Happy weekend, Falcons fans! As we gear up for this week's showdown against rival New Orleans, here are a few things we'll be watching for come game day.
ATLANTA'S JUGGERNAUT OFFENSE VS. NEW ORLEANS' SLUGGISH DEFENSE
Last year was a terrible season for the Saints defensively. They even broke the record for giving up the most yards during a season… ever. They gave up 7,042 yards as a defense, setting a new precedent for defining the worst defense in the history of the NFL.
They ranked either 31st or 32nd in the league in total points allowed, total yards allowed, and rushing and passing yards given up per game. So the Saints defense can't go anywhere but up, right?
Well, they started by hiring highly vaunted defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Ryan is known for implementing an extremely complex 3-4 scheme that didn't translate well in Dallas or Cleveland. Ryan's defenses have finished in the middle of the pack of the league over the last few seasons, and it's always tough for defenses to switch form going to a 3-4 from a 4-3 defensive package. The Saints were a 4-3 defense before Ryan's arrival.
The Saints are also banged up defensively. They lost star OLB Will Smith for the season, OLB Jonathan Vilma is also out, as is DE Kenyon Coleman. So that's three players who were supposed to be starting on the front seven that aren't playing tomorrow.
Matt Ryan and screen happy offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter have probably been licking their chops in the video room this week.
Look for the Falcons to torch the Saints defense. They're hurt, they were horrible last season and they're adjusting to Rob Ryan's complex defensive system. Having to face an offense that is absolutely stacked across the board doesn't bode well for the Saints.
FALCONS DEFENSE VS. DREW BREES
Drew Brees is 11-3 all time against the Atlanta Falcons. However, Mike Nolan may have stumbled upon something last year during the last game of the season against the Saints. The Falcons picked off the all-pro quarterback five times last season in one game, which was a huge part of the Falcons big victory that night.
The Falcons defense is at their best when they can force turnovers. Brees has probably made some adjustments sense then, but hopefully, so have the Falcons.
Brees may be targeting rookie DBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford this week in man coverage, but he will need to be wary of Safety William Moore who was responsible for two of those interceptions last season.
If the Falcons can force Brees into making bad passes like they did last year, it could be a big day for the Falcons defense. How will Alford and Trufant play during their first regular season game? How much will CB Asante Samuel, who is recovering from a quad injury, be able to play?
These factors will also be huge in determining who comes out the victor on Sunday. It could turn into a shoot out if Brees is able to pick on the young DBs.
A big thing last year, and especially in the playoffs, was the Falcons propensity to come out big in the first half and then be shut down in the second half. It felt like at times, Koetter, Nolan and Coach Mike Smith didn't make the adjustments necessary in order to carry over their success into the second half at times.
Many games played out in this fashion: Get a big lead, don't score that much in the second half, give up points in the second half and barely hold on.
That can't happen anymore. Koetter, Nolan and Smith need to be able to make those adjustments at half time, which they didn't do last season. Sean Peyton is one of the smartest coaches in the NFL and his playbook is stacked with so many different variables he can come at you with, particularly on offense. It's going to be important for the coaching staff to find a way to ensure that the Falcons are able to be a complete four quarter team and not just a two or three quarter team.
OFFENSIVE LINE MUST PROTECT THE NEST
If it feels like a broken record, we apologize. But it can't be said enough how important it is for the offensive line to show up during this game. This will be a real test for a lot of them, particularly starting RT Lamar Holmes. Jeremy Trueblood was signed this week as an insurance policy on Holmes if he's not able to do the job. Facing one of the worst defenses in the league could hopefully go a long way in boosting the confidence of the O-line and hopefully get them off on the right foot to start the season.
The Saints are missing some of their best pass rushers, including the aforementioned Smith and Coleman. The Falcons need to take advantage of this, as they won't even be going up against the Saints' best this week on defense.
RADIO: 790 The Zone AM/Star 94.1 FM (In Atlanta)
TIME: 1:00 PM EST
Check back here after the game to read up on our analysis of the action.
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