The New Orleans Saints sweep the Atlanta Falcons under the rug as they defeated them in Atlanta in Thursday night. In the process, the Who Dats? are now 9-2 and the Dirty Birds are 2-9. First of all, I have to give credit where credit is due. The Falcon defense played pretty well. They kept their team in the game and only allowed the Saints to score 17 points. They did not force a turnover, but at least they kept the Saints within striking distance. Tackling could have been better at times in this one, but overall I’d say this unit put together a pretty nice performance. So, with a fifth straight loss, it begs the question: how did it happen? Below, I will provide the answer to this question.
At first, it looked like Atlanta was going to be able to hang with the Saints. The defense forced a three-and-out on the first drive of the game and then the offense took the ball right down the field for a touchdown (a one-yard Steven Jackson touchdown run). The Saints would answer with a touchdown of their own (a one yard lob from Drew Brees to Ben Watson in the back of the end zone). The Falcons then kicked field goals on their next two drives and were blanked for the rest of the night. For a team to not score for the entire second half in a game after scoring on their first three drives, a lot has to go wrong. Evidently, the offensive line fell apart. At first, they were mauling in the running game and providing a clean pocket for Matt Ryan to step up into. Simply put, Matty-Ice was afforded plenty of time to go through his progressions and deliver the ball on time, accurately. However, the unit was unable to keep it together and they fell apart in the second half. Peter Konz had a rough night, he got beat on the interior on a couple of occasions and Ryan was forced to abort the play or eat a sack. Justin Blalock was schooled by Jordan Cameron on the edge, and the Saints’ most formidable pass-rusher had his way with the QB, sacking him 2.5 times. Akiem Hicks was a handful as well, he was the one mounting pressure on the inside of the line. Hicks finished the night with 1.5 sacks. These two made life tough on Matt Ryan and the quarterback was unable to hang in there for many plays. This was, what I believe, the difference in the game.
In terms of things that I did like from the Falcons, they are as follows. I loved the ball distribution. Matt Ryan hooked up with nine different receivers. Harry Douglas quietly had a nice game, he finished the night with nine catches for 79 yards. Darius Johnson, while still very green, had a mixed bag of a night. He caught six passes for 67 yards. However, he fumbled the ball away deep in New Orleans territory early in the fourth quarter. He also had a crucial drop that stalled a promising Atlanta drive. Switching gears here, I thought that the Falcons did a nice job running the ball. Steven Jackson ran it 16 times for 63 yards and a touchdown. Antone Smith had one nice run in the game as well, for 11 yards. I would like to see the team get the ball in his hands a bit more. He is a potential game-breaker. I thought it was too bad that the Falcons could not commit to the run more than they did (backs only carried the ball 20 times). I really think they should have stuck with their ground game a bit more. Thinking back to the 2008 season when Atlanta finished 11-5, they were a very run-oriented team. Obviously their offensive line was much better back in those days, but they did manage to win eleven games without Julio Jones or Tony Gonzalez on their team. My point here is that the Falcons are a good enough team to win even if they have suffered a plethora of injuries to skill position players.
Now on to the Saints. To me, it was the Pierre Thomas show on Thursday night. I have always liked this guy, it normally takes multiple guys to take him down. He was running through tackles left an right in this game, and accounted for 130 yards on his 15 total touches. He had a couple of nice catches out of the backfield and was literally like a runaway train with the ball in his hand. It took a whole neighborhood to bring him down in this game. Jimmy Graham exploded for his sixth 100 yard game this season (as he had 100 receiving yards right on the nose). His 44 yard touchdown reception was a thing of beauty. He beat Falcons’ safety William Moore with a double move on the outside (a little out-and-up as they call it). It is clear that teams cannot cover this beast of a tight end one on one, and for the second time in three years, he bent the uprights in Atlanta when slam dunking the ball through the posts. And, by the way, shouldn’t he have been flagged for a delay of game for that? After all, the game had to be stopped for two minutes while the grounds crew leveled out the goal post. To me, that would be the very definition of a delay of game but I digress. It was still cool to see Graham have his way with the Atlanta secondary and its scenery. Like Matt Ryan, Drew Brees found nine different receivers in this game. He also had two touchdown passes and did not make any mistakes with the ball. It was a clean game overall for the Saints, and a pretty satisfying win.
Now New Orleans gears up for a monster showdown next Monday night in Seattle against the Seahawks. It would not be a stretch to say that the winner of that game is going to earn the #1 seed in the NFC. It will be a playoff-like atmosphere in that one as it is a possible preview for the NFC title game. Before that grand match-up goes down, the Falcons will head to Buffalo to take on the streaky Bills. That game, if nothing else, should be a close one. And I love close games, no matter who is playing in them.