As Admiral Akbar would say, “It’s a trap!” The New Orleans Saints (8-2) travel to the Georgia Dome to face their most hated rival in the Atlanta Falcons (2-8). Despite the discrepancy in record, the Falcons are no pushover.
With the Saints playing on a short week, on the road, coming off a physical win against the San Francisco 49ers, and having the NFC leading Seattle Seahawks on the horizon, this game sets up perfectly for a letdown. Last time the Saints went to the Georgia Dome, Drew Brees threw 5 interceptions and saw his consecutive touchdown streak come to an end in a loss. Brees will certainly be looking to right the wrongs of last year, and here is how the job will get done.
This seems like common sense, but it will be paramount this game. The Falcons have been reeling; they have been beaten by at least 2 scores for the past 4 weeks. If the Saints can score early in the first quarter, that can shake the Falcons’ confidence a good bit and, more importantly, take that raucous Georgia Dome crowd out of the ball game. In addition, it will make the Falcons one dimensional very quickly; and without their full complement of weapons, passing against one of the top passing defenses in the league won’t be easy. However, if the Saints let the Falcons hang around, anything can happen in the rivalry as fierce as this one.
Though my past articles have been talking about the run game ad nauseam, the re-commitment to the ground game must continue. The Falcons defense ranks in the bottom 3 in defending the run, and they are not much better in defending the pass.
With that being said, it is important for the Saints to continue running the ball for rhythm sake. They ran the ball effectively in the 49ers game and should try to keep that momentum going in the Falcons game in preparation for future games. Mark Ingram could have a monster game this Thursday. His legs are relatively fresh this season, and he only got 6 carries in the 49ers slug fest. It is possible that the coaching staff was trying to save Ingram for the short week.
Jabari Greer suffered one of the uglier injuries of the season and has been place on IR with a torn ACL. Greer, who is one of the most underrated corners in the league, had the ability to take away one side of the field.
In comes the young Corey White, who will be expected to step in opposite Keenan Lewis. Matt Ryan, a veteran quarterback, will definitely be looking to target White in coverage; they will also try to get him matched up on Harry Douglas, their best receiver left standing. Though the Falcons don’t have the weapons they had earlier in the season, this will be a good test for White as he tries to ease into the starting role that he will be expected to hold down the rest of the way.
Ironically enough, the healthiest player on the Falcons team is Tony Gonzalez, who has been playing since they have had leather helmets. Gonzalez, despite his age, can still produce and play with all the young guns of the NFL. Having said that, with Julio Jones out for the season, and Roddy White hobbled, Tony G is their biggest threat in the passing game.
Don’t expect Rob Ryan to get cute. He will overtly double team Gonzalez on every play, similar to the way he treated Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, and all the other big time receivers they have faced all season. Kenny Vaccaro should be back; so it will be the first time in a while that Ryan will have all his versatile safeties (Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper) back in the lineup, and it couldn’t come at a better time.