The New Orleans Saints opened their season the way they wanted with a 23-17 win over the hated Atlanta Falcons moving their one sided record against the Falcons in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era to 12-3. The combined 40 points between the teams was a little lower than many people expected from two explosive offenses. However, surprisingly, this game was dominated by defense; and what’s even more surprising was that some of that dominance came from the Saints side.
The defense started out slow giving up a quick touchdown in the first quarter that took a little over three minutes. However, after that they proved solid bailing the offense out at key moments. They were put in a tough spot after Mark Ingram failed on a 4th down in their own territory. In a tough spot, the defense held the high flying Falcons to a field goal. Even after that, they forced a turnover which led to a game tying, Brees to Marques Colston touchdown. For the rest of the game, the defense gave up only seven points saving the offense in crucial moments.
Coming out after halftime with a three point lead, the Saints offense went three and out. After, the Falcons marched down the field and scored a second touchdown. Then, the Saints offense helped out and went on a nice 5 minute drive capped by a Brees-Jimmy Graham touchdown pass. After going up three, the defense strung together two timely, dominant 3 and outs. With 6:22 left, the Falcons looking to answer the Saints score, the defense sacked Ryan and blew up a screen on third down to force a punt. However, on the subsequent possession the offense squandered the defense’s effort with an interception. Last year, the defense would have just allowed the opponent to convert after a turnover like that. Not today; the defense comes up with yet another three and out recording another sack. Fittingly, the defense came up huge on the final possession by the Falcons with rookie Kenny Vaccaro breaking up the pass intended for Tony Gonzalez that was then intercepted by Roman Harper on 4th down, effectively ending the game.
The Saints offense wasn’t really on point today. The offensive line was shaky at times allowing the Falcons to pressure Brees with minimal blitzing. Also, the receivers were not able to take advantage of the lack of experience in the Falcons secondary. The running game was not up to par, but it did its job. The Saints ran it 26 times to balance out Brees’ 35 pass attempts, which helped the Saints to win the time of possession battle by about 10 minutes. Of the three running backs, only Pierre Thomas was respectable with a 4.7 yard per carry while Ingram was dreadful gaining only 11 yards on 9 carries.
The offense was stagnant today by their lofty standard, but the defense played huge with timely stops and turnovers. They held Steven Jackson to 77 yards on 11 carries; however, take away the long 50 yard run, and 27 yards on 10 carries isn’t too shabby. As for the rest of Falcons, Roddy White, possibly the most hated Falcon, had 19 yards, while Gonzalez, the Saints’ nightmare in years past, only had 36 yards. If the defense can continue playing anywhere close to this level, the offense will definitely do more than its part as the season wears on. Though it is only one game, Rob Ryan looks like the man for this defense. He will have another test next week against another division rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.