Falcons vs. Saints: 5 Things We Learned in Atlanta's Loss to Drew Brees and Co.
Instead of potentially vying for first place in the NFC South, the Falcons ended Monday night on one of their lowest notes of the season. They were stomped by the Saints in a 45-16 loss at the Superdome, a game that completely got away from Atlanta after the opening quarter.
The Falcons led 10-7 heading into the second quarter but found themselves down 21-10 at the half. There were several chances to pull closer to New Orleans throughout the game, but ultimately the Falcons were no match for the division leader.
Matt Ryan finished with 373 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers, but he couldn't quite fuel his team past its struggles as the game progressed. Michael Turner only had 11 carries total, which seemed to put a lot of pressure on the passing game.
The Falcons are still going to make the playoffs, but this isn't exactly the way they wanted to close out the season. Tampa Bay will be their final opponent, which is fortunate for Atlanta as the wheels have really come off the Bucs in the second half of 2011.
We'll see if Atlanta can figure out their problems when the head into the postseason, but for now, what did we learn this week?
The Defense Needs Change
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The Falcons could not for the life of them figure out how to slow down New Orleans for the majority of this road test. The Saints were 10-of-13 on third down conversions, in large part due to their seven yard per play average.
Their pass defense has always been middle-of-the-road, but the Falcons' run D been elite in 2011. Yet lately, this hasn't been the trend. Maurice Jones-Drew had plenty of success running the ball against Atlanta last week, and now the Saints—who averaged 2.6 yards per carry against Atlanta in Week 10—found miles and miles of running room.
OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but the run D is getting worse. The secondary's zone coverage stood no chance against Drew Brees. He found holes left and right with plenty of space for receivers to run.
Also, where was the pass rush? Atlanta finished with one sack on the night. When they did have a chance to stop the Saints on third down, the Falcons put no pressure on Brees and allowed him to sit back and have his way.
It's no simple task stopping the Saints high-powered offense, but this was a demoralizing display for Atlanta. They looked like they were just giving up at times. Dunta Robinson decided to have a nice jog on several plays, trailing receivers by several yards. No playoff games will be won playing this way.
Scoring Touchdowns Can Be an Issue
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
It appeared that the Falcons were past any scoring woes they had ever endured this season, as they put up a combined 72 points in their last two games. Well, the Saints didn't seem to care what Atlanta had accomplished recently coming into Monday night's game.
The Falcons came out red hot against New Orleans yet again, only to be stifled throughout the remainder of the contest. Matt Bryant added in several field goals, which clearly isn't the way to take down the Saints.
Atlanta's offense abandoned the run, again, and they were hurt several times by penalties. Things looked out of sync, especially in the red zone. The closer Atlanta gets to the end zone, the tougher it seems to finish drives off.
It's looking like they'll have to take on the Saints again in the playoffs at this point, so this will be a major factor going forward. You have to find ways to put six points up on the board.
The D Can Be Opportunistic
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Despite the overall dismal performance by the defense, we saw a couple huge plays that prove the Falcons' secondary can make big things happen.
William Moore knocked a ball straight up into the air in the back of the end zone, leading to an interception by Dominique Franks. It was a heads play up by Moore, and it's exactly what you like to see out of your safety.
Dunta Robinson had another gem to open the second half, when he tipped a ball intended for Robert Meachem right to himself, giving the Falcons their second pick of the game.
These are the kind of plays we were used to seeing last season. Atlanta ranked fourth in the NFL in interceptions in 2010, but this year they sit at No. 17. The offense didn't take advantage of the turnovers, but at least we know they are still capable of creating the opportunities they had last season. If they want to have any shot at winning in the playoffs, they'll need more plays like these.
Drew Brees Is a Great Leader for New Orleans
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Someone finally broke Dan Marino's single season passing record, and what better way to do it than on Monday night against a division rival.
Drew Brees now sits on 5,087 yards for the season, and he finished Week 16's matchup with four touchdowns and 307 yards. He is the leader of the Saints and has proven himself time and time again.
Brees picked apart the Falcons' secondary to lead his team to a crushing victory. He's clearly one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL today, and has made a mark in the records books with this season's performance. Congrats on breaking the record Drew Brees, it was tough to watch as a Falcons' fan.
Chris Owens Doesn't Quit
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
This isn't the biggest point you look toward after the Falcons Monday night game, but it's worth noting. Chris Owens ran down Darren Sproles on a kickoff return in the third quarter, and the Saints ended up with just a field goal.
If you'll recall, Owens ran down Percy Harvin on a kick return in Week 12. The Falcons actually stopped the Vikings on fourth down afterwards, and it was a game changing moment that Owens started. They need more players with his drive. It looked like of lot of guys were giving up in this loss. If everyone played with the kind of heart Owens showed there, they could make a lot more happen.