Falcons vs. Saints: 5 Keys to an Atlanta Falcons Victory
The Atlanta Falcons take on their hated division rival in Week 16 when they travel to New Orleans for a Monday night matchup. With potential playoff implications on the line, it is sure to be a heated feud between the two NFC South studs.
The Falcons winning streak only stands at two right now, but after a below .500 start to the year, they've improved to 9-5 and still remain in the hunt for their second straight division championship.
If Atlanta can go into the Superdome and beat the Saints, and if New Orleans losses their final game to Carolina and the Falcons beat Tampa in the last week of the season, Atlanta will finish in first place.
Yes, it's a long shot, but it could happen, right?
These two already faced off in Week 10, a game that resulted in a 26-23 overtime win for the Saints, and left Mike Smith with plenty of criticism to face.
It will be even tougher to win this time around, but here are the keys for a Falcons' win.
Capitalize on Red Zone Opportunities
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Think back to Week 10. The Falcons came out strong in the opening possession with a 16-play drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock. The result? A 36-yard field goal from Matt Bryant.
Two possessions later, they drove down to the Saints 11-yard line. This time around, it was a 29-yard chip shot to finish the drive.
If Atlanta wants to have any shot at taking down Sean Payton's club, they have to get more out of their big drives. Wearing down the clock and keeping Drew Brees off the field was clearly something they wanted to implicate into the game plan, but it doesn't do the job when you're only up 6-3.
They'll have to make the most of their red zone visits on Monday night. You're not going to beat the Saints by pummeling them with field goals.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Turnovers have killed the Saints in their last two losses. They had four total in the loss to Tampa Bay, and Brees had two picks against St. Louis in that unbelievable defeat.
How many turnovers did the Falcons have against New Orleans earlier this season? Zero. That has to change. Atlanta only turned it over to the Saints one time in that loss, but it didn't matter. They have to find opportunities to give Matt Ryan more possessions this time around.
You always hear the term "opportunistic defense" thrown around when talking about teams that force turnovers. That's what the Falcons need to be in Week 16.
Get Michael Turner Going
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
This is key to just about any Falcons game, but it's even more important this week due to his lack of recent success. Michael Turner hasn't had a 100-yard game since Week 11 against Tennessee. That needs to change.
Steven Jackson had 159 yards and two scores back in Week 8. I keep referencing the Rams' victory because I want to point out than anything is possible. They can be vulnerable to the ground game, and Atlanta needs to take advantage.
Turner had 96 yards on 22 carries in this first game against New Orleans this season. Even if they are down early, Atlanta can't stray away from feeding The Burner.
Give It to Julio Jones
Julio Jones left Week 10's matchup due to that bothersome hamstring of his. He only had two catches for a whopping nine yards.
It has become apparent to just about everyone why the Falcons drafted Jones, and why they gave up so much to acquire his talents. He is capable of breaking off huge plays at any moment, something the team has lacked in the past.
He's also opened up room for Roddy White. Both receivers shined on Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars, as they combined for 15 catches for 220 yards and three touchdowns. If they can have this kind of performance against the Saints—keep in mind their pass defense ranks 28th—they have a serious shot of winning.
Find a Way to Slow Down Brees
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
This is easier said than done, because no one seems to be able to slow down Drew Brees. He now stands at 37 touchdowns and just 11 picks on the season, giving him a passer rating of 109.1.
I guess that's pretty good...
You either have to outscore Brees, like the Packers did in Week 1, or force him to throw a couple interceptions, like the Bucs and Rams did. Brees finished with 322 yards and two touchdowns in his first game against Atlanta this year, and he didn't turn the ball over once. Not a good combination for Atlanta.
Still, the Falcons managed to stay in the game and take New Orleans to overtime. If their secondary can force one or two interceptions, it could be all the help they need to come away on top. Of course, another three-interception game would be nice to see, but that might be wishful thinking.
The Saints had virtually no ground game against Atlanta earlier in the year, so they will probably have to rely on Brees to lead the way again. He has so many weapons around him that it makes it nearly impossible to stop this juggernaut of an offense. The Falcons know they aren't going to shut him down completely, but they have to figure out a way to at least limit the damage. Again, easier said than done.