By Matthew Asher
Just like last year, the Atlanta Falcons opened up the regular season against their bitter NFC South rival the New Orleans Saints. If ever there was a time for the Falcons to prove that last season’s 4-12 record was an anomaly, this is it. Last year the Saints swept the Falcons, but both games were very close, each decided by one score. If Atlanta wants to start off this season on a high note, they have their work cut out for them because New Orleans is no pushover.
New Orleans finished the 2013 regular season 11-5, good enough for second place in the NFC South and qualified for the playoffs as the sixth seed. They were able to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 in the Wild Card round of the Playoffs, but lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks 15-23 in the Divisional Round.
The Saints gained the fourth most yardage last season, averaging 399.4 yards per game. Of course in today’s NFL, the majority of that yardage came through the air. Drew Brees threw for more than 5,100 yards and 39 passing touchdowns, placing him second only to Peyton Manning and his record-setting season. Brees completed 68.6 percent of his throws and finished the season with a quarterback rating of 104.7.
Jimmy Graham was the beneficiary of many of those Brees passes. Graham finished the 2013 season with 86 receptions, 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns. While Graham is “stuck” with his official title as a tight end, despite his attempts to be changed to a wide receiver for a larger contract, either way you look at him, he’s a dangerous receiver.
Regarding the New Orleans running attack, it’s one that leaves a lot to be desired. The Saints were one of 10 teams in the NFL to not average at least 100 rushing yards a game. Pierre Thomas led the team in both rush attempts (147) and rush yards (549). Mark Ingram ran the ball 78 times for 386 yards and led the team averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. However neither man led the team in rushing touchdowns. That honor amazingly went to Drew Brees who led the team with three (that’s right) rushing touchdowns in the season.
New Orleans also had very respectable defensive numbers last season. The Saints defense surrendered just 305.7 yards a game, the fourth-least last year. One major reason was their sack numbers (49) which were the fourth most in the league. The main problem for the Saints was their inability to stop teams from scoring. The 414 points given up were the tenth most in the league. In addition, New Orleans had trouble forcing turnovers. They finished the season intercepting just 12 passes, the eighth least in the league. And now with the news that New Orleans just cut 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, it seems like they may have to be content with those low interception numbers once again.
The big question once this game concludes, is how much stock should both teams put in this game, regarding their rematch, because these teams won’t see each other again until their Week 16 matchup, December 21 at the SuperDome. For now, the teams will have to be content with their first matchup at the Georgia Dome September 7. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm ET.
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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.