By Matthew Asher
While the saying “revenge is a dish best served cold” certainly sounds nice, the Falcons simply don’t have time to wait before attempting their revenge. Just three weeks ago, New Orleans handed Atlanta its first and only loss of the season.
Since less than a month has gone by since these two teams last met, not much has changed with either team. Yet again, this is a battle of two high-powered offenses. Both teams are still led by two of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league. Matt Ryan’s 3,425 passing yards is the second most in the league. Drew Brees has thrown for 3,333 yards, the fourth most in the league.
While putting up lots of yards through the air is good, they’re not worth anything if you can’t score. Both the Falcons and Saints are two of the top teams in the league when it comes to putting points up on the board. New Orleans averages 28 points a game, the fifth most in the league while Atlanta is slightly behind the Saints, averaging 26.7 points, the eighth most in the league.
While these two teams are a force to be reckoned with on offense, defense leaves something to be desired. Atlanta’s statistics are respectable, but not eye-popping. The Falcons give up about 345 yards of total offense, 15th in the league, with 222 yards coming through the air, 12th in the league, and 123 yards on the ground, 23rd in the league. The one stat Atlanta does very well on defense is points allowed. Giving up fewer than 20 points per game is the sixth least in the league.
New Orleans’ defensive numbers are eye-popping, for all the wrong reasons. The Saints are dead last when it comes to total yards allowed, nearly 455, and rushing yards allowed, 157 per game. The 298 passing yards given up is the third most in the league and the 27.6 points allowed is the fifth most.
However when Atlanta and New Orleans played a few weeks ago, these stats didn’t matter. Atlanta’s defense couldn’t contain the Saints. Brees threw for almost 300 yards and three touchdowns, with nearly 150 yards and two touchdowns going to tight end Jimmy Graham. As far as preventing the run, Atlanta did an okay job, allowing 149 yards, but gave up a 56-yard run to Chris Ivory in the first quarter.
Matt Ryan threw for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns, but it was the Falcons running game that eventually doomed the team. As stated above, New Orleans was and still has the worst run defense in the league. Atlanta managed just 46 yards on the ground, with Michael Turner gaining just 15 yards on 13 carries. There is no way to sugarcoat just how abysmal the Falcons running game was.
If the Falcons want to leave the Georgia Dome this Thursday with their eleventh win of the season, this is what they must do:
1. Establish a running game. Atlanta threw the ball nearly 75% of the time against New Orleans. Without a sense of balance, the Saints defense can just focus on Ryan’s arm rather than Turner’s, or any other running back, legs. Even if Turner and company statistically have a bad game, showing you are willing to run will keep the Saints defense honest.
2. Prevent the big plays. The 56-yard touchdown to Chris Ivory was a backbreaker for the Falcons. Take that one play out of the equation and Atlanta would have kept New Orleans to less than 100 yards on the ground. This means the defensive anchors John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux, Asante Samuel and Sean Weatherspoon have to tackle well and not worry about laying a flashy big hit on the ball carrier.
3. Spread the ball around on offense. Atlanta did a good job of this last time against the Saints. Both Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark with Julio Jones picking up 75 receiving yards. Ryan completed at least one pass to eight different receivers. If he does this again, the Falcons have a chance to win.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.