By Matthew Asher
With just three days off in between games this week, Atlanta is going to have to work fast and hard if they want to hand the New Orleans Saints their third loss of the season and salvage what little is left of the disastrous 2013 season for the Dirty Birds.
Nothing is ever a given in sports, but here are three keys that will give Atlanta a better chance to leave the Georgia Dome with a “W”.
Make the Saints Win on the Ground
Doing this requires that Atlanta actually complete two separate tasks: shut down or limit Drew Brees’ throwing and then stop the ground game. Neither of these two tasks will be easy as Atlanta ranks in the bottom half of the league in both passing and rushing defense. However, giving up 133 rushing yards as opposed to 250 passing yards would always be preferred. New Orleans’ rushing attack is the only part of their offense not ranked in the Top 10.
Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram have taken the majority of the rushing attempts for the Saints. The two have combined for 633 yards on 148 attempts but only two rushing touchdowns. The Saints leader in rushing touchdowns, Darren Sproles has only run the ball 38 times for less than 150 yards.
Force Brees to use his wide receivers
If the Falcons can’t completely stop the Saints aerial attack, they need to shut down Brees’ biggest weapon: tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham leads the team with 60 receptions, 846 yards and 10 touchdowns but he’s also one of the best in the entire league. Those stats are good enough for seventh, ninth and second best in the entire league.
Running backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are second and third on the team regarding receptions. Wide receiver Marques Colston actually ranks fourth on the team in receptions with 39. Although Colston has picked up 529 receiving yards, he’s only recorded two touchdowns. Thomas and Sproles have five touchdown receptions between the two of them.
Win the possession battles
In order to have superior ball control, there are two things Atlanta needs to do well in this game: have long possessions and don’t turn the ball over. They’ve had trouble in both categories as they currently have less than 29 minutes of possession each game and are currently at minus 11 in the turnover department, the second worst in the league. New Orleans, on the other hand, averages almost 34 minutes with the ball and is in the top half of the league with a plus-three turnover ratio.
With six games remaining in their schedule this season, there are still a few games left that would count as statement wins even if the rest of the season has been rough. This is one of those games. Atlanta may be all but eliminated from playoff contention, but that doesn’t mean this team can’t go out and knock off one of the better teams in the league.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:25 pm EST.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.