Nov 29, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith (right) and New Orleans Saints head coach Joe Vitt shake hands after the game at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Saints 23-13. Mandatory Credit: Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports
I recently got a chance to exchange questions and answers with Chris Roling, editor of Fansided’s Saints page, “Who Dat Dish.” It’s great to get an inside from the opposing team’s fan base.
Blogging Dirty: I know some big name defensive players have suffered season injuries this offseason. What can the young guys taking their place bring to the defense?
Who Dat Dish: Well the loss of Will Smith wasn’t as huge as some thought. More of a name than a solid player at this point, especially with him learning a new position. Parys Haralson will come in and start with youngsters Martez Wilson and Junior Galette turned free to rush the passer. It should be a decent crop of guys for the 3-4 the team is running. Nothing special, but will get the job done.
Other than that injuries have not been too horrible yet. You hate to see Kenyon Coleman go but he was stop-gap material anyway. Joe Morgan at receiver is a big loss, but he was in danger of losing playing time to rookie Kenny Stills anyway.
BD: While looking at both Atlanta’s offense and defense, what does New Orleans have to do to come out with a win?
WDD: Drew Brees needs to pick on the young defenders in the Atlanta secondary as much as possible. More importantly he has to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible with Charles Brown having had his fair share of issues at left tackle.
Defensively the Saints need to do “good enough.” That’s about all you ask at this point. Keenan Lewis needs to step up and the young linebackers have to get some semblance of a rush to prevent a total shootout.
BD: Some of the best defenses in the league use a 3-4 defense. How immediate will the impact be and what are some problems you see the defense having this upcoming season?
WDD: It’s going to be a vastly improved unit from a year ago, but that’s not saying much coming off the worst statistical defense in NFL history. A lot of things have to go right—Cam Jordan has to learn 3-4 DE, the young linebackers have to contribute and the leftover 4-3 pieces need to adapt to new responsibilities fast.
The biggest weakness may actually come against the run. The defensive line is littered with guys who have never played in a 3-4 and the linebacker may not be as free to move around as they need to be.
BD: Atlanta’s greatest strength is the offensive weapons. Who is going to have to step up to slow down or stop them?
WDD: There’s no slowing down the Falcons, but that’s especially the case for the Saints. Lewis is going to need to have a big game against Roddy or Julio. He’s no stranger to strong performances against top guys, but it’s a tall order.
The young pass-rushers will be key. Wilson and Galette will need to put pressure on Matt Ryan. The secondary is already weak, Ryan having all day to throw will spell disaster.
BD: New Orleans still sports one of the best offenses in the league. What kind of strategy do they need to score on Atlanta’s opportunistic defense?
WDD: The Saints need a balanced attack. The talent is there at running back and needs to be used properly to keep Atlanta guessing. Atlanta’s defense is no joke in any facet, so becoming one-dimensional will lose the game in a hurry for New Orleans.
BD: Sean Payton is returning to the team after missing the entirety of last season. What is his impact on the team going to be like?
WDD: Huge. There’s been a different aura about the team since he returned. He’ll also get back to having more of a balanced attack on offense like mentioned. It’s a chemistry and locker room sort of thing with Payton as a cause and individual the team can rally around. It’s a major boost for a team coming of its first losing season in a long time.
WDD: Atlanta is expecting big things from young guys in the secondary like Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant. How do you see them panning out overall, and how will they fare against Drew Brees?
BD: In the long run, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have enough athletic prowess to be a fantastic duo at corner. Starting their NFL career against Drew Brees is Trial by fire, however. Trufant should be able to keep up with the receivers, but he’s not going to be able to shut anyone out. He’ll be targeted early and often.
WDD: John Abraham is gone, but Osi Umenyiora joined via free agency. Is there a difference in terms of impact and production?
BD: Yes, John Abraham was a powerful defensive end even in his later years. Osi Umenyiora has been very impactful in New York for years as well. With 10 sacks, Abraham made almost half of the entire teams sack production. Osi only got to the quarterback six times last year. He was, however, injured for a large amount of the season and didn’t see a lot of field time behind New York’s talented pass rushers. Umenyiora is younger and faster, he should fit just fine in the lineup, but he’s not going to be able to put quite as much pressure as Abraham did. Luckily, with a few scheme changes and more talent, he won’t have to.
WDD: Offensive line is perceived as a weakness in Atlanta by some. Is that something that will give the Falcons problems against New Orleans?
BD: As an entirety, the line is not as bad off as a lot of fans think. On the left side, they are set. Sam Baker at left tackle and Justin Blalock at left guard will keep Matt Ryan’s blind side protected. The right side does hold some problems, primarily at right tackle. Peter Konz and Gerret Reynolds are filling their position just fine, but Lamar Holmes looks extremely inconsistent. There were quite a few times Holmes looked like he could stand up just fine against pressure. There were times where he got blown up by a second string defensive end. In a 3-4 defense where there are lots of outside pass rush, if Holmes plays like he has in recent preseason games, there will be a lot of problems in the backfield.
WDD How big is the addition of Steven Jackson. He lost his job last year and is now expected to be that missing piece for Atlanta. How big of an impact will he have on the season overall and against the Saints?
BD: I certainly wouldn’t say he lost his job, his contract expired and he left money on the table to come to Atlanta. Michael Turner was great for a long time, but he had problems in his last season running the clock out and getting that extra yard for the first down. That was a huge problem last year in the Superdome. This year, Steven Jackson is an every down back that should be able to pick up that last yard or touchdown and run hard enough to run out the clock in those close games. One weakness of a 3-4 defense is that there aren’t enough down lineman to put a stop to a decent run unless the middle linebackers are also rushing. Running Jackson often will be the key to stopping the Saints.
WDD: It’s a tough task coming to the Dome and leaving a winner for any team, but especially a rival. Who has to step up outside of the obvious guys like Matt Ryan for Atlanta to start the season on the road with a win?
BD: The Saints’ greatest strength is the passing game. Desmond Trufant as a rookie is going to have to play at the top of his game just to keep up. Lamar Holmes is going to have to do keep the pressure off of Matt Ryan. If he can pick up the blitz like he showed early in the preseason, he’ll be fine. If he plays like he did in the last two, it’ll be that much more difficult. Stephen Nicholas is going to have to cover Jimmy Graham to keep him from being wide open. He’s one of the most talented tight ends in the league and if he isn’t covered well from the linebackers, he’ll have another huge game.
WDD Atlanta finally won a playoff game last year, but still split with the Saints. How do you see this opening weekend contest playing out between the two sides?
BD: It’s really sort of test for Atlanta. With added pieces on defense and a huge addition of Steven Jackson, they look like the Super Bowl contenders all the fans want them to be. If Atlanta has what it takes to win it all, they should be able to go into a playoff atmosphere from day one and come out with a win. It’s never easy to beat the Saints and even if they do end up starting the season at 0-1, they are still a playoff team and will get their chance, but the road will be that much more difficult. I think the Falcons will do what they need to in order to come away with a win, but it certainly won’t be a blowout.