NFL Game Of The Week #16: Falcons at Saints

NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 09: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints leads his team in a chant as they huddle up prior to playing against the Minnesota Vikings at Louisiana Superdome on September 9 2010 in New Orleans Louisiana. The Saints won 14-9. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (Mon. Dec. 26th, 2011 @ 8:30pm(EST.)

Stars Watch:
(New Orleans): QB Drew Brees - Brees would be the favorite to win the 2011 NFL MVP award if Green Bay's QB Aaron Rodgers was playing in another league. He is in reach of breaking Dan Marino's record of passing yards in a single season of 5,084 yards. He has 4,780 yards and 37 td passes with 2 games left. Brees is completing 71 percent of his passes and has not lost a fumble this season. He will give the Falcons secondary all they can handle Monday night.

(Atlanta): QB Matt Ryan - Ryan almost pulled out the win for the Falcons in the week 10 matchup won by the Saints 26-23 in Atlanta. He had a big game passing for 352 yards and throwing 2 tds. The Falcons have yet to make this team Matt Ryan's by relying on his arm, but as we approach the home stretch and playoffs they will have to take the restraints off and let him make more big plays with his arm.

New Orleans Offense vs. Atlanta Defense: Brees and company can score points from anywhere on the field. He will try to come out and set the tempo early and look for the deep passing plays. TE Jimmy Graham has 1,171 yards receiving with 9 tds and is Brees' favorite target in the redzone. Graham and WR Marques Colston will create mismatches with their size against the smallish Falcons secondary. Utility man RB Darren Sproles who does it all by contributing in the rushing, passing, and special teams return game could be the difference maker. Atlanta's defense will need to get pressure on Drew Brees to give their secondary time to stay with the many Saints receivers. DE John Abraham could make things difficult for the Saints if they can't keep him blocked. The Falcons run defense overall has played well and is ranked 4th in the NFL.

New Orleans Defense vs. Atlanta Offense: The Saints have struggled with defensive consistency in 2011. New Orleans has a decent run defense but should be better with the off season additions on the defensive line with DT Shaun Rogers, DT Aubrayo Franklin, and rookie DE Cameron Jordan. The pass defense is where things go wrong at times by giving up big passing plays. MLB Johnathan Vilma is the leader of the Saints defense and will lead the charge against RB Michael Turner. Atlanta's offense is still to conservative and the time maybe now to start putting the ball in Matt Ryan's hands and let him get the ball to the talented trio of Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzales. Matt Ryan is having his best season stats wise with 2 games left he could eclipse 4,000 yards passing and 30 tds. The only thing he needs work on his completion percentage which is only at 60 percent.

Key Stats:
New Orleans (NFL Rank Yards) Atlanta (NFL Rank & Yards)

Rush Off. 8th - 125.4ypg 18th - 110.6ypg
Pass Off. 1st - 331.4ypg 9th - 255.8ypg
Rush Def. 13th - 109.9ypg 4th - 96.6ypg
Pass Def. 28th - 256.1ypg 17th - 230.6ypg

Total Offense: 1st 13th
Total Defense: 24th 9th

Points Per Game: 32.6ppg (2nd) 24.4ppg (10th)

Key Matchups:
LT Jermon Bushrod (versus) DE John Abraham:
Bushrod has done a fine job at protecting Drew Brees' blindside all year. He has the size, quick feet, and long arms to steer speed pass rushers by the pocket and the strength to withstand the initial push from the power rushers. He will need to be at his best for this game because DE John Abraham can disrupt the entire offense if he is not blocked properly. Abraham leads the Falcons with 8.5 sacks and uses a combination of speed and power moves to get the offensive tackles off balance.

Saints run defense (versus) RB Michael Turner: In the previous matchup in week 10, the Saints did not allow Turner to rush for over 100 yards but he did have 96 yards on 4.4ypc. The Saints will need the same or better play again and not allow the Falcons to dictate the tempo by slowing the game down and chewing up the clock with the running game. Saints defensive front seven needs to play fundamental gap assignment football and not allow the big gashing runs by Turner and put the Falcons in unfavorable down and distance situations. Turner leads the Falcons with 1,129 yards rushing and 9 tds.

Final Word: The Saints need to win this game to keep pace with the San Francisco 49ers for the 2nd seed and first round bye in the NFC playoffs. Drew Brees needs 305 yards passing to break Dan Marino's single season record for passing yards. New Orleans, who generally plays well offensively at home, should want to score plenty of points offensively early to dictate the tempo and pressure Atlanta to play faster than they want to. Atlanta's offense has always been about ball control and dominating the time of possession. The Falcons on the other hand should ride the arm of QB Matt Ryan and allow him to spread the ball to his talented receivers of Roddy White, Julio Jones, and TE Tony Gonzales. In the last meeting, Matt Ryan had success against the Saints defense with medium to deep pass plays in the middle of the field connecting with WR Harry Douglas who replaced the injured Julio Jones. Lets see if Atlanta will attack that area of the Saints defense again with Julio Jones and Tony Gonzales or if New Orleans made adjustments from that last meeting.

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