Well, here it is Bird fans…The Great Battle of the NFC South begins on Sunday in New Orleans. No disrespect to the Carolina Panthers or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but right now the major fight for the division will kickoff between the Falcons and Super Bowl Champion Saints. The old adage goes if you want to be the best, than you have to beat the best. New Orleans had an unbelievable run in 2009 which ended with the Saints hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The Falcons played very well against New Orleans in both games last year and almost came out on top, but almost doesn’t win championships or hang banners. After all the hype and talk, are the Falcons really ready for primetime? Six searing questions as the Birds travel down to the city of Mardi Gras……
It’s always so easy to talk about when playing the Saints: just pressure quarterback Drew Brees and you stop the high-flying offense. Well, many teams try to pressure Brees and get burnt up and down the field. One of his best qualities is being able to get rid of the football and make something out of nothing. The Falcons have added speed, toughness, and athleticism on the defense, but the true test awaits on Sunday. Thomas DeCoud showed he could add pressure and Spoon may be able to add some as well, but the big test will be whether Babineaux, Biermann, Abraham, Jerry, Peters, and Anderson can put pressure on Brees the Great. If they can the results may be good. But its much easier said than done.
After not attempting hardly any deep threats against Pittsburgh, the offense tried several deep balls against the Arizona Cardinals. Even though Ryan and Harry Douglas didn’t hook up in the deep attacks, the routes were there and Ryan just overshot both throws. So much for the weak arm argument. The deep ball is something that takes most QB’s in the NFL to perfect. Douglas is the perfect long ball threat to complement Roddy White. To take advantage of the Saints aggressive and opportunistic defense, minus Darren Sharper, will be to finally connect on the deep passing attack.
Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, and Heath Miller stretched the Falcons secondary enough for the win, but they kept them under control pretty well save for a few long 3rd down conversions. The Falcons then held arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Larry Fitzgerald under 100 yards and no touchdowns (even though he’s not at full speed). Steve Breaston had a great first week, but was shut down cold against the Birds. A new animal awaits on Sunday. Forget about the Falcons secondary facing the Super Bowl MVP on Sunday and focus only on the receiving corps. Can Dunta Robinson lock up Marques Colston? Can Brent Grimes keep Robert Meachem under control? Will Christopher Owens keep up with Devery Henderson? The list goes on and on. The newly revamped defense awaits the test of the year in New Orleans.
Another way to win against he Saints is to play ball control and keep Brees and the offense on the sidelines. Although not truly complementary to one another, Michael Turner and Jason Snelling might be one of the best running back tandems (at least potentially) in the league. Before tweaking his groin, Turner was off to a great start and looked like The Burner of old hitting the hole hard and moving forward. Jason Snelling nabbed the NFC Player of the Week award, and deservedly so with his performance against the Cardinals. Obviously, the Falcons offensive line will play a huge part against Sedrick Ellis, Will Smith, and Co. as well, but a heavy dose of grind it out, ball control, smash-mouth football could definitely put the Falcons in a great position.
AJC Writer D. Orlando Ledbetter had an interesting article about the Saints being 7-1 against the Falcons since drafting Reggie Bush in 2006. Of course, 2007 was pretty much a wash with that trainwreck of a season. They played tough last year in both games, won one at home in 2008, and could have won the away game in 2008 as well. Reggie Bush did play a large role in last year’s games in that he made tons of 3rd down conversions when everything else seemed covered. He also scored a couple of touchdowns and showed a huge mismatch with the Falcons linebackers last year. Peterson shown a new spark, Weatherspoon is off to a great start, and Lofton seems to be making the jump to a play-making linebacker. Stephen Nicholas is also good in coverage along with having speed to pressure. The Falcons and their fans shouldn’t underestimate the Saints without Reggie Bush because Pierre Thomas and Lyndell Hamilton are both excellent backs running the ball and out of the backfield. The linebackers could make a statement on Sunday.
Enough of the “coulda, woulda, shoulda’s.” Enough of the “they played them really tough both times last year, but still lost.” Enough will all the talk about all the moves and how the defense has been revamped and is more athletic. Enough of all the talk about how the offense is in its third year and is ready to take the next step. The Falcons have a huge opportunity to make a statement against the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints on their own field. For all the talk about how things are “supposed” to go for the Falcons challenging the Saints this year, will they finally do it?
-Can the Falcons actually do it against the Saints?
-Will the Birds deep defensive line pressure Brees?
-Is this the game where Ryan gets down the deep ball?
-Are the Falcons secondary ready for their big test?
-Will Turner and Snelling control the game?
-Is Reggie Bush’s absence that big a deal?
-After all’s said and done, can the Falcons actually do the deed?