Atlanta-New Orleans: Falcons Swoop in to Face Saints in NFC South Showdown
The Saints (6-0) can take an early three-game lead in the NFC South race over the Falcons (4-2) with a victory.
The top offense in the NFL faces a defense that's 11th in points allowed, but just 25th in yards allowed. The Falcons rank in the bottom third of the league in both rushing yards and passing yards allowed.
New Orleans' defense has contributed significantly to the team's undefeated record.
They lead the league in passes defended, interceptions per game, defensive touchdowns, and forced turnovers.
They also rank ninth in yards allowed per play and 11th in total yards.
While the defensive improvement has been a team effort, much of the credit goes to free safety Darren Sharper.
Sharper leads the NFL in interceptions (six) and defensive touchdowns (three). His 317 interception return yardage this season ranks third on the all-time list and he's just one long interception return away from breaking Ed Reed's record of 358 return yards.
Matchups to Watch
1) Drew Brees vs. Falcons' secondary: Atlanta is 0-2 against teams that possess passing offenses that rank in the top-10.
Both of those games, like the showdown against the Saints, were on the road.
2) Tony Gonzalez vs. Saints' outside linebackers: Gonzalez will be by far the best tight end the Saints have faced all season.
Until now, the most productive tight end the Saints faced was the Eagles' Brent Celek, who gained 104 yards in Week Two.
New Orleans held Gonzalez to 39 yards last season when he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, but that was when Tyler Thigpen was tossing the ball his way.
Thigpen is now buried on the depth chart in Miami.
3) Eric Weems vs. Saints' kickoff coverage: One of the few disappointments for the undefeated Saints has been their coverage units.
Weems ranks eighth in the league in kickoff return average (28.1 yards) among players with at least one kickoff return per team game. Weems has a long return of 62 yards.
The Saints' defense, while improved over last season, is still not good enough to consistently stop teams from scoring when the starting field position favors the other team.
The Saints will win if...
1) They continue to force turnovers.
New Orleans has forced at least two turnovers in each of their six games this season. The defense has scored on nearly one-third of their forced turnovers and have a touchdown in half of their six games.
2) They keep Brees off the Superdome floor.
Through the first five games, Brees was sacked just four times. Against Miami in game six, he was sacked five times.
Not coincidentally, the Saints quarterback threw three interceptions and the passing game looked out of sync in the first half. Against the Dolphins, the Saints trailed for the first time all season.
That, also, is not a coincidence.
The combination of Monday Night Football, an undefeated record, and a game against the hated Falcons will have the home crowd as loud as they've ever been.
I expect the dome advantage to be in full force. Look for Matt Ryan and his offensive line to struggle. I'll give the defense two sacks, a forced fumble, and one interception.
Look for Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell combine for 30 carries, 145 yards, and two touchdowns against run defense that allows 4.6 yards per carry.
I see Drew Brees going 23 of 33 for 307 yards and two touchdowns.
New Orleans 38, Atlanta 24
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