By Jason Bernos
Welcome to Atlanta Falcons Hate Week!
It comes around twice a year, maybe three times if the Falcons are really unlucky, and the first one of the year comes in the season opener inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The last time the New Orleans Saints hosted their hated rivals in the first home game of the season was back in 2006.
That game was highlighted by Steve Gleason’s blocked punt and the reopening of the dome after Hurricane Katrina. This game will feature another return of sorts.
Sean Payton will be back on the sidelines in a game that matters for the first time since that loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round after the 2011 season. So, while other teams have had just this offseason to prepare for that first game, Payton has been mentally preparing for his return since the gracious Roger Goodell handed down his year-long sabbatical.
Coming into town are the media darlings of the offseason, the team that most of the national media are tabbing as the best in the NFC South, and the only true threats to San Fran or Seattle for the NFC crown.
Anyways, let’s get back to why we are here, and that’s the main keys to another Saints victory over those hated Falcons.
Here we go:
Take advantage of the right side of the Falcons offensive line
Atlanta’s right side is awful. The current starters there are Garrett Reynolds and Lamar Holmes. The duo have 13 games started altogether, and all of those are thanks to Reynolds. Holmes replaces Mike Johnson, who was lost for the year with an ankle injury. He was supposed to help with center Peter Konz and Reynolds leap to full-time starters, but his injury has left a hole in the line that I fully expect to be exploited by the Saints defensive line.
Junior Galette and Martez Wilson will be fully healthy, and I expect them to dominate that side whenever they flex over to the right. Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan’s eyes should also get big when on that side, also, considering how much terror they’ve caused this preseason.
Pressure from that side will be the big difference from Matt Ryan having his way with shaky secondary in New Orleans. (The talent is there for the Saints DBs, but it’s time to show it when games count.)
Get the running game going
We all know about Drew Brees and his weapons out wide, and I fully expect him to come out blazing after his 5-INT game the last time that he saw the Falcons, but it’s going to be the running game that is going to be the key to a great season. In every successful season in the Payton era, the Saints have had Top 10 ranking in rushing each time.
If the interior line of the Saints, which is one of its strengths, can dominate Corey Peters and Jonathan “Babs” Babineaux in the middle, that would be a big step towards their goal because the Falcons linebackers leave much to be desired. That includes the injury-prone Sean Weatherspoon, because you never know how long he’ll last in a game.
The Falcons allowed 144 yards per game on the ground in the preseason, and most of that was against their first-team defense. With a swiss-cheese front like that, anyone can average 4 yards a pop against them, including the great Mark Ingram! (No excuses this season, Bama.)
Let Brees beat up on those rookie corners
I was a big fan of Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant during the draft process but going up against Brees to open the season, in a game #9 wants to make up for his last performance against ATL and it’s on the road?
Yeah, it’s not going to be pretty.
Even if Marques Colston and Nick Toon aren’t at 100%, the team still has Kenny Stills, the reliable Lance Moore, and oh yeah, that guy Jimmy Graham. He’s pretty good.
Brees should go for 400 yards and 3 TDs on Sunday.
Limit Tony Gonzalez
Easier said than done.
This is Gonzo’s second farewell season, and his favorite team to play in his time in Atlanta has been New Orleans, stats-wise anyway. Usually if Gonzalez’s stats are down during a Saints-Falcons game, it usually means that New Orleans is winning and comes out victorious. The only exception that rule was last season in the first game between the teams when he went for 122 yards on 11 catches and two touchdowns.
Depending on how good the Saints cornerbacks do out wide against Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Falcons passing game will really come down to whether Gonzalez has a good day or not because that will open up a lot of things and be big trouble for Ryan’s new defense.