How Atlanta Can Stay Competitive vs. New Orleans
When it comes to talking about the Atlanta Falcons these days, the phrase people have been using is “for the first time since 2007”. All fans remember that year was Michael Vick going to jail, Bobby Petrino turning out to be a complete disaster, and the team shuffling through quarterbacks on a monthly basis. It’s a dark year that always brings chills down all Atlanta fans’ backs.
Somehow Atlanta has stooped even lower at 2-8 and not having many excuses. In 2007, you at least saw some fight and solid defensive play from a depleted team. Now they have been blown out in four straight games. Don’t let the score fool you; Tampa Bay embarrassed Atlanta to the point where my twitter timeline was filled of Mike Smith is finished tweets. If they don’t play well in these last six games, you couldn’t blame the organization if they decide to fire him.
Regardless of injuries, you can’t go from being ten yards away from a Super Bowl to going potentially 2-14 or 3-13. Matt Ryan remains to be under center, even though the blocking has been abysmal this season and he doesn’t have a true deep threat to throw to. The entire team has been manhandled in all phases of each game. With a matchup against the second best team in the NFC, it seems like things won’t be getting any better anytime soon. Like I said above, this is likely the first time since 2007 that a Saints-Falcons game has no appeal to it. It was a rivalry that has been growing for years now, but now has gone to a screeching halt due to Atlanta’s dramatic decline. Can they keep it competitive at least? The chances are slim, but there are some ways to keep it close.
For years, the motto in stopping New Orleans offense was by simply keeping them off the field. With the way Atlanta’s defense has been playing, they need to be off the field as much as possible. It seemed like Atlanta was finally starting to establish a running game with Steven Jackson early on in the first quarter against Tampa Bay. Then they were trying to run the no huddle offense, which led to some drives being stalled.
As good as Matt Ryan has proved to be with the no huddle, they may want to take that out of the playbook. He simply doesn’t have the options to run an effective up-tempo offense. He doesn’t have any downfield options and his best receiver Roddy White still doesn’t look healthy. New Orleans’ secondary has improved in drastic measures, along with their pass rush. Keenan Lewis has proven to be the top corner that they’ve been waiting for in years.
The one Achilles heel is that New Orleans run defense has allowed nearly five yards a carry. Joe Hawley seemed to be an upgrade at center over Peter Konz, so he may possibly give Atlanta an extra push in establishing the running game. Jackson will get the brunt of the carries, while Jacquizz Rodgers will be the change of pace back as usual. The x-factor has to be Antoine Smith after having 88 yards in two carries last week. They like his breakaway speed, along with being very powerful for a small back. We’ve seen him make countless plays on special teams showing how strong he is. I’d like to see how Atlanta includes him into the offense when the game is still competitive. It seems like Mike Smith wants to give him a legitimate shot.
Stills will be the biggest issue
When you look at the Saints’ biggest weapons, you think Jimmy Graham or Darren Sproles. Marques Colston has picked it up in recent weeks, after not getting many opportunities early on in the season. Those are recognizable names that can take over a game, especially against Atlanta. That being said, Kenny Stills is somebody that can cause the most damage against Atlanta.
Stills has breakaway speed, along with having the ability to make the tough catch in traffic. We’ve seen him make tough catches between defenders like he did against New England. He has been a pleasant surprise for them in replacing Joe Morgan as their deep threat. Now he’s getting more snaps and Drew Brees is starting to trust him in big situations.
Atlanta’s defense has allowed big plays all season long and Stills played a part in that in week one, with a 67-yard catch from a wheel route. I’d expect to see Robert Alford play a lot more in this game, due to being the fastest cornerback on the roster. Robert McClain has had issues with speed receivers all year and Asante Samuel may have lost a step. Alford may be the best option in covering Stills, who can be a difference maker in this one. It only seems fitting that he can break open a 40-yard catch against a defense that allows them on a weekly basis.
The reason why Stills is actually my main concern is also due to injuries. Usually Jimmy Graham is the focal point in making the Saints’ offense successful. His foot injury has hindered his explosiveness, which means Atlanta may not need to direct as much attention as they usually do. Sproles hasn’t practiced for most of the week, so he could very well miss the game. Colston has played well over the past few weeks, but Atlanta’s secondary usually keeps him in check. Stills would be my main concern and needs to be accounted for all snaps. I’ve seen defenses lack proper alignment and a linebacker ends up covering Stills. That proved to be disastrous, as Buffalo’s defense found out first hand. Stills could be a star within 2014.
Players to watch out for
Cameron Jordan- If there were a most improved player of the year award in the NFL, Jordan would be my pick instantly. The move towards a 3-4 defense has freed him to use his large frame to go along with his explosiveness. Jordan is 287 pounds, yet I’ve seen him blow past tackles by using speed rushes. He’s an incredible athlete that knows how to use the swim move to his advantage on a consistent basis. Jordan has seven sacks this year and should be on his way to the Pro Bowl.
Paul Worrilow- The undrafted rookie out of Delaware has been a major surprise in Atlanta. He has become the starting middle linebacker in place of Akeem Dent and has been all over the field. He’s had over 15 tackles in the last three games. Worrilow has shown good instincts and fundamentally sound tackling, which is what has been sorely lacking. He stopped Marshawn Lynch from breaking loose on a few occasions by tackling low, where you are supposed to in order to bring Lynch down without support. Worrilow seems to have a bright future in Atlanta. It’ll be interesting to see, if he is stuck in coverage with Graham at any part of the game.
Even though New Orleans is banged up, this game is a complete mismatch. Drew Brees continues to play at a high level, while having countless options to throw to. Lance Moore is finally healthy and Robert Meachem has been another big play asset for Brees. Even without Sproles, this offense is going to be close to being unstoppable for the Atlanta defense to stop.
Atlanta may run the ball early, but the offensive line is too pitiful right now to open up many holes. That will lead to three and outs, then New Orleans will score, which will force Matt Ryan to start throwing the ball at will. There are so many intangibles on why the Saints will take care of Atlanta with ease.
Unless Atlanta can force a few turnovers and get the running game going, this won’t be competitive. New Orleans is too talented on both sides of the ball to lose to an overmatched opponent. Don’t expect them to show any mercy either, as we all know that Sean Payton doesn’t mind running up the score against Atlanta. This rivalry still has a lot of bad blood, unfortunately it won’t mean much in the end. It will get ugly and there will be plenty of empty seats. Saints win 41-17 and continue to hold on to their slim lead in the NFC South over Carolina. I’m not sure if people understand how bad Atlanta actually is. The entire national audience will witness it tonight and we’ll begin to hear the talk about Clowney coming to Atlanta.