G’day Falcons fans, and welcome back to the contribution I, in collaboration with fellow Aussie Falcons fan dunlagh, hope to be making to the Falcoholic. I’ll analyse the best case scenario for the Falcons, with what are, in my opinion, a few keys to victory, while dunlagh will play devil’s advocate and look at how the game will turn out if we play at our true worst.
Here we go. Our season has had its downs, its questions and (far more frequently) its ups, but this week on national television the Falcons get to prove how far they’ve come in the rematch against the New Orleans Saints. Last time we went into their house and put a beat down on them early, only to have Drew Brees and Lance Moore dominate our secondary and get the Saints in a position to win. As we know, Hartley missed a field goal he should have hit and as such we were given a second chance at the game, which we took hold of like there was no tomorrow. This week is a great chance for the entire Falcons organization to put themselves in unfamiliar territory, the #1 seed in the NFC, and prove that the Saints lost that game fair and square. Yes Hartley missed, but if it wasn’t for a freak
gasoline fight accident punt return incident we wouldn’t even be talking about overtime but instead about a potential 10 point Falcons victory. This time we get to play on our terms, in our stadium and (hopefully) in our final meaningful match of the regular season. Against the Saints, the best case scenario comes if we control the clock, dominate on special teams and play strongly in the nickel package.
Control the clock: The Falcons have led in time of possession in 9 games this season, and have won every one. Last game against New Orleans, Atlanta won the TOP battle 45:50 – 27:15 (figures include overtime). Drew Brees is (in my opinion) a top 3 QB, and his receiving corps is second to none when healthy, which makes the Saints one of the most lethal teams through the air. This is reflected in their pass yards per game figures of 281.6 yards (3rd in the league). Brees leads the NFC in touchdowns and yards, and is a threat to score quickly but can also read defences and take the Saints on long drives. Our defense can contain him in my opinion, but they’d need to be playing their best whilst Brees would need to make a few poor throws. Brent "Grimetime" Grimes has keyed in on Brees in the recent meetings between the NFC South rivals, and our pass rush has begun to find some strong form (albeit against weaker opponents). However, the bend but don’t break defense doesn’t really work against an excellent receiving corps of Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush out of the backfield. We need to help our defense out by dominating the clock offensively. The Saints rank 20th against the run, and Turner had his first 100 yard game of the season in week 3 against New Orleans, so we have the potential to really grind out long drives and keep the hot Saints offense on the pine. Likewise, getting Snelling back from injury and with a little game time under his belt is also a huge boost. Basically, our running game needs to show up and Ryan needs to make smart throws. Mistakes offensively won’t give our defense any room for error. If we can play efficient, smart football, and control the clock (keeping our D rested and the Saints offense powerless), by the end of the week we could see a nice ‘y’ and ‘z’ next to our name on the standings page.
Dominate on special teams: Last Saints game was one of the worst special teams performances by the Falcons, saved only by Matt Bryant’s clutch finish. Lance Moore returned a punt 72 yards and Michael Koenen was the only guy to get a finger on him. Our kick coverage was nothing special at all either, and the entire game was shifted by the ball bouncing off Thomas DeCoud’s foot on that infamous punt return. In the last few weeks, our kickoff coverage has been sublime, with Special Weems frequently laying KR’s out inside the 15 and doing his thing in the return game. The longest return the Saints have allowed all season was a 69 yard punt return, whilst on kickoffs they’ve only allowed a long of 60. If Weems can find the creases he’s been finding recently, and our kick coverage teams can do what they’re meant to (…that’d be cover kicks), then we have a good shot at forcing Brees into long drives against a pumped defense and a loud crowd. A win on special teams helps. Special teams domination? Chalk it up as a W right there.
Play strongly in the nickel package: Last time around we got absolutely bloodied by Lance Moore, the 3rd string WR for our Mardi Gras lovin’ foes. Sean Weatherspoon was a 75% snap guy then, but since the last match injuries and form problems have caught up with the Missouri product. Stephen Nicholas has done reasonably well in pass coverage, but will need to play some lights out football if he wants to contain Moore, Shockey or their many RBs out of the backfield. A few errors in coverage led to big plays or TDs last time. Brent Grimes has been unbelievable as of late, and Dunta Robinson is doing what he was signed to do; forcing QBs to look the other way, hold it a second longer, take the sack or force it to Grimes. He hasn’t dazzled statistically but he’s a CB who holds his own against the run and holds down his side of the field against the pass. In the Superdome, #1 and #2 receivers Marcus Colston and Robert Meachem were held to 1 catch for 5 yards and 4 catches for 25 yards respectively. Brent Grimes got a pick. Our corners did what they needed to do. It’s our linebackers and safeties who need to step up on Monday night. Sure, William Moore got an interception (more a product of a stupid Brees underarmed throw than brilliant coverage on his behalf) but he also got burned and allowed a touchdown. If our pass defense packages can hold up, if Chris Owens and Stephen Nicholas can take away the #3 and #4 receiving options, then our hot pass rush might introduce Brees to the lush turf of the Georgia Dome. If not, the game will develop into a shootout.
Not to oversell the game, but this is probably the most important game of our season. The national audience gives us a chance to show Dilfer, King and any of the other analysts who find excuses to pick against our Falcons why they’re wrong. The playoff implications gives us a chance to earn a win and take the week off next week. I know Mike Smith isn’t huge on resting starters, but it would be hard to argue against giving Lofton, White, Gonzalez, Abraham, Turner and Ryan the day off against the Panthers if the #1 seed is all locked up. We’ve already shown it in my mind, but a win against the defending World Champs would guarantee that we can hang with the big boys. I’m looking forward to watching this game at a civilised hour over here (9am-Midday rather than the usual 2am or 5am starts). I’m looking forward to discussing it with you guys. However, most importantly I’m looking forward to watching what should be an instant classic of a matchup. Be sure to check out dunlagh’s article here, Merry Christmas to all the Falcoholic readers and finally, go Falcons!