by Deke Bellavia, email@example.com, @dekebigchief,posted Nov 21 2013 7:22AM
The road to landing one of the top two NFC seeds begins to get a little rougher for the Black & Gold. The Saints are 8-2 with a perfect 6-0 mark at home. The Saints are 2-2 on the road. And four of the last six games are away from the Superdome for the Saints.
If the Saints are going to win the NFC South and land one of those first round byes as either the #1 or #2 seed, they will have to play well on the road and there is very little room for error.
This week's challenge is not as tough as it looked back in the first week of the season. Or, at least it seems that way on paper. After holding off the Falcons late in the game way back in week one, these rivals have gone in different directions.
Since the Saints 23-17 win over the Birds, the Saints have posted a 7-2 mark, while the Falcons have gone 2-7. I'm quite sure many of you would not have been surprised if Atlanta wasn't deep in the playoff mix this season after landing the #1 seed in the NFC last year.
But, I'm equally sure not many thought Atlanta would be this bad. I mean let's be real! Right now the only thing the Falcons have a chance to be is #1 in is the 2014 NFL Draft. Yes, right now Atlanta is in the running for the #1 overall pick.
Atlanta has nothing going for them. They are 2-8 and the only thing the Falcons are halfway excited about is the fact that by winning this week they could very well hurt the Saints chances at being one of the top two seeds in the NFC.
When you're a bad team, you do bad things. The Falcons do a lot of things badly. Atlanta is a horrible team when it comes to rushing the football and stopping the run. Atlanta averages 73.1 yards rushing per game (31st) and the Birds allow 132.7 rushing yards per game on average which is 30th in the NFL.
Just because one team has a weakness does not necessarily mean the opposing team will take advantage of that weakness. But in this case, tempered by the way the Saints have been rushing the football the last two weeks, I feel the Saints will be able to expose the Falcons rush defense.
And, don't let the Falcons point total (28) from last week fool you! Atlanta was down against the Bucs 24-3 at one point in the game and then 38-6. So, as you can tell, the Bucs called off the dogs on Atlanta with the Birds getting 22 of their 28 points well after the game was decided.
New Orleans is on the verge of proving they have solved their running game struggles. New Orleans gained just 92 yards last week in their 23-20 win over the 49ers. But the Black & Gold were effective when they needed to be.
As much as the Saints offense has done over the course of time during the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era, it's the Saints defense that leads me to believe this team can be in any type game and come out on top.
If we still believe that defense wins championships (which I do), the Saints have that caliber of defensive unit. In the last two games the Saints defense has been salty. The Cowboys were 0-9 on third down against the Saints. And Coach Rob Ryan's 3-4 scheme kicked it up a notch higher in the 23-20 win over the 49ers.
The Saints defense faced 10 offensive possessions from the 49ers offense. Six of those 10 possessions ended in punts including five three and outs. The Saints did a bang up job in limiting RB Frank Gore last week. And this Saints defense is playing with a lot of confidence.
The challenge now is dealing with the loss of the best CB--veteran Jabari Greer. CB Corey White will start in place of Greer and you best expect Falcons QB Matt Ryan will test White early and often.
Other than White's ability to check Falcons WR Harry Douglas throughout the game, I'm confident the Saints defense can limit the Falcons offense. I'm not saying White can't cover Douglas, I just think it is a match-up everybody's interested in.
I like the way the Saints are playing. New Orleans is playing sound football on offense, defense and special teams. Kicker Garrett Hartley looked very confident last week nailing three fourth quarter field goals.
On the flip side, what is there to like about the way the Falcons are playing? Okay, Who Dat Nation, I know y'all are happy about how the Falcons are playing, I get that. But regardless, the Falcons are not good.
The Saints are a veteran team led by one no-nonsense type guy in Sean Payton. There is a lot on the line for the Saints. The chanceof playing in the Super Bowl is far greater for the Saints, if they have some home playoff games.
The Saints have everything in front of them including the top seed in the conference. A win here gives the Saints a lot of momentum going into a huge MNF game against Seattle early next month.
Look for the Birds to play hard for a while, but the Saints are the far better team. Rivalry or not, you answer me this. If I gave each of you 100 dollars, would you take the Falcons with eight points or bet on the Saints giving the eight? I thought so!
The Big Chief Says: New Orleans 33 Atlanta 21
What They Are Saying
Atlanta Coach Mike Smith on why the Falcons have struggled this season
"I think where we stand is we have not won the close games in the early part of the season and a number of games came down to the final possession. (We) didn't win them and we've not played very good football in the last four weeks. We've done numerous things across the board that have stopped us from playing well. We have not been very good in the turnover ratio. We are not creating turnovers. We are not protecting the football. We have not been good on third down on defense. When you don't win situationally it is hard to win…and we've done it across the board, offensively, defensively and special teams. That is my synopsis."
Atlanta Falcons WR Roddy White on the Falcons Offense not having WR Julio Jones
"It's tough he's out and not playing with us. For the first two or three games of the season he was rolling. He (Julio Jones) was doing a heck of a job of making plays; getting us big plays in the passing game and things like that. It's tough anytime you don't have that guy out there, especially when you're used to having him out there. It's just tough for our offense, because we pride ourselves in our skill players and our ability to make plays. When one guy's absent, the next guy isn't there, Tony (Gonzalez) isn't there, it's tough because defenses guard you a different way. That's probably been the toughest thing, because he draws so much attention in the passing game that it makes it easy for everybody else."
Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan on losing CB Jabari Greer for the season and his replacement Corey White
"Jabari (Greer) was having such a great year. He is great person. We will miss him in the locker room most. But he was having a great year. He was doing everything we asked him to do and then some. This Corey White has really been an ascending player. He has been outstanding. He is a physical player. He is a smart kid. He is getting better and better. We've lost some great players along the way and we are so fortunate to have excellent players behind him and that is what this Corey White has been doing, begging for an opportunity. He is going to be great when he gets in there."
Saints Coach Sean Payton on the Falcons 2-8 season
"I think in our league there is such a fine line that you deal with, especially when it comes to injuries. We could point to a number of seasons where you play in a number of games and you are able to win close games maybe as opposed to not. I don't know if that that would be the correct word, because I know how difficult it is to win in our league and I know how often these games come down to the final plays, making a play in the end and having a chance to win a game. I think when you add the injury element to it, it obviously is that much more difficult."
Saints QB Drew Brees on the success the Saints had rushing the football the last two games.
"Yeah, obviously it's extremely beneficial when you talk about balance and controlling the clock and establishing the line of scrimmage in a game and also the way it opens up the play-action and opportunities for big plays."
New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-8)
Thursday, November 21st in Georgiadome
7:25pm Kickoff on WWL Radio - 870AM/FM 105.3
Last week's results: New Orleans beat San Francisco 23-20; Tampa Bay beat Atlanta 41-28
Series History: Atlanta leads the series 46-42. But the Saints have owned the Falcons as of late. New Orleans won 12 of the last 15 meetings between the two rivals.