FLOWERY BRANCH — With the NFC South title on the line, the Falcons (9-5) face the New Orleans Saints (11-3) at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Here is a look at how the Falcons’ running backs match up against the Saints’ linebackers:
Matchup advantage: Falcons.
What happened last time: The Saints were without Vilma and the Falcons ran for 138 yards on 32 carries for a respectable 4.3 yards per carry. Turner had 96 yards on 22 carries and Rogers had 30 yards on seven carries. The Saints used safety Roman Harper to help in run support. He finished with 13 tackles.
Falcons’ starters: Running back Michael Turner and fullback Mike Cox
Falcons’ key reserves: Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling and Antone Smith.
Saints’ starters: Strongside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and weakside linebacker Scott Shanle.
Saints’ key reserves: Jonathan Casillas, Will Herring, Ramon Humber and Martez Wilson
Matchup to watch: Turner vs. Vilma.
The Falcons will want to establish Turner and their rushing attack in order to keep the Saints’ potent offense off the field.
Turner has been held under 100 yards in the past four games and the Falcons have dropped in the rushing rankings. They are averaging 110.6 yards per game, which ranks 18th in the league.
Turner has 273 carries, which is the second-most in the league. He’s third in rushing with 1,129 yards.
The Saints defense will be much stouter against the run this time around because middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who missed the last game with a knee injury, is slated to play.
“He adds a whole lot to their defense,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He’s really the quarterback of their defense. He gets them in and out of coverages.”
The Saints are giving up 109.9 yards per game, which ranks 13th in the league.
The Saints will also try to confuse the Falcons by switching between a 4-3 and 3-4 front. The 3-4 allows Casillas, who had seven tackles in Vilma’s absence to see more action.
“They do multiple things and Casillas can be out there,” Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said. “It’s a good front seven. They do a lot of things; a lot of different schemes.”
Turner, who is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry over the past four games, is getting ready for the multiple fronts.
“They are trying to confuse you,” Turner said. “We just have to make sure that we identify the guys that we need to block and we’ll be fine.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog