The New Orleans Saints will host the Atlanta Falcons in their first division match up of the season this Monday night in a symbolic game which is guaranteed to generate plenty of nostalgia in the Mercedes Superdome. It will represent the ten-year anniversary of the classic game played in week three. September 25, 2006 was the day that the Saints returned to the Superdome one year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and destroyed the dome that sheltered so many of its inhabitants.
Coincidentally, Atlanta was also in the Superdome on that day ten years ago. They were defeated 23-3, largely initiated by Steve Gleason’s blocked punt in the first few minutes of the game. This play has since become representative of the city’s rebirth which led to a winning game and eventually to the first and only Super Bowl win that New Orleans has ever seen. Since that historic game, head coach Sean Payton has led his Saints to win 15 of the 20 games that the two teams have played. Of the ten games played in the Superdome, the Saints have won eight.
Monday’s game pits the 1-1 Falcons against a Saints team desperate to prevent an 0-3 start. In week one, the Saints offense was on. They scored 34 points against the Oakland Raiders. In week two, they struggled offensively and it was their defense which held the New York Giants to a mere 16 points (seven of which came from a defensive touchdown). Atlanta has been equally inconsistent. They played horrible at home in week one, then pulled off a huge road game win in week two. If the Saints can manage to get both sides of the ball playing at full capacity, a Monday night win is highly likely. There are several keys to victory for the Saints week three.
New Orleans Saints Week Three Keys to Victory
Develop the Run: The Mark Ingram Factor
The Saints offensive line cannot be criticized for their performance in the run game. What can be criticized is their ability to utilize the run game. Saints lead running back Mark Ingram has 21 carries for 88 yards and no touchdowns. These stats aren’t particularly alarming. They indicate that he is playing well when he gets the chance. But New Orleans doesn’t run the ball. Last week against the Giants, Brees threw 46 passes while the Saints only ran the ball 13 times. Ingram had nine of these carries for 30 rushing yards. Lack of success on third down could be part of Payton’s reasoning for abandoning the run (despite playing two very close games). They have only made seven of 24 third down conversion attempts.
While the Saints have always leaned more on their passing game, they are usually more balanced than they have been this year. They are currently 31st in the league with only 35 carries. If there were ever a time for the Saints to run the ball more, it would be in Monday’s game against Atlanta. The Falcons are tied for 25th in run defense, giving up 4.6 yards a carry in their first two games. Last week, DeAndre Washington and Latavius Murray of the Raiders combined for an average of 7.4 yards per carry against the Falcons. This vulnerability against the run should be something that the Saints look to take advantage of in game three.
Maintain the Passing Game: Just Show Up this Week
This would appear to be a given with Drew Brees quarterbacking, but last week the Saints struggled in this category. The difference between week two and week three for the Saints is that the Giants are arguably a top five defense and the Falcons are ranked 28th in the league. The latter has given up 28 or more points in both games this season. In their week one loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta gave up 281 yards and four passing touchdowns, allowing quarterback Jameis Winston to walk away with a quarterback rating of 122.6. In week two, the Falcons relinquished three passing touchdowns and 299 passing yards to Derek Carr, who they were only able to sack once for no gain.
Brees has 686 passing yards and five touchdowns this year and most fantasy sports sites have him ranked as the number one quarterback entering into week three. (ESPN has him ranked third.) Wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead each have a pair of touchdowns this season, and the match up in week three should afford them the opportunity to pad their totals. However, Snead missed a couple of practices this week because of a toe injury and while he appears to be ok, he may be limited in his play this week. This should give rookie Michael Thomas a larger role. He has 114 yards over two games and ten receptions.
All of this spells a potentially huge game for the Saints. The Falcons lack the safeties to restrain an offensive assault by New Orleans. If Drew Brees and his offense can manage to produce the stats that they have proved they are more than capable of, the Saints should light up the Superdome on Monday night.
Defend the Pass: Stop Matt Ryan
In 2015, the Saints defense had more points against them than any other NFL team. They are currently 30th in the league against the pass (336 yards allowed per game) and 31st in the league in total yards allowed (451.5 per game). In fairness, the Saints defense showed up in week two, forcing three turnovers and two sacks while denying the Giants any offensive touchdowns. But the buck stops there. They have done nothing else this season. In week one, they did not register a single sack and were only able to manage a couple of hits on Derek Carr.
To add salt to the wound, the team will be hobbling into week three with multiple injuries on their secondary. Their number one and number two cornerbacks Delvin Breaux (fibula) and P.J. Williams (concussion) will not be playing on Monday, which could seriously hinder their ability to defend the Falcons passing game.
This week, the Saints defense will be confronted by a top five offensive line and an explosive passing game. Matt Ryan went 26 for 34 for 396 yards and three touchdowns against the Raiders. He currently leads the NFL with ten yards per pass attempt and has a passer rating of 121.4 with five touchdowns. The Saints have the safeties and linebackers to defend the Falcon’s passing game. But looking at their defensive stats (they have allowed 903 total yards this year with 672 of them passing), the Saints do not appear to stand much of a chance against Matt Ryan.
The Saints pass rush is bad. Some would argue that it’s non-existent. There is a small glimmer of hope that they can muster something together, based on their performance last week. If they can pull out another game like that, then New Orleans will stand a strong chance of winning this football game. Both teams have a high-powered offense as well as a defense that is questionable at best. Odds makers are predicting a high scoring game. If this is the case, the New Orleans pass rush absolutely needs to be on point.
They say that ‘bad teams find ways to lose games’ and over the last two weeks, the Saints have certainly displayed that they can lose games. The Saints last two losses combined for a measly four points in the final minute of both games and could have just as easily resulted in wins.
This week there are numerous reasons why the Saints should win this football game. Firstly, it’s Monday Night Football and every team has an incentive to win during prime time. Especially when they are playing at home. Emotions should be running particularly high in the Superdome in celebration of their 2006 win. If the players can feed off this energy, they should be able to light up the dome. And finally, the Saints are 0-2 and they are hungry for their first win of the year. A little help from the 12th man on Monday could be the key ingredient in a recipe that spells win for the Saints.
Let’s just hope that the Saints aren’t ‘a bad team.’