Saints vs. Falcons: Numbers that will matter

The Saints have been close in their two losses this year. Two games lost by a total of four points. Here are some other numbers that will need to go in the Saints’ favor for a win on Monday night.

Sep 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) fourth quarter against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

There are really only two numbers that matter in football: final scores and wins and losses. But there are plenty of stats on which you can look back and  tell the tale of a game. You can see where things need to improve and where you’re doing well.

Here are some numbers the Saints need to work on against the Falcons and for the rest of the season for that matter.

Rushing yards and attempts. Both of these numbers need to be up against the Falcons if the Saints are going to be in this one.

Sep 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) runs the ball against the New York Giants during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Giants defeated the Saints 16-13. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Saints Head Coach Sean Payton is a broken record when it comes to talking about the importance of the running game. Yet it’s been fairly non-existent over the past couple years. And this year it’s barely a blip on the stat radar. For all the talk, Sean Payton is quick to abandon this aspect of the offense.

The benefit of the run, even if you aren’t putting up a hundred or more yards a game, is that it makes the opposing team’s defense have to prepare for it. It opens up opportunities in the passing game for play action and it keeps the linebackers and safeties closer to the line resulting in more man on man coverages.

So far this season, Mark Ingram leads the team in rushing by a long shot with 88 yards. Over two games that is. The Saints are averaging 64.5 yards a game and their opponents 115.5.

The Falcons defense isn’t stout against the run and it’s imperative that the Saints prioritize the rush in this game, keeping Matt Ryan and crew off the field and opening opportunities for Drew Brees to do his thing.

Payton likes to run on first down and, the success rate being low so far on those plays this year, the Saints have been facing far to many 3rd and long situations. They need to try to stick with it. But that brings up the next set of numbers.

If the Saints want to finish drives and keep the Falcons offense off the field they’ll need to do a better job of converting 3rd downs.

Sep 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks to pass against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints are currently 26th in the league converting 3rd downs. A paltry 29.2% conversion rate. That’s not going to cut it. They’re finding themselves in far too many 3rd and longs. Some of that can be attributed to dropped passes and an ineffective run game. But the play calling has been suspect.

They’ve got to figure out a way to improve here. If you can’t pick up first downs you can’t win. That’s football 101. Something has to change with the way the Saints handle these situations or there’s no way they walk away with a win against a strong Falcons offense.

A couple of things appear to be missing in the Saints’ offensive repertoire this year. One is screen plays. Most Saints fans have memories of Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles pulling these off with deadly effect not too long ago. For converting 3rd downs they’re indispensable.

The other missing element is the short passes across the middle. Lance Moore was king of these and Willie Snead certainly does an amazing job as well. In the recent preseason game against the PIttsburgh Steelers, we saw the effect of these plays as our own defense was shredded.

The Saints need to go to guys who can catch in these spots. No more Brandon Coleman or Coby Fleener. Go to the guys who can catch a ball and bring those screens back.

The Saints did their best in Week 2 against the Giants to make the common wisdom that turnovers win games a lie.

Sep 18, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley (46) forces a fumble by New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) after a long reception at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

In that game the Saints defense forced three and the offense gave up none. Somehow the Saints still lost. Turnovers are frequently the result of the opposing team committing an error. But in Week 2 the Saints defense was forcing them.

They need to keep this up against the Falcons and for the rest of the season. The Falcons have been putting together long drives which means there’s more opportunity for the Black and Gold D to try to make something happen.

Rookie safety Vonn Bell is close. You can tell by his performance against the Giants. At Ohio State he was prized for his ball hawking skills and you can just smell that he is about to start making things happen in the turnover department. A Darren Sharper for this new generation.

Against the Falcons, the turnover battle will matter. It goes without saying that the Saints offense has to take care of the rock in this one as well. They’ve done an excellent job through two games.

Sacks, QB pressures, tackles for loss. These numbers may be paramount in this contest.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 18: Michael Mauti

After a dismal outing in Week 1, the Saints came back in Week 2 and got Eli Manning to the ground twice. In addition the guys were flying around the ball and dropping Giants runners in the backfield. There wasn’t, however, consistent pressure on Manning.

Against the Falcons, they’ve got to keep this upward trend going. Falcons RB Tevin Coleman has been a nightmare this season for opposing teams’ defenses. He’s averaging close to 100 yards a game so far rushing and receiving. Many of the receiving opportunities will start for him in the backfield and the Saints need to have guys keyed on that and ready to drop him quickly.

Setting the Falcons up in 2nd and 3rd and long situations will be key if the Saints are going to come away victorious.

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