Tale Of The Tape: Atlanta Falcons At New Orleans Saints
- QuarterbackMatt Ryan has mastered the position of quarterback – at least when it comes to regular-season football. He is a super-accurate passer who can buy time with his feet and put the ball in a catchable position. After throwing 32 touchdown passes last year, head coach Mike Smith knows that Ryan will make the plays that are needed to keep the Falcons near the top of the heap.The Saints don’t have to take a back seat to too many teams when it comes to quarterback play, and that includes the Falcons. Drew Brees understands the game like few others and he excels at spreading the ball around to his core group of receivers. Confidence, leadership and the joy of playing gives him an edge in the intangible assessments.
- OffenseThe Falcons made a great addition when they picked up former Rams running back Steven Jackson. While he may not have a lot of years left, he should have enough in the tank to give the Falcons a credible running game. The 1-2 receiving punch of Roddy White (ankle) and Julio Jones is explosive and hard to top.The Saints developed a decent power running game with Mark Ingram last year and he will be expected to exceed last year’s 603-yard total. Tight end Jimmy Graham is the best in the NFL at his position and he can make the tough catches and go deep. Marques Colston is one of the most dependable receivers even though he lacks game-breaking speed.
- DefenseThe defense is one of the most underrated aspects to the Falcons' recent success. While they are not the biggest or most powerful unit, they have plenty of speed and play with intelligence. Kroy Biermann had 52 tackles and 4.0 sacks last year. LB Sean Weatherspoon runs well to the ball and had 95 tackles, while FS Thomas DeCoud reads the quarterback well and had six picks.The Saints defense was torn apart by Bountygate last year and that ugly chapter is now behind them. Look for a bounce-back season by this unit. DE Cameron Jordan is coming off an 8.0 sack season and he has the speed to come around the corner and cause havoc. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma needs to show he can become a game-changing player once again.
- Special TeamsSpecial teams have been a strength for the Falcons for several years because they know they can depend on Matt Bryant. He made all four of his FG attempts from 50 or more yards last year. Matt Bosher averaged 47.5 yards as a rookie punter and he should only get better in 2013.Thomas Morstead is one of the best special teams weapons in the league. Not only does he have a booming leg on punts, he also handles the Saints’ kickoff chores. Garrett Hartley will miss a few kicks he should make, but he is solid in the clutch and that’s meaningful. Darren Sproles has quickness and breakaway ability as a return specialist.
The Falcons appear to have a couple of advantages, but those edges are quite narrow. The homefield advantage of playing in front of the Saints’ raucous fans and the return of head coach Sean Payton could turn this game in the home team’s favor. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor