Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) celebrates his interception in the second quarter of their game against the Arizona Cardinals at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The Atlanta Falcons have a game this week against a fierce rival, the New Orleans Saints.
In recent seasons, the back-and-forth between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers has elevated the rivalry between the two southern ball clubs.
However, when it comes to deep-rooted, rivalries in the NFC South, no other duel trumps the friction that is between the Falcons and the New Orleans Saints. Through 93 games played between the two, the Falcons hold the lead with a 48-45 record as well as the most points scored against a particular opponent with 2,030. Last season, the Saints swept the series and provided two bitter losses for the Falcons and their disappointing 2015 season.
Last week, the Falcons went toe-to-toe with a scrappy Oakland Raiders team and earned their first victory of the season. The offense totaled 528 yards, 27 first downs, average 8.2 yards per play, and was too much for the Raiders defense. The Falcons defense, on the other hand, was underwhelming, to say the least but the unit did get a key fourth down stop late in the fourth quarter that helped preserved the win.
How can the Falcons continue their winning ways with a win in hostile territory that is New Orleans? Here is a to-do checklist for the Monday night showdown.
Sep 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) is congratulated by quarterback Matt Ryan (2) after scoring a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the second quarter at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
1. Set The Tone Early
The energy and emotions will be heightened based on the contest being the 10-year anniversary of the Saints first home game after Hurricane Katrina.
You know. The one where former Saints safety Steve Gleason gets a blocked punt early in the first quarter that gave the team a 7-0 lead, had every Saints fan on their feet in an uproar, and an eventual victory.
So with the fans and the Saints being at an elevated emotional state, it is going to be critical for the Falcons to set the tone and dictate the game flow early. Not just on offense but on defense as well. In the first contest last season, the Falcons gained 150 yards on the ground and the run game will need to be just as productive or even better this time around.
Getting running back Devonta Freeman carries early will establish what has been a solid element for the Falcons dating back to last season. We also saw quarterback Matt Ryan get in a groove early in the game against Oakland and balanced play calling along with Ryan being locked in resulted in Ryan hitting nine different receivers along with the run game averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
It will be extremely vital for the Falcons to get hot early and eliminate the Saints advantage of having the home crowd behind them.
Oct 15, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) runs for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
2. Establish Lengthy Drives
When playing the Saints, some teams prefer to get in a shootout with Saints to combat their loaded offense. While the Falcons have the firepower to go blow-for-blow with New Orleans, an effective way to counter the Saints and their high-scoring offense is too limit possessions for Saints quarterback Drew Brees and company.
In Atlanta’s eight victories last season, the Falcons won the time-of-possession battle in all eight wins. As a matter of fact, the Falcons were first in the league in T.O.P last season.
Sep 27, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan on the sidelines against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Establishing clock-killing drives takes the ball out of the hands of Brees and his offense will also allowing the Falcons defense to revive and restore much-needed energy to defend against an offense such as the Saints.
In order for this to happen, the play-calling needs to be balanced. That task alone falls into the lap of Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and at times, the young coordinator has succeeded in that department while other times, he has truly dropped the ball. The combination of Freeman and backfield mate Tevin Coleman are more than enough to keep the Saints defense on their toes. Balanced play calling allows the Falcons offense to chew up precious time for the Saints and the less possessions for New Orleans, the better.
Sep 11, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) celebrates his interception from Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (not pictured) in the first quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
3. Gain Multiple Turnovers
For a defense that is giving up yards, big play, and points by the boatload, turnovers have even more of an importance for the Falcons. So far this season, Atlanta has corralled a grand total of one turnover which was an interception by Desmond Trufant in week one.
Going back to last season, the Falcons only totaled one turnover in both contests against New Orleans. Obtaining three-and-outs against New Orleans may be a rare occurrence on Monday night but a much better way of slowing down or limiting the Saints offense is to collect interceptions and/or fumbles.
During Atlanta’s 5-0 start last season, the defense totaled 10 turnovers. With an offense as dangerous as Atlanta’s, providing extra possessions for JulioJones and the boys is always a proper gameplan for the Falcons. These extra possessions will only lead to more scoring opportunities that of course Atlanta will have to capitalize on.
I’m pretty much starving for quarterback sacks at this point. Beating the Saints without providing consistent pressure on Brees is pretty much next to impossible. For a team that has totaled 41 sacks the past two seasons combined, the potential for vast improvement in that department hasn’t been seen at all.
It isn’t as if there is a considerable void in talent on the defensive line. Edge rusher VicBeasley has immense potential, defensive end Adrian Clayborn is capable of holding his own, and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux has shown the ability to create pressure on the interior. Yet, somehow, for some reason, the Falcons find themselves in a predicament.
Resigning outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield can help although he isn’t going the “save the day”. The addition of Dwight Freeney will help as well although the veteran isn’t necessarily the perfect elixir to an ailment such as this. The Falcons only sacked Brees once in the two games last season and that can not happen again. The defensive scheme implemented by head coach Dan Quinn is predicated on the front four defensive line create pressure and accumulating sacks with the aiding of linebacker blitzes. The ability to have a defensive line that can get after the quarterback on the regular will make this defense look totally different but it all starts with the current group of guys up front.