The Atlanta Falcons are desperate to win in the playoffs. However, in order to win in the playoffs they must first earn a playoff berth. The primary goal of this team is to win the NFC South and unseat the reigning division champion Saints. The Falcons are building to beat this team specifically, and are getting stronger in all the right places to challenge their most hated foe. Given the suspensions that the Saints have to serve and their offseason moves, I think the Falcons will almost certainly win the season series against New Orleans.
First, let’s be honest about the New Orleans offense. There is not a single defense on the planet that can slow it down at this current juncture. My hope is that the loss of Robert Meachem will make it more difficult for the Saints to score, but the reality is that Drew Brees is successful no matter who he throwing to. The offensive capability of New Orleans is devastating. That being said, the addition of Asante Samuel to the Falcons secondary is only a boon to this defense. With three very good cornerbacks (at least the best trio in the NFL) the Falcons stand a very good chance of locking down New Orleans receivers, who really amount to Colston, Moore, and Henderson. Still a potent trio, but they will not have the benefit of a starting caliber receiver in Meachem. Between Samuel, Brent Grimes, and Dunta Robinson, and a yet to be named 4th cornerback, the Falcons stand a good chance of locking down the Saints receiving corps. Also lets not forget that the Falcons have Sean Weatherspoon to cover Jimmy Graham, Stephen Nicholas to cover Darren Sproles, and William Moore & Thomas DeCoud to play deep zone coverage or play the Tight End when needed. The Falcons will give up points to this team, but probably not 45 points a game as has become customary when playing this team.
I have to admit that the lack of a All-Pro caliber defensive end or defensive lineman this offseason is troubling, but it is something that will be taken care of in the near future. I believe firmly that right now the Falcons will have to deal with what they have on the roster.
The second spot that the Falcons are getting stronger at is along the offensive line. They currently have very effective cogs in Tyson Clabo and Justin Blalock, and Todd McClure returning for one more season. The Falcons weren’t very strong at Right Guard with a revolving door or rookies or other non-veteran players, nor were they very good at Left Tackle with an injured Sam Baker and his backup Will Svitek. Svitek played admirably considering his initial position on the depth chart, but protection of Matt Ryan was a struggle. In 2012, I don’t think protection of Ryan will remain a problem. McClure will hold down center and recently drafted Peter Konz will play RG. If Baker can get & stay healthy, the Falcons offensive line will be very solid even if Baker is the weak spot. Match the Falcons O-Line with the Saints Defensive line. The Saints have a starting line of Cam Jordan (an unproductive rookie last season), Aubrayo Franklin who was also less than spectacular, Sedrick Ellis (who was very solid and actually a pretty good lineman), and Will Smith. The Saint with the most sacks last season was their Strong Safety Roman Harper, and their best defensive end, Will Smith, only had 6.5 sacks. The point here is that the Saints have a very weak defensive line, and it will not be getting any stronger with the absence of Will Smith for the first 4 games of the season. Considering no moves were made in the offseason to bolster that defensive line, the Falcons’ ability to win the line of scrimmage against the Saints on offense became even stronger. When the Falcons O-line wins, Matt Ryan will be able to throw the ball and the Falcons will score points.
The Saints secondary is also slightly diminished from what it was. They did not suffer huge losses, but the loss of a veteran starting corner will be noticed. When Tracy Porter jumped ship to join the Denver Broncos, I was very pleased. The starting cornerbacks for the Saints on the outside will be Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson, an up and coming player, but a young and still unproven player. Aside from those two, there is very little cornerback depth on that roster, and the Falcons will be able to feast on that. I also believe that Roddy White and Julio Jones are two players who can win the battle against any corner in the league, especially ones like Robinson and Greer.
I also believe that the coaching change to add Steve Spagnuolo will help the Falcons both this year, and for several years to come. Spagnuolo was a terrific defensive coordinator for the New York Giants when they won Super Bowl XLII, and then left to become a head coach in St. Louis. His defenses are predicated on bringing pressure with the front 4 (defensive ends and defensive tackles) and dropping everyone else into coverage. The key is getting to the quarterback quickly with the front 4. The problem that the Saints will experience throughout 2012 (and beyond hopefully) is there is no way they will be able to generate sufficient pass-rush with the current roster. Spagnuolo will be required to blitz to generate that pass-rush, or to try and hold up in coverage. I believe that the Falcons are building the offensive line up to protect Ryan, and it will be most obvious when it works against the Saints. A combination of better Atlanta o-line and worse New Orleans d-line is going to spell additional points scored for the Falcons.
Some of this is wishful thinking; however some of this is absolutely reality. I believe that the Falcons will absolutely be able to put more points up in each game in 2012, especially against the Saints. I also believe that while no defense can completely control the Saints offense, this one will do slightly better than in 2011. The combination of those things means wins for the Falcons over the Saints. And as a Falcons fan, that is music to my ears.