The Atlanta Falcons are a team that has been living the charmed life all season. They have won some close games and have even won when their starting quarterback, Matt Ryan, threw five interceptions in a game. But one game the Falcons did not win was their game in the Superdome against the New Orleans Saints. On Thursday night, they get to atone for that loss as the Saints invade the Georgia Dome.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been the main focus of the offense this season. The Falcons brought in offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter this offseason to transform the Falcons offense from run-heavy to pass-oriented. And with Koetter, the Falcons have been more explosive offensively in the passing game.
Falcons wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones have been giving opposing teams nightmares and tight end Tony Gonzalez has visited the fountain of youth this year. But even with all that explosiveness, the running game of the Falcons has suffered.
Falcons running back Michael Turner seems to be a shell of himself this year. Part of that has to do with the focus of the offense and the offensive line, but some of it is due to the wear and tear on his body. Turner is 30 years old now and we all know that is the age where running backs start creeping towards the running back graveyard.
With the decline of Turner, the Falcons need to give some more of his carries to the diminutive Jacquizz Rodgers. The Oregon State product has produced when given the chance and he has been more effective than Turner recently. If the Falcons can run the ball with some effectiveness, that will allow the Falcons to put an already bad Saints defense on their heels.
For the Saints defensively, they must make sure that the Falcons do not get anything going in the run game. If they are able to stop the Falcons there, then they will be able to put the Falcons in bad down and distance situations. And that will allow the Saints to confuse Ryan with their multiple looks defensively. Also for the Saints, they must get some play-making from Malcolm Jenkins. He is their best playmaker and he can cause headaches for quarterbacks.
If the Saints cannot bring pressure and different looks to this Falcons offense, then the Saints defensive backs will be in trouble and Julio Jones and Roddy White will be dancing in the endzone.
The Saints have gotten back to their explosive ways the last few weeks. Drew Brees and the passing game has been exploiting defenses like they did in previous years. But even when the Saints were explosive before, they always had a running game. This year, it looks as if their running game has been non-existent. In order for them to win this game, they must come out and get the running game involved early and often. The more they are able to do that, the more dangerous players like tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Marques Colston become.
For the Falcons, they must get pressure up the middle of the field on Brees. The veteran signal-caller is a dangerous man in the passing game, but if he cannot see what he is passing to, he will give you an interception. Guys like defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux will be very important in the success of the Falcons versus the Saints offense.
Another thing that must happen is the Falcons cannot let the Saints hit their stride running the ball. If you let the quartet of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Chirs Ivory and Darren Sproles get started in the ground game, then the Falcons will have some serious problems. The Falcons must also make sure they know where Sproles is in the passing game. The dimunitve running back is lightning quick when he is in the open field.
This game will ultimately come down to whoever is able to make the most big plays. And with the homefield behind them and revenge on their mind, the Falcons will be able to make more big plays than the Saints.
Prediction: Atlanta 30, New Orleans 27