We're a full day away, and yet I already know what song will be stuck in my head tomorrow:
Dun dun dun dunnn...
(Da dun, da dun, da dun)...
Bum bum bum bum bum bummm...
And from that, I suppose you've gathered that, aside from the fact that I'm a young Frank Sinatra with my singing voice, the Dirty Birds will be doing battle on 2008's No. 1-ranked cable TV show. What a terrific chance to catch my Falcs in primetime and actually, I don't know, do some work on Sunday afternoon!
But that's about where my excitement ends, considering who Atlanta faces. I'm just going to let the facts do the talking.
New Orleans Rush Offense vs. Atlanta Rush Defense
That's funny. Is NFL.com's stats page messed up or something? Because every offensive category I click on, the New Orleans Saints appear on top.
Gee whiz, I was expecting this for the passing categories, but I did not realize just how well-rounded this attack is.
Looking specifically at what they do in the run game, we've got three threats to deal with—and that's about one-and-a-half too many, judging by how we've played on ground D so far this season. Yes, we controlled the Dolphins, who since have emerged as an OK team, but they didn't (and can't) vary the attack the way the Saints can.
Mike Bell's punishing downhill style softens things up for Pierre Thomas, and then Reggie Bush comes in to screw up your plans once you think you've got everything figured out.
I guess I can take this away: I was right in one of my preseason articles that Bush won't ever be a feature back.
But that doesn't really matter when his team is killing it like it is right now, does it?
I wrote on this site a week ago, and still believe in it: Jamaal Anderson's switch to tackle is going to continue to help in "stuffage" (I'm a genius when it comes to making up words, in case you haven't noticed). He showed good footwork on a couple of plays last week, once snatching Marion Barber from behind at the line when he might have otherwise picked up seven, eight, or 15 yards.
Of course, we also allowed Tony Romo 31 yards on the ground, a staggering number considering my evaluation of the man's scrambling technique.
Anyways, in case you've yet to gather what I think is going to happen in this particular unit matchup, I'll just regurgitate a few digits for you:
The Saints are third in the league in rushing yards per game, tied for first in rushing touchdowns, and tops in total points despite already having had their bye week. The Falcons are tied for 26th in average yards allowed per rushing play.
Atlanta Rush Offense vs. New Orleans Rush Defense
Despite my frustration with Week Seven's end result, all thing considered, the run game did seem to take a step forward. Michael Turner ended up with 50, but Jason Snelling (remember me begging for more playing time for him?) got 68 and helped us actually best the 'Boys in terms of overall yardage.
Still, there's the undeniable fact that Dallas is just a middle-of-the-road defensive team, while the Saints are, all of a sudden, very solid stoppers.
Wait, did I just say that? For everything I got right in that aforementioned preseason article, it appears there's something I'm eating my words on...
For a team that guns it like Nawlins does, you wouldn't expect such stalwart play, but it's all too true.
I predicted the Scotts (Shanle and Fujita) to again rise to the occasion, but underestimated just how well Jonathan Vilma would play in his homecoming. And then there's that darned secondary, which includes two-thirds of the Saints' top six tacklers.
Specifically, I'm afraid of Roman Harper and his four tackles for loss. I also look at Snelling and Turner, two top-heavy guys, against fast fellas like Harper and Jabari Greer, and I cringe at the mental picture of our backs just toppling when the smaller corners and safeties nip at their heels.
It could potentially be a long night.
In terms of factors in our favor, I might mention that Saints tackle Sedrick Ellis is out, but I'd just get laughed at. "Backup" (not for long!) Anthony Hargrove is just as dangerous, if not more.
Still, allow me to give credit to offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey for getting creative (and getting results) last week. Who knows, maybe Snelling is the solution and will start to open things up for the Burner as the season goes along.
As we saw last week, a more threatening rushing attack will pay dividends (at least in terms of number of options) in the passing game. Defenders can only concentrate on so many threats at once.
