You want a simple formula for beating the Saints?
Pressure + Drew Brees = Falcons Win.
This is literally the only way to win Monday night's game, at least on paper. Drew Brees is on such a tear right now, and his weaponry so varied, that to focus on anything else would be a fool's errand. It's stop Brees or bust.
That doesn't mean the Falcons can afford to drink eggnog on the sidelines and make fun of Mike Mularkey's eating habits while they're on offense. It's obviously going to take a superlative effort by the offense, defense and special teams to pull this one out. Do it and you're in the playoffs and still fighting for the NFC South, so it's not like they'll lack for motivation.
It won't be easy, but our big question and three smaller questions attempt to get at the heart of what needs to be done. I consulted your responses last night while developing this list, so thank you all for that.
After the jump, everyone.
The Big Question
Can the Falcons get enough pressure?
We discussed this in more detail just the other day, so I won't re-hash that here. I'll just say that keeping the pressure on Brees is the most important thing the Falcons can do, and I fully recognize they've struggled to do so this season.
Given the strength of the New Orleans offensive line and Brees' quick release, four man rushes aren't going to generate the kind of sacks, pressures and hits that the Falcons will need. You want to run out of that base package at times, but I can tell you right now that unless the interior of the line starts abusing the Saints, the Falcons will be in trouble.
Get creative, Brian Van Gorder. As more than one reader said last night, bring in 'Spoon and Moore. Overload the edge and try to blindside Brees and force him to make a terrible mistake. Let Lofton bring some heat up the middle with Babs and Corey Peters opening things up. Bring the house once or twice in a clear short-yardage situation and let the defensive backs do their business. All of these or none of these, as long as it's something the Saints haven't seen before.
My hunch is that the Falcons can get to Brees several times and force a couple of mistakes, if they play their cards right. If the offense does well, that might be enough.
Oh, and am I glad Brent Grimes will be coming back. Even with pressure, the Falcons have to shut down guys like Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston to have a prayer at winning.
Three Smaller Questions
Question 1: Can the Falcons control the tempo of the game?
Of course they can. The catch is that they need to run the ball effectively, something they haven't done in the past few weeks.
I'm in agreement with everyone who said that Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling need to be involved Monday alongside Michael Turner. The Burner is still your battering ram, the guy you want to wear down the front seven and the guy who is hell on wheels in the open field. But Snelling can catch passes and runs with some power, and Rodgers offers an elusiveness that neither can match. Again, it's all about giving the Saints a lot of different looks.
If the Falcons get the run established and score points, they'll limit the time the Saints' offense is on the field. That's a damn good thing.
Question 2: Can the Falcons pass on the Saints?
Just kidding! That's not a legitimate question. Of course the Falcons can pass on the Saints.
New Orleans is just 28th in the NFL against the pass, allowing an average of 256 yards per game. With the way Matt Ryan and his merry band of receivers have been rolling the last couple of weeks, I'd be mighty concerned if I was Gregg Williams.
The biggest challenge here is going to be keeping the blitz-happy Saints from dirtying Ryan's jersey, a challenge that can be met by quality blocking and passing plays that are quick to develop. Again, mix in the occasional screen or backfield pass and (hopefully) catch the Saints unaware. It will help to set up those bombs to Julio Jones that we all love so much.
If the Falcons get the ground game going, they should have no problem passing. That's going to mean headaches for the Saints.
Question 3: How will the Falcons contain Tiny Darren Sproles?
The Saints ground game is much more effective than the last time these two teams met, but it remains a unit that has more versatility than sheer excellence. Pierre Thomas is a well-rounded back, while Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram bring power. All of them can be shut down.
Except for Sproles, who is a weapon out of the backfield. His speed and pass catching makes him someone to be feared, even if he wasn't the best guy on the field against the Falcons the last time out. Wild cards make me nervous.
I don't want to jinx the Falcons either way this week. I just don't have it in me. Feel free to share yours in the comments, though.