It’s Thursday and normally tonight’s Thursday Night Football match-up would be highly anticipated since you have the New Orleans Saints traveling to Georgia Dome to face-off against the Atlanta Falcons. Unfortunately that isn’t the case this season, the 2-8 Falcons have been a huge disappointment this season and there is little hope for them to finish strong or even beat the Saints tonight.
However, I am here to advise you differently. While the Falcons won’t be making it to the playoffs this year, that’s no reason to think they won’t compete. When you’re a team like the Falcons your goal is to ruin another team’s success and who better to do that to than the Saints. Nonetheless, the Saints can’t just stroll into this game like they own the place. Carolina Panthers are right behind them in the NFC South standings and the Saints need to continue playing good football if they want to stay on top of the NFC South. As always both teams have a chance to win this game but only if they follow certain steps to victory.
Saints Steps to Victory
Normally I start with the offense but in this case I feel that its best to start with the defense. When it comes to the Falcons offense they have struggled but that doesn’t mean the Saints should underestimate them. It all starts with containing the run game where the Saints have struggled at times this season. While they limit they’re opponent to 117 rushing yards a game, at times they are known to take poor tackling angles and get beat between the tackles. They can’t afford to do that in this game. Allowing the Falcons to run the ball allows them to stay balance. More importantly, running the ball allows them to control the clock which allows them to keep the Saints offense off the field. So again I repeat the Saints defense must slow down the run game and make this Falcon offense one-dimensional.
The Saints pass rush may not be great but neither is the Falcons offensive line. So I think the Saints should look to test the offensive line and get some pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan.When it comes to slowing down the passing game, the Saints must once again be ready to step up. While the Falcons have struggled without wide receiver Julio Jones they are still a threat through the air. Wide receiver Roddy White hasn’t played at high level but can still hurt the Saints in one-on-one situations. However, I think the Saints need to watch for wide receiver Harry Douglass, at the slot position he has nice versatility along with Darius Johnson. If anything the Saints should look to slow down tight end Tony Gonzalez, doing so forces the other receivers to step up, plus Gonzalez is a threat in the open field and red-zone.
Offensively, I look for quarterback Drew Brees to expose the Falcons in-experience secondary that has struggled all season long. Cornerbacks Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant who are both rookies have had their good moments this season but they struggle with containing the big play. Then you have the Falcons safeties who have been liabilities in coverage as well, all this is to say that the Falcons lack of pass defense is right up the Saints alley.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Saints should go for the balance approach and challenge the front seven of the Falcons and run the ball. The Falcons allow their opponents to rush for 132 yards a game, so the Saints definitely need to take advantage. However, I believe the Saints can expose the Falcons through the air as well. Brees as always needs to take what the defense gives him and his receivers need to be prepared to execute on the big plays and gain yards after the catch. Most importantly, the Saints must take care of the ball, they don’t make mistakes often when it comes to turnovers but they have had their moments this season and it doesn’t normally work out well for them when they turn the ball over.
Falcons Steps to Victory
Offensively for the Falcons I hope they are prepared and ready to go because if not, their in trouble. As I mentioned earlier, it is very important that this Falcon offense stay balance and to do that they must run the ball. Running the ball allows them to control the clock which allows them to keep the Saints offense off the field. Running the ball also helps take the pressure off of quarterback Matt Ryan. Falcons have had their fair share of third down conversion problems this season mainly because the run game has struggled. Running the ball will at least help to put the Falcons in better third down situations and hopefully open up some passing opportunities for Ryan. So the I look for the Falcons to establish the run early on and execute if they plan to win.
As far as the passing game goes, it all starts with Ryan being productive and for that to happen the Falcons offensive line must give him time in the pocket. When it comes to Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, you can bet he has some creative blitzes in his arsenal and the Falcons offensive line needs to be ready. Plus the offensive line not only dictates the success of the passing game but the running game as well. When it comes to the Ryan and his production, he needs to first play smart and take what the defense gives him. I also look for Ryan to be bold and challenge the Saints secondary. Saints secondary has improved but they are still known to struggle. For the passing game to be successful, I also look for wide receivers Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Darius Johnson to step up. They must be ready to execute on the big plays but they must also challenge the secondary in the open field and gain extra yardage after the catch. As always, I think Ryan should challenge the Saints to contain tight end Tony Gonzalez, especially in the red-zone.
The most important thing this Falcon offense must do is capitalize on every scoring opportunity. When it comes to the beating Saints, your best bet is bend but not break on defense. However, for that to be effective the offense must be able to capitalize on their defense’s success. If you don’t score against the Saints, it normally doesn’t work out well.
Defensively, it could be a tough night for the Falcons but it all starts with making the Saints one-dimensional. While stopping the run game won’t completely stop the Saints offense, it limits them and gives the Falcons a chance to focus more on slowing down the passing game. When it comes to defending the passing game, their best bet is the bend but don’t break method. Saints have multiple weapons and the Falcons can’t double team them all, so they must be smart when it comes to bracketing any receiver. Overall, the Falcons must again bend but not break, meaning they should do their best to limit the Saints offense to field goals instead of touchdowns while in the red-zone. They may not be able to completely stop the Saint offense for four quarters but if they can get a few key stops whether it be a three and out or forcing them to kick a field goal, it could be huge for them.
When you look at the record of both these teams, you obviously pick the Saints to win and that’s to be expected. Saints should win this game plus it’s very important that they continue winning because their division rival the Carolina Panthers are looking for any opportunity to take over the NFC South. Nonetheless, you can underestimate the Falcons, they may be 2-8 but when your dealing with a team like that, you have to remember they would love to ruin someone else’s season especially a rival. It’s unlikely that the Falcons win but weirder things have happen this season but you will have to watch the game to find out.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com