The Atlanta Falcons are set to kick off their season on Sunday, as the trip makes the trek to New Orleans to face off with the rival Saints in the Super Dome.
The Falcons look poised for a special season in 2013, as the offense looks ready to bring memories of St. Louis’s “Greatest Show on Turf” with big plays from former Ram Steven Jackson, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez, just to name a few.
While the focus from the fan’s perspective will undoubtedly be the offense, the Falcons seem prepared to work wonders against opposing offenses in Year Two of the Mike Nolan regime, as outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon looks to make a name for himself across the NFL and rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford prepare to prove why Atlanta’s front office made the right call in bringing them into the fold.
As pumped as the city of Atlanta and Falcons’ fans everywhere must be for the start of the season, the team must not get ahead of itself, because a true test is on the horizon in Week 1. Although New Orleans struggled through a 7-9 season in 2012, the team seems ready to make their mark in ’13 with the return of head coach Sean Payton, who missed all of last season due to the Bounty Gate scandal, and the arrival of new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who promises to wipe away the Steve Spagnuolo era in New Orleans and rebuild a Saints’ defense that was statistically one of the worst in NFL history.
Make no mistake about it: despite having a dismal 2012 season, the Saints still have the Falcons number, proven by Coach Payton’s 10-2 record against the Dirty Birds since he took the reins back in 2006 (Atlanta and New Orleans split the series last year). With that being said, Atlanta has never been better prepared to shut down the Saints, which would be a perfect start to what has the makings of a monumental year.
Although the passing game will surely be a huge part of the Falcons’ gameplan on Sunday, it will be crucial for new addition Steven Jackson to make his presence known early on in this contest. Unfortunately for the Falcons, last season was an extremely poor one for now-departed back Michael Turner, and the team’s 27-31 loss to New Orleans on November 11th saw the man formerly known as “The Burner” rack up a measly 15 yards on 13 carries. In steps Jackson, who figures to both carry the load in the ground game as well as prove to be a capable receiver in the screen game that offensive Dirk Koetter has worked diligently to instill for the Falcons. If Jackson does his part, Atlanta will be heading back home with a victory.
Defensively, the Falcons need work to disrupt Drew Brees’ rhythm in order to make a statement. Although the former Super Bowl MVP has done an excellent job at picking apart the Falcons’ secondary time and time again since he arrived in New Orleans from San Diego, the first matchup from last season saw how potent Atlanta’s defense is capable of being, as the team reeled in a whopping five interceptions and ended Brees’ 54 game streak of throwing at least one touchdown pass in a 23-13 win for Atlanta. Although it is unlikely that we see Brees throw that many interceptions this year, we could see the Falcons’ defense cause fits for the Saints’ receivers due to the overhaul that has occurred during this offseason. Gone is hit-first-and-cover-later Dunta Robinson and injury-prone Brent Grimes, and in instead is rookie Desmond Trufant, the former Washington Huskie who the team picked up with the 22nd pick in this year’s draft. Sporting Deion “PrimeTime” Sanders’ #21, the expectations are high for Trufant, and although I don’t believe he will make his first career interception on Saturday, I will predict that he makes some key tackles and smart pass coverage decisions on Sunday.
Game Prediction: This game will be a defensive coordinator’s nightmare as many of these games tend to be, as the matchup known as Falcons vs Saints quickly proves to be more about Matt Ryan vs Drew Brees. Both quarterbacks torch the opposing defense time and time again, until the fourth quarter, when Ryan relies on the likes of Gonzalez and White on a late drive that essentially gives Atlanta the game. Brees leads a valiant drive in the waning seconds, but it’s not enough to prevent the Falcons from rising up to the occasion to start the season. Final Score Falcons 35, Saints 31
For a look on the game from the Saints’ perspective, please view fellow correspondent Bijon Banerjee’s article