This week I had a chance to do a Q&A with two Saints bloggers. The first is with Andrew Juge of Saints – Nation. Who was kind enough to have a sit down with us to discuss the upcoming NFC South battle between the Falcons and Saints. Be sure to check out Saints Nation and follow them on Twitter.
Blogging Dirty – What does this rivalry mean to you? Is it the best rivalry in the NFL?
Saints Nation – It means a lot, no doubt about it. There is no regular season game I ever take more seriously. It’s great that there’s a lot at stake now and that both teams are battling for the division title… that definitely adds a little bit, but frankly… there is so much history there it would still mean a ton to me if both teams were winless. The Falcons to me as a diehard Saints fan represent all that is unholy and wrong with sports. They are the anti-christ. Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I’ve definitely always had a deep seeded hatred for the Falcons dating back to the days of Deion Sanders et al… To this day he’s still my most hated football player of all time. Even when both teams were terrible they fought to get out of the cellar in the NFC West and for pride in the south. I don’t know if it’s the best rivalry in the NFL… certainly Packers-Bears and Cowboys-Eagles and/or Redskins have more history… but to me it’s the most underrated rivalry in all of sports, not just the NFL. It doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves, and to me this rivalry is the most like two bitter college football rivals. We’re both in SEC country (Georgia in Athens, I know) so you know what I mean. I definitely subscribe to that theory that if the Saints were not to make the playoffs, I’d rather them go 2-14 and sweep the Falcons than 7-9 with a split. Of course overall success is preferred, so I’d gladly give up a sweep to the Falcons for a Super Bowl win, but besides playoff games no game is more important than when the Saints face the Falcons.
BD – In your opinion, will the winner of this game go on to win the division?
SN – It definitely increases their chances, but no, not necessarily. Remember last year both teams won on the road so even if the Saints win this weekend that doesn’t mean the Falcons can’t win the rematch and/or go on a huge run. The NFL is always about how you finish. In the NFL I’m a firm believer, too, that you have to take things week to week. Injuries can have such a profound impact on a team’s season. If the Falcons win, for example, but Matt Ryan goes down the following week, they’d be lucky to win 2-3 more games the rest of the season. So I think it’s too early to anoint the winner, but it sure sets them up nicely for the stretch run.
BD – How have the Saints changed from last year? What new signings/ scheme changes to they possess for the Falcons to worry about?
SN – Not too much, actually. They’re pretty similar to last year’s team. Maybe a little better on offense and about the same defensively. Jimmy Graham isn’t a new signing, but his increased role in the offense has had a huge impact. The signing of Darren Sproles has been, arguably, the best in the entire league this offseason. He’s so much better at scat back role in the Saints offense than Reggie Bush was that it’s scary. This guy actually makes decisive cuts, follows blocks, and doesn’t make mental mistakes. Slowing down Sproles/Graham is key because that’s how the Saints amass their yardage. No one has really been able to do it yet. On defense they added Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers to help shore up the interior of the defensive line, but that hasn’t really panned out.
BD – We are obviously very familiar with each other, but is there a under the radar player that could have a big impact for the Saints?
SN – Chris Ivory is back and healthy, so he’s the physical running presence the Saints have missed. Mark Ingram has done pretty well as a rookie, but I think Ivory will probably get more reps in this game (if Ingram even plays). Defensively, cornerback Patrick Robinson keeps getting better and better. And while free safety Malcolm Jenkins has had a quiet season so far, he’s still one of the better players on the defense and he could explode at any moment and an improving young player. And kind of like Michael Turner, Will Smith is a veteran you guys have come to know well over the years that’s rededicated himself to his fitness and career and he’s in the best shape of his life – and the results are showing. He’s having a solid season so far.
BD – What do the Falcons need to do in order to beat the Saints?
SN – Run the football often and effectively, and use it to help set up play action. I feel like the Saints pass so much, a turnover is going to happen every once and a while. It’s just tough to protect the football when you’re chucking it all over the place all the time. If the Falcons can get a turnover or two, and turn those into long methodical drives that eat up clock and keep the Saints’ explosive offense off the field, they will win. I feel like the worst thing you can do against the Saints is get in an early hole because then their play calling is all over the place and unpredictable, and the Saints defense plays best when the opposing team is one dimensional. More specifically, I think Roman Harper, the Saints’ strong safety, is great in run support but very suspect in coverage. Anytime you’ve got him matched up on Tony Gonzalez, exploiting that is a must.
BD- Vice Versa. What do the Saints need to do in order to beat the Falcons?
SN – I’d say take care of the football. The Saints’ offense is good enough to score on anyone in the league. They’ve proven again this year they are the best, if not one of the best, offenses in the entire league. Certainly top 3 at the very least. As long as they don’t stop themselves with mistakes (turnovers/penalties) I don’t think Atlanta can stop them consistently. The defense has to play just well enough to give up less points than their offense is scoring. Most weeks they do that.
BD – Predictions for the game, please give a score.
SN – I’m going to say 27-24 Saints, with the Falcons missing a long field goal as time expires to end it. I think it’s coming down to the last play. These two teams are going to fight to the death in this one and it’s going to be a battle.
Check out the other side of the Q&A over at Saints Nation where I answer there questions. Follow this link here.