Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter

METAIRIE, La. ― Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is aggressive.

This we know for sure, just watching him send wave after wave of extra defenders at the quarterback.

And despite getting only 20 sacks this season, opponents are noticing that the pressure is having an effect on their quarterbacks.

'Albeit the sack numbers aren't up the level that they've been in the past, but they are affecting the quarterback,' Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.

Then again, Smith isn't one who buys into using the sack as an accurate metric for deciding how a team is playing on defense.

'The important part of rushing the passer in my mind is affecting the quarterback, knowing where the launch point is, trying to get him off that launch point, disrupting the timing of the throws by getting him off that point ...,' Smith said.

The Saints (6-3, 2-1 NFC South) play at Atlanta (5-3, 1-1) on Sunday at noon.

So far this season, New Orleans hasn't necessary gotten to the quarterback, hitting them only 40 times.

But that's not necessarily the most important part of sending lots of pressure play after play.

By third down, quarterbacks having been harried all series long, haven't been producing.

The Saints defense is 11th in the NFL on third downs, allowing just 35.6 percent conversions.

'The NFL is nothing but timing in terms of quarterbacks and pressure,' Saints linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. 'Whenever the quarterback feels unsettled in the pocket, I'm pretty sure he's going to have a difficult day.

'I don't think we sacked (Tampa Bay quarterback Josh) Freeman very often but they were (2 of 12) on third down. That's effective. I don't know what game you play that's effective.'

This could be a good weekend for the Saints defenders. Atlanta is 27th in the NFL in giving up quarterback hits.

With the Falcons boasting future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and speedy wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones, the quicker New Orleans gets to quarterback Matt Ryan, the better.

'If he has to throw the ball quicker than he wants to, his receivers aren't where they're supposed to be or he's throwing it ahead of time,' Dunbar said. 'He's putting his team in a bad position. That's all you try to do.'

Added Smith, 'I watch when we watch tape, our coaching staff, we look at the pressure that can be applied. I know this Gregg Williams is probably one of the best of all-time of designing blitz packages to put pressure on a quarterback.'

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