New Orleans Pass Offense vs. Atlanta Pass Defense
I bet you thought the praise for the N.O. "O" was over. But wait, there's more!
This team is sixth in passing yards per game; fourth in completion percentage, passing touchdowns, and yards per pass; and third in passer rating. But really, I'm taking the easy way out by just citing the numbers.
A qualitative analysis will make fellow Atlantans even more sick to their stomachs.
Marques Colston's continued emergence isn't that big of a surprise, as he already more or less stopped my heart with shock by producing the way he did prior to '09 after being a seventh-round pick, but Devery Henderson being as reliable as he has been truly is. I know, I'd dismissed him as way too small, too!
The fact that Jeremy Shockey might be slightly hampered by his shoulder tweak is encouraging, but just barely. He's still a body we have to cover, and considering how well we covered individual threats last week in the secondary (Miles Austin simply must be cheating somehow), we may need to double Shock with both a linebacker and a corner.
Which will leave us open to one of the Saints' other guys, like Robert Meachem, Lance Moore (remember, he was predicted to be a starter at one point), or, worst of all, the crafty Bush. He just has way too many good moves in the open field. You know we're going to let him catch it (unless Thomas DeCoud plays like he did in the first quarter against Dallas for a whole game), and he'll then proceed to pick up yards, or more like points, after the reception.
Judging by the Falcons' performance against the Cowboys, it looks like the injury to Brian Williams is going to hurt us way more than I thought. I wouldn't have guessed that the ACL of a last-minute cornerback signing was going to be more important than the ACL of Harry Douglas, but it looks that way. Poor Brent Grimes is just too inconsistent and gives up a lot in size, especially to Colston.
Atlanta Pass Offense vs. New Orleans Pass Defense
It'll be the key, considering this is the only category in which we might be able to measure up to our opponents. We've had games in which the aerial assault looked like the best in the league, and though last week was not one of those occasions and we are now facing a much better secondary, there's always a chance when Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White are involved.
Shanle, Fujita, Harper, and Sharper all match up decently against Gonzo, certainly better than most of the defensive stars we've faced. It sounds like I'm on repeat, but I must say again: The solution for this is to mix things up every play.
Mularkey seemed to agree with me against the Panthers in Week Two, but since then, we've strayed from the successful pattern in favor of giving the running game more chances, and only just now gotten results as Snelling's been carrying the ball.
Hot Rod led the team with 50 receiving yards last week, but to beat the Saints we're going to need a true standout performance from him. Looking at last week's box score is fun, as pretty much everyone who caught the ball got double-digit yardage, but it ended up not being all that effective to share the ball in that way.
Of course, what stung particularly bad against the 'Boys last week were the two picks. It goes without saying that the resulting point swings decided the contest there in the second and third quarters.
Get it straight: I don't think that Ryan's performance is declining; indeed, he remains as cool as he was when I praised him a couple weeks ago. But he doesn't seem to be seeing things as well as he did earlier in the campaign.
Then again, in our most recent outing, it didn't help that the line (just a little less than seven days after hushing the Bears' rush) let Ice get sacked four frickin' times. Saints ends Charles Grant and Will Smith are doing particularly well in getting to the quarterback thus far, so we better take note and improve protection.
Finally, I'll just mention Eric Weems' production in the slot last week, when he made both catches on throws targeting him, picking up 33 yards. A rotation of him, Michael Jenkins, White, and Tony G would do us some good.
Prediction: Saints 41, Falcons 24
Yep, the eternal Dirty Bird optimist is a little down heading into this one. It's going to be a heckuva lot closer when it's in our dome, but after seeing the Giants get dismantled in the Big Easy, I can't pretend we're going to stop these guys from scoring.
Meanwhile, their D is more than good enough to hold our offense to an "average performance" (hope you're reading, Alex R. and Derrick S., who gave me hell back in May for my assessment of the Saints' offseason improvements on D).
At least I know what I'm watching Monday night, right?
(Yeah, this, until my stories come on.)