1. Saints Gs Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans vs. Falcons DTs Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters: For folks who know how to watch the game away from the ball, the battle to win the interior of the line of scrimmage will be fiercely contested. (If you don’t, you can get Pat Kirwan’s book: Take Your Eye Off The Ball) Falcons coach Mike Smith said he wouldn’t argue with the contention that Nicks and Evans are the best guard tandem in the NFL. Babineaux, one of the league’s top penetrators, is returning to form after suffering a knee injury. Peters is having a great second year with 16 tackles, three sacks, three passes defensed and an interception. “They’re very big up front, but I think the strength is the two offensive guards,” Smith said. “They are big, strong men that have done a really good job.”
2. Saints S Roman Harper vs. Falcons QB Matt Ryan: This will be the chess match of the day. Ryan will have to account for Harper and then try to counter what the Saints have him doing on a particular play. Harper moves around a lot. He comes to the line of scrimmage in run support and is an effective blitzer off the edge. He leads the Saints with 5.5 sacks and 63 tackles. Harper may spend some time covering Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, too.
3. Saints RT Zach Strief vs. Falcons DE Ray Edwards: Strief will play his second game since returning from a knee injury. Edwards has played strong, but has only two sacks. The Falcons talk about changing Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ launching point and getting him off his throwing spots. Edwards signed in the offseason to help the Falcons get quarterbacks on the ground. Strief likely will receive some help from blocking tight end Dave Thomas.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog