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Four Critical Matchups In The Falcons-Saints Game

ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons looks to pass against the Arizona Cardinals at Georgia Dome on September 19 2010 in Atlanta Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 19: Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons looks to pass against the Arizona Cardinals at Georgia Dome on September 19 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Saturday is matchup day. Given the importance of this particular game in the NFC South race, this game's matchups are even more important. So says I.

Last week I wasn't quite as successful with my matchups. Tony Gonzalez versus the Cardinals secondary and linebackers proved to be a moot point, and you can make the argument that Larry Fitzgerald versus Dunta Robinson was not really important to the outcome, either. I claim half victory.

This week, of course, the list starts with stopping Drew Brees. Your discussion yesterday was a good one, I thought, and ultimately I think the pass rush is going to have to carry that load. A little more on that later. The remaining three matchups are also critically important, but you'll have to hit the jump to read more about those. I'm a jerk like that.

Take the leap and see my sorcery.

Drew Brees vs. Falcons Defense

Even if you hate Drew Brees, you have to give him dap. The guy's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL today. That doesn't mean he's invincible, though.

It's going to take an effective up-front blitz to put a stop to Brees. Giving him time in the pocket is suicide, because he reads the field well and will usually find an open man. He does reasonably well under pressure, but give him enough and he'll rush throws and make bad decisions like any other quarterback in the history of the league. Given our newly minted opportunistic back seven, that could lead to turnovers. The Falcons need turnovers.

Generating that pass rush will be important. Hopefully the Falcons are up to the task.

Michael Turner and Jason Snelling vs. Saints Defense

As Frank Gore proved last week, good running backs can run often and effectively against the Saints defense. From an offensive perspective, the Falcons will be wanting to shove Turnelling down their throats early and often.

Unlike a rushing attack that features Jerious Norwood, Turner and Snelling are both loads. They take hits to go down, run with power and wear down defenses. Not only does that set up the pass, but it chews up yardage and time, the latter being especially critical because of how the Saints so frequently eat up the clock in their own right.

Look for Turner to get 15 carries or more and plenty early on, with Snelling getting perhaps the same number or a few less as a change of pace equally destructive option. Short passes to Snelling were extremely effective against the Cardinals last week, so expect to see the Falcons use him as a safety valve again Sunday.

Falcons Linebackers vs. Pierre Thomas

Saints fans are fond of Chris Ivory and the Saints can use both he and Ladell Betts, but let's face it: This is Pierre Thomas's backfield now.

Thomas is a quality back who has the lateral agility to make it through small holes or make it outside. The defensive line will be busy focusing on Brees in this game, and Thomas has shown he can squeeze by them anyways. It's going to be up to Curtis Lofton, Sean Weatherspoon and Mike Peterson to be alert during this game. Thomas shouldn't consistently be getting more than three yards a carry, because our talented linebackers should be making the stop as soon as he makes it through the hole.

If the Falcons can shut down Thomas, there's more pressure on Brees to pass, which in turn makes things more difficult for the Saints offensively. Anything that adds a degree of difficulty is alright by me.

Falcons Offensive Line vs. Saints Pass Rush

The line looked much improved against the Cardinals last week, and on paper they've got another decent matchup here. I can't resist putting them here, though, because Sam Baker's ongoing mental mistakes make me uneasy.

The Saints only have one sack in two games. They really thrive on forcing turnovers and capitalizing on mistakes on defense, but paradoxically they haven't really gotten to the quarterback. The Falcons will need to watch out for that in special teams and on the ground, but as usual keeping Matt Ryan upright and free of pressure is a major priority. Last week showed us what Ryan can do when he's got time to make his reads, and given how important racking up huge point totals is ultimately going to be in this one, the line needs to do its job and do it well.

And, as I said last week, that involves friggin' blocking. In case anybody forgot.