Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints: 10 Keys to the Game for Atlanta
Atlanta is being mentioned as one of the best teams in the league while New Orleans is left to battle for relevancy and respect in 2012.
Throw it all out. None of it matters. This is Falcons-Saints and records and place in lineage simply don’t matter in this rivalry.
In order to leave the Superdome victorious Sunday, Atlanta will have to play its best game of the season.
There are 10 keys for the Falcons to do just that. Take a look at here.
Take the Lead Early
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During their recent run as one of the NFL's elite teams the New Orleans Saints have feasted on momentum. They are one of the best, if not the best, at playing with the lead.
Moreover, when the Saints are rolling at home the Superdome is one of the loudest venues in the NFL.
The best way to ensure neither of these aspects is a factor is to take the lead early and put the pressure on both the team and fans.
Force the Saints to doubt their ability to win and force the fans to stay in their seats.
Utilize the Amoeba Defense
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As with Manning in Week 2, the Falcons need to be fundamentally disorganized in order to confuse Drew Brees.
If nothing else, ensure that Brees cannot get into a comfortable rhythm. Mike Nolan and the defense need to set the pace and tone of the game when New Orleans' offense is on the field.
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One of the chief complaints of the Mike Smith era has been his propensity to go conservative with a lead heading into the half or a big lead in the fourth quarter.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints offense are not the group you want to give any sliver of hope.
No matter their record, no matter how the game is going, Brees and the Saints are always a threat to put big points on the board and Smith should allow offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to call their game plans from start to finish.
Capitalize on Curtis Lofton's Aggressiveness
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Drafted by Atlanta out of Oklahoma, Curtis Lofton took it as a sign of disrespect when the Falcons made no legitimate effort to re-sign him this past season. Lofton figures to play Sunday’s game with a high level of uncapped emotion, the results of which could be a big detriment to his effectiveness.
Atlanta would be wise to attack Lofton with a high number of misdirection run plays and play-action passes.
The chance is great that Lofton will over-pursue against the run, creating natural cutback lanes, and get sucked up by the run-fake in the play-action passing game, opening passing windows in the middle of the field.
Play Man-Under Pass Coverage
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One of the best ways to counter a high octane passing attack is by playing man-under coverage—certain pass defenders playing man underneath while others, typically one or both safeties, play zone over the top.
There are two types of man-under coverage: man-free, which leaves one safety over the top for help; or two-man, which leaves two safeties over the top for help.
This type of coverage is very difficult to attack and allows the defense to be aggressive in blitzing the quarterback without the typical fear of getting beat deep.
Along the same lines of utilizing the amoeba defense, playing man-under in the secondary will break Brees’ rhythm and frustrate Saint receivers.
Utilize Jacquizz Rodgers as the Feature Back
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The sense going into this game is that it will be a high scoring affair; possibly one that will not be decided until the final possession or play of the game.
It is foreseeable that Atlanta may have to match New Orleans score for score.
Rodgers' overall skill set of speed, strength and receiving ability will allow him to be a consistent matchup threat against New Orleans' speed and athleticism on defense.
Work Julio Jones from the Slot
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Jones is a tough matchup for any defense no matter where he lines up, but from the slot position he creates more problems for the opponent.
Jones in the slot will create mismatches versus a New Orleans nickel corner, safety or linebacker.
Utilizing Jones in the slot may also cause New Orleans to roll the defense in his direction, setting up one-on-one matchups on the other side, as well as the potential for big plays in the weak-side run game.
Max Protect in Pass Protection
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Couple that with the fact that New Orleans did much of the same against Philadelphia and Michael Vick in a victory over the Eagles last week.
Overall this season, Dirk Koetter has put a lot of protection responsibility in Matt Ryan's hands through the use of check-downs and hot reads against the blitz.
Atlanta would be best served to max protect Ryan more this week by using the second tight end and running backs in pass protection.
The Falcons will have little trouble being explosive in the passing game against the Saints only sending three players on routes.
Don't Lose Sight of Defending the Run
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While the Saints are a pass first offense, they are most dangerous when they can be balanced.
Moreover, New Orleans is one of the best in the NFL at using the run game as a big play weapon. In many ways, the Saints flip the football script between run and pass.
They cause opponents to focus on defending the passing game, and the Saints pick up big chunks of yardage on the ground as a result, keeping drives alive and the opponent’s defense on the field.
Furthermore, the design of New Orleans’ offense allows them to rotate back after back into the game and to continue to run their offense without any change.
Dominate on Special Teams
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The clearest path to victory in football is by playing great defense and great special teams.
The Falcons can win this game going away if they dominate the special teams battle.
With Darren Sproles out with a broken hand, the stage is set for Atlanta to own the field position battle as well as any explosive plays in the return game, especially if Harry Douglas is healthy enough to return punts.
In addition, Matt Bryant needs to return to early season form when he started the season perfect on his first 10 field-goal attempts.