The New Orleans Saints have proved to be a tough team for the Falcons to get past. Atlanta has dropped five of their last six games to the Saints but did get a much needed win in 2008 after two consecutive years without a victory in the series.
This year will showcase two great offenses as Matt Ryan and Drew Brees square off in what will likely be high scoring affair. Both Atlanta and New Orleans enter the year with hopes of taking home the divisional crown. The games between the two franchises will likely be one of the most important factors in determining the winner of the NFC South.
Falcons Defense vs. Saints Offense
By far the biggest challenge for the Falcons against the Saints will be trying to slow down the most prolific offense in football last year. The Saints were first in points per game, yards per game, and passing yards per game. Drew Brees led the way with his league leading 34 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards passing.
While Brees is a challenge for the Falcons, they have hope of creating havoc for the Pro Bowl quarterback. Brees threw 17 interceptions last year with 14 of those coming in the Saints 8 losses. In the Falcons only victory against the Saints, Brees threw for 422 yards but had three interceptions.
Another aspect of the passing game that makes the Saints hard to defend against is the number of receivers that are utilized. Despite having the leading passing offense last year, the Saints did not have a receiver over 1,000 yards but did have seven receivers with over 30 catches and three with more than 700 yards receiving.
The good news for the Falcons defense is the struggle that New Orleans had in 2008 moving the ball on the ground. Even thought they had the big name backs of Bush and McAllister, Pierre Thomas was the leading rusher with only 625 yards for the year. This led them to have the league’s fifth worst rushing offense last year. In 2009 they have no major additions and McAllister is gone so look for the Saints to continue to have trouble running the ball.
The Saints offense will be one of the toughest the Falcons will face in 2009 but they are one dimensional. The key on defense for Atlanta will be to slow down the passing attack and try to create pressure on Brees in an effort to force turnovers.
Falcons Offense vs. Saints Defense
The Saints defense could be a very favorable matchup for the Falcons offense. Last year New Orleans was the sixth worst team in points allowed. There will likely be a step forward for the team though as they added new faces to their defense in the draft. The biggest addition will be CB Malcolm Jenkins out of Ohio State who should be ready to play and produce in week one.
The most intriguing part of this side of the ball will be watching Michael Turner against the Saints defense who gave up 117 yards per game on the ground in 2008. The Saints have improved their secondary through the draft but their front four remain the same. If Atlanta can establish the run then that will open up a lot of things for the Falcons offense.
Matt Ryan also has the potential to have big games against what will be a young secondary. The Saints were mediocre against the pass last year and with the addition of Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta’s roster Ryan will have a lot of options. If Turner is running the ball effectively look for Ryan to make some big throws off of play action.
Both Atlanta and New Orleans have respectable special teams. Atlanta’s main advantage is their standout place kicker Jason Elam who was 28 for 29 inside of 50 yards last year.
The biggest threat to the Falcons on special teams is Reggie Bush. Bush only played in ten games for the Saints in 2008 but managed to take three to the house on returns. His quickness blows people away and the Falcons have to be prepared for Bush on every play. His lightning speed could be a difference maker if the Falcons are not able to contain him on kickoffs and punts.
The two games between the Saints and Falcons in 2008 will be exciting to watch. Both teams will look to move the ball quickly on offense and both teams are talented enough to make big plays.
One of the keys for both teams will be to avoid making mistakes. Turnovers will be costly in this matchup as they proved to be last year. If the Falcons can force New Orleans to make mistakes then they have a great shot at winning.
Look for a split between Atlanta and New Orleans in 2009. The teams matchup well on offense against each other but if the Falcons defense is able to step up they could rob a game from the Saints and possible win both meetings.