passing yards a game, and in a 27-21 loss at Kansas City last week, he recorded his league-record 100th 300-yard game.
"They are getting a lot of explosive plays," said Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who fought off severe fatigue and cramping to help the 4-1-1 Seahawks escape with the overtime tie against Arizona. "They are getting the ball down the field and scoring points. They're doing a great job."
Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of the New Orleans offense, "They're really tough, like they've been in the past, so effective throwing the football and attacking people. Between Sean (Payton) and Drew putting it together, it makes it very difficult. They have good weapons, and they use them really well."
Since Payton took over as the Saints' coach in 2006, New Orleans is 2-1 in the regular season against Seattle but 0-2 in the playoffs. The Seahawks have won the past three meetings, however, holding New Orleans to just 22 total points in the two most recent victories.
"When you watch the tape, there are two things (that stand out)," Payton said. "They're very talented, and I would say they have outstanding technique. They're playing a little man-to-man, but you see a lot of zone coverage. It forces you to come underneath with throws. That combination of coverage and then what they're able to do with their rush plans make it extremely challenging."
This will be the first time former Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, traded before the 2015 season to Seattle, will play in the Superdome against his old team. Graham is still feeling his way back from a knee injury, but he is second on the team in receptions (27 catches for 408 yards) with one touchdown.
"It's going to be weird, obviously," Brees said about facing his former teammate. "We had a lot of good years here with Jimmy. We hated to see him go. We were close, and he was close with a lot of guys. We all loved Jimmy, and we understand things like that happen in this league. I'm sure he's going to be pretty amped up to be back, but I know our fan base loved him and loved what he did for New Orleans and did for our team. There is a lot of love there."
Carroll said Graham struggled last season before he sustained the knee injury, but he likes the growing relationship between Graham and quarterback Russell Wilson.
"Russell and Jimmy have really connected, and it took some time to develop that chemistry," Carroll said. "Jimmy's been great since he's gotten back and has his legs underneath him after coming back from the amazing rehab that he had to go through. They hit their stride, and he's been really effective, and he's off to a great year."
The Seahawks are struggling to rush the ball, averaging just 3.1 yards a carry. They are scoring just 18.5 points per game, but that has been good enough with a defense that is allowing only 14 points a game.
Both teams enter the game with questions at left tackle. Saints tackle Terron Armstead returned to practice Wednesday but has been in an out of the lineup. Seattle tackle Bradley Sowell sprained his knee last week and probably will not play. Starting New Orleans cornerback Delvin Breaux (broken leg) probably is at least another week away from returning.