The Atlanta Falcons will close out their season series with the Saints at home on a Thursday Night primetime matchup. While the neither the game in New Orleans or this game will be easy at all, this game should be the easier of the two as it is a home game, and really that makes this game a MUST win for the Falcons. They can’t afford to get swept in the season series yet again, and I don’t think there is any way the Falcons organization lets that happen again. Even before getting much into this game, I’d like to make it clear that I think the Falcons walk away from Thursday Night with a victory. If it’s not now, with the sAint organization in a certain level of disarray, and losing some pieces on the defensive and offensive sides and not really gaining a thing on either side, the time may not ever present itself. I truly believe now is the time.
Matchups to keep an eye on:
Falcons D-line Vs. Saint O-line. Jahri Evans is still in the mix, and Ben Grubbs was brought in to replace the departed Carl Nicks, but by this point we will have a very good impression of how well the New Orleans o-line is going to play. They have a player in Jermon Bushrod who consistently gives up significant pressure on the quarterback (similar to the way Sam Baker plays) and it is very unlikely that Grubbs will play to the level that Nicks (widely regarded as the best Guard in the NFL) did when he was with the Saints. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect the Falcons to get a great amount of pressure on Brees, especially since he is so good at manipulating the pocket and moving around to avoid pressure, but I think they will likely be able to get more pressure on him than they did in 2011. Every little bit helps, and pressure leads to turnovers or at least more possessions. Continue to look for this matchup for the Falcons to take advantage of. If they don’t, things won’t go well.
Falcons receivers Vs. Saint defensive backs. The Saints lost Tracy Porter to Denver in free-agency and as a result only have one of their starting two cornerbacks returning from 2011. Jabari Greer is still a fine corner, but beyond him the DB situation is a little dire for N.O. Patrick Robinson was the nickel corner in 2011, but struggled mightily. He will be asked to take over a starting role in 2012, something he could step up to the plate for, or really struggle in. I suspect that playing on the outside would help his game, but he still won’t be outstanding. Malcolm Jenkins has shown flashes as a Free Safety, but still gets beat and misses tackles. Roman Harper was used predominantly as a blitzing DB under Gregg Williams, but will be asked to do more in coverage in 2012. He is truly a liability in coverage. If you read my post from earlier today on what I expect the Saint pass-rush to accomplish, you’d realize that I don’t expect a whole lot from them. That will put all of the pressure on New Orleans’ secondary, and I don’t think they are up to the challenge, especially against a receiving corps as potent as the Falcons’.
Falcons Defense Vs. Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. No disrespect to guys like Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, or even Lance Moore, but defenses have a hard time containing them because Graham and Sproles are so very difficult to defend. Do you put a size (a safety) on Graham in man-to-man coverage, or do you put an undersized DB (a corner) on him who is faster and able to make a play on the ball? Or do you bracket him inside-to-outside and risk him beating you deep, or try to run another type of double coverage and risk letting a one-on-one matchup with one of the receivers beat you? Then we come to Darren Sproles. How exactly do you want to go about defending him? You certainly can’t put a linebacker on him, because he won’t hold up in coverage, but if he does carry the ball he represents a huge threat and hits the hole with good power. Even if you cover him with a safety of corner, he is very hard to defend and can make the defender miss. Its a situation where you must pick your poison with the Saints: who are you going to make beat you? Would you rather make a guy with good hands but limited explosiveness like Colston beat you and blanket Graham/Sproles, or do you try to cover everyone evenly and end up covering nobody?
New Orleans does a very good job of scoring, so even though their defense is borderline miserable, they can still be successful by going score to score with nearly every team in the NFL. The key is continually applying the pressure to the Saints by scoring against their weak defense, and then limiting their possessions. It sounds overly simplistic, but against New Orleans you must play perfect football, and even then it won’t guarantee a win. The Dome isn’t the most challenging place for opponents to enter, but it absolutely gives the Falcons the advantage. If Atlanta can take advantage of every opportunity and every matchup that I listed above, a victory is well within their grasp. But they key is these things have to work out.