5 Ways the Falcons Can Hold out Against the Resurgent Saints
As the Falcons and Saints clash on the Week 13 edition of Thursday Night Football, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape in the NFL.
While the Falcons have all but sealed a playoff berth, the Saints are still vying for a spot in the postseason.
After a slow start that saw New Orleans lose its first four games, Drew Brees and the Saints bounced back with a pair of wins against the Chargers and Buccaneers.
Since then, they're 3-2 in their last five games and still fighting hard to get back to competitive form and give themselves a chance.
The Falcons, on the other hand, sit atop the NFC South at 10-1 and have had much success this season.
However, lately, the Falcons have shown their weak points, and despite winning four of their last five games, most wins have come by close margins on the scoreboard.
Nonetheless, the Saints will have their work cut out for them once the opening kickoff commences tonight, and there are five ways the Falcons can hold them off and continue their dominance in the NFC South.
No. 5: Limit Turnovers
It's no secret that teams who turn the ball over often are bound to lose games.
Against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11, Ryan threw five interceptions. Even though Atlanta still came out in victory, it won't fly against the hungry Saints defense.
Ryan's turnovers in that game weren't one-game instances either, as Ryan threw two picks in the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.
As of late, the Saints defense has done a better job of putting pressure on quarterbacks, forcing them to make hasty decisions. Matt Ryan can occasionally make a big play under that pressure, but with his current interception problem, that may be the death-knell in this game.
No. 4: Learn from the Past
In their Week 10 matchup, the Saints edged out a win against the Falcons by a score of 31-27.
In that game, the Saints defense was able to run down Ryan forcing him to make some bad choices in the pocket.
The Saints secondary was also good against them, evidenced by a big touchdown-saving breakup from cornerback Jabari Greer as he got in the way of a pass intended for Falcons wideout Roddy White.
The Saints frustrated the Falcons in that game, as earlier they prevented Falcons running back Michael Turner from a 1-yard touchdown run.
That said, the Falcons need to do a better job of being aggressive when it comes to the running game and capitalize on Matt Ryan's ability and Tony Gonzalez's touch.
Gonzalez finished that game with 11 catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns, in the process making him the league's first tight end to catch 100 touchdown passes.
If the Falcons are going to be successful, they need to go to the air more often and let the Ryan-Gonzalez connection work in order to put themselves in the lead and get room to work with on the scoreboard.
No. 3: Stop Drew Brees
In their last matchup, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had a stellar performance, throwing for 298 yards and three touchdowns.
Even though the Saints aren't having their best season, Brees has been solid for them as he currently has a 31 touchdowns and a 98.5 passer rating.
In order to slow him down, the Falcons defense is going to have to be on top of its game in all facets as Brees has weapons in almost every arsenal.
First, the Atlanta defensive line is going to have to penetrate the New Orleans offensive line and put pressure on Brees to not only make him run, but sack him for big losses in yards.
Pressuring Brees will force him to make untimed and unprepared throws that will limit big gains downfield.
In the event that Brees is able to showcase his arm strength, Atlanta's secondary is going to have to see big plays from their corners to break up those long passes from him that usually result in big gains downfield.
No. 2: Matt Ryan Has to Outplay Drew Brees
Keeping with the theme of building upon the past, Matt Ryan also had a great performance the last time the Falcons played New Orleans.
Ryan posted a career-high 411 yards and threw for three touchdowns and only one interception.
In order for the Falcons to avenge this loss, Ryan has to perform like this or even better and make those big throws to his receivers that set up the red-zone offense.
Ryan also has to focus on getting the ball in Tony Gonzalez's hands. As mentioned, Gonzalez is having a great season so far as he's caught 61 passes for 617 yards and six touchdowns.
If Ryan can maintain composure in the pocket, maintain himself while his receivers set up and place the ball on the numbers of his wideouts, he can out-perform Drew Brees which is a big key in putting a wrench in a high-octane Saints offense.
No. 1: Stop the Run
A big part of the Saints success has been the hard running by running back Mark Ingram.
The New Jersey native has carried for 334 yards and two touchdowns. While not big numbers by any stretch, Ingram has been able to give New Orleans better field positioning with his ability to find holes in opposing teams defenses.
On the other hand, young stud Chris Ivory has been playing well, posting 191 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.
Field position is crucial in the NFL, and having Drew Brees in their red zone and breathing down their necks is the last thing the Falcons want.
In being able to stop the run, Atlanta then forces Brees to look towards his receiving corps to make plays, and coupled with pressure on him in the pocket and forcing bad throws will equal a bad night for Brees and better chance for the Falcons to win.
Many consider the Saints-Falcons rivalry to be among the best in the NFL, and with this game being a re-match of their Week 10 clash, Atlanta will surely be looking to make a statement by avenging the loss and improving to an 11-1 dominating record.