The 2012 season is starting to wind down, and the New Orleans Saints are in quite the predicament. They dug themselves into a deep hole at the beginning of the season, but they have clawed their way back and are now clumped together with a cluster of teams fighting for those two NFC wild-card spots.
In order for the New Orleans Saints to make a remarkable comeback and make the postseason, they have to play some of their best and more inspired football, and it starts now. That's right, it's rivalry week: a rematch against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. This will be a daunting task for the Saints.
This is going to be huge, and the margin of error is very small for the New Orleans Saints.
The following are some keys to the game for the New Orleans Saints.
The injury bug has hit the Saints offensive line hard, specifically the right tackle position. If starting tackle Zach Strief isn't ready to go, the Saints will have to look to recently signed William Robinson since Charles Brown and Bryce Harris both went down with an injury.
The line needs to step up and do a heck of a job protecting their quarterback. Now, the Atlanta Falcons defense isn't as ferocious as the 49ers defense, but, defensive end John Abraham can wreak some havoc. Through 11 games, Abraham has four forced fumbles and nine sacks.
The Saints run game was slowed down against the 49ers, but then again, which team doesn't have a hard time running against the 49ers?
As the Saints did in a Week 10 win against the Falcons, the Saints must get their ground game going again. In that game, the Saints rushed for a combined 148 yards.
The Falcons are ranked 23rd in run defense, so it shouldn't be too difficult for Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory or Darren Sproles to get things going. Mixing up the play-calling and having a balanced attack will keep the Atlanta defense on its heels and get them tired. With an effective run game, the Saints are able to control the clock and keep their defense rested.
In Week 10, Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez scorched the New Orleans zone-scheme defense. He finished the game with 11 receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
The Saints can't afford for the tight end to have another big night against them, so they have to shut Gonzalez down, or at least slow him down, which will be a difficult task. The Saints can either double him, but that will leave someone else open, or single Gonzalez, but he can get open.
Saints linebackers and their secondary have to be on top of their game and prevent the big plays from happening while covering Gonzalez. Safety Roman Harper, who will be seeing a good amount of Gonzalez on Thursday night, needs to pay extra attention to him.
In the Saints' first meeting against the Falcons in Week 10, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had a monster game. He scorched the Falcons defense to the tune of seven receptions for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns.
The Falcons had a hard time stopping Graham in Week 10, and it should be no different this time around.
Graham just has to focus more and work on not dropping passes. He leads the NFL in dropped passes with nine. Graham needs to play his best game and get the Falcons' attention. It can lead to more big plays for the Saints' other dangerous weapons.
It's not possible for the Saints to completely shut down the Falcons' dangerous receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones. But what their secondary must do is find a way to slow one or the other receiver down.
In the last meeting between these two teams, the Falcons' dangerous tandem combined for 11 receptions and 189 yards. The longest reception going for 52 yards by Julio Jones. The Saints must try to eliminate the big plays from the Falcons receivers and also make the big plays at the right time, as they've been doing as of recent.