10-13-2005, 08:27 AM
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Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: San Antonio, TX
ESPN Insider: Falcons-Saints
Saints must stop Falcons' run gameBy Scouts, Inc.
Why To Watch
Injuries will have a significant impact on this game. The Falcons will be without MLB Ed Hartwell and Nickel back Chris Cash, who sustained serious injuries last week. New Orleans will be without RB Deuce McAllister, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last week.
Atlanta will look to protect its weakened defense and take some pressure off the passing game by staying committed to the run. The Falcons will also look to make the Saints a one-dimensional passing attack by taking away their ground attack. New Orleans will counter by trying to take advantage of the absence of Hartwell and Cash. That means attacking the heart of the Falcons' run defense and spreading the field with some multiple-receiver sets.
With Cash out of the lineup, don't expect Atlanta to blitz as much this week because they won't want to leave their corners on islands as frequently. That means the defensive line has to generate consistent pressure. The Saints' pass protection has been streaky at best, but finding a way to keep Atlanta's talented front four off Brooks will open the door for the upset.
When the Falcons have the ball
Rushing: Consistently handing the ball off to Dunn and backup T.J. Duckett will give them an opportunity to wear down the Saints' front seven and control the tempo of the game. Only Dallas has more rushing attempts than the Falcons, so expect offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp to continue to show a strong commitment to the ground game.
As a result, New Orleans' ability to prevent the long run on first and second downs, effectively creating longer third down situations will play a big role in the outcome of this game. This will greatly improve the Saints' chances of getting their defense off the field and keeping it well rested. The problem is Atlanta's personnel will make it difficult. Dunn does an excellent job of reading his blocks, changes directions on a dime and accelerates extremely well.
If any of the Saints' defenders take a poor pursuit angle or get caught out of position, it will create a seam for Dunn and he is very dangerous once in the open field. Although Duckett isn't as explosive as Dunn, he runs with good power and has great top-end speed for his size. New Orleans' tackling has been inconsistent at best and Duckett has the lower body strength to pick up big yards after contact, should the Saints fail to wrap him up.
Head coach Jim Mora didn't deactivate Vick until Sunday morning last week, but there is some speculation that Vick was never going to play. While his status is unclear at this point, it's likely he returns to the starting lineup. Knapp won't want Vick to take any unnecessary hits because of the injury, so he may not call as many designed quarterback runs if Vick plays.
However, that doesn't mean Vick won't have an impact on the ground game if he's in the lineup. Vick's presence will force the backside of the defense to stay honest and respect the possibility that he could keep the ball when he goes to hand it off to one of his backs. That means the pursuit will be a step slower and blockers should have an easier time getting into position.
Passing: In breaking down this aspect of the matchup, it's clear that the unit that makes fewer mistakes -- the Saints' secondary or the Falcons' receiving corps -- has the edge regardless of who lines up at quarterback. SS Jay Bellamy's season-ending shoulder injury has forced the Saints to start rookie SS Josh Bullocks and is understandably experiencing some growing pains.
Making matters worse is the fact that New Orleans' more experienced defensive backs have been caught out of position far too often as well. Knapp will test New Orleans' discipline with play action and roll outs. If the secondary bites on the play fake or is too quick to fill against the run when the quarterback moves outside the pocket, it will open the door for Atlanta to make a big play in the passing game.
However, it doesn't matter how open the receiver is if that receiver doesn't catch the ball and Atlanta's receivers have dropped too many passes that they should have caught. They can't continue to make these mistakes because they are costing the team quality field position and/or points, and this should be a close game.
The drops have also had an impact on the ground game because they make it easier for opposing defensive coordinators to stack the line of scrimmage in an effort to take away the run. One of the ways Knapp can help his receivers is to run some quick-hitting passes that help the quarterback and receivers into a rhythm early in the game.
When the Saints have the ball
Rushing: There are three reasons to believe that offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard will pound the ball inside early and often, despite the absence of McAllister. The first is the Saints' personnel at running back, as backup Antowain Smith is at his best running between the tackles. Smith has good size, runs hard and has the lower body strength to consistently pick up yards after contact.
Perhaps more importantly, he has excellent starting experience. He can carry a heavy load and wear down Atlanta's front seven over the course of the game, if given enough carries. The second reason is Hartwell sustained an Achilles injury that could force him to miss the rest of the season last week and there isn't great depth behind him.
Without his physical presence in the lineup, the heart of the Falcons' run defense won't be as stout. The third reason is that while Atlanta's front four is explosive and active, it lacks massive run stuffers who can anchor at the point of attack. Running the ball right up the middle helps negate the Falcons' range and makes it easier for blockers to get into position by cutting down the angles they have to take to reach their assignments.
Passing: Keep an eye on Joe Horn's hamstring injury as the week progresses. He has missed the last two weeks with a hamstring injury, but could return to the starting lineup. With Cash out with an arm injury, Allen Rossum is expected to line up at Nickel back. Rossum is an excellent return man who provides some depth as a No. 5 corner, but he is a liability when asked to cover the opposing team's No. 3 receiver.
With Horn in the lineup, Az-Zahir Hakim would move back to the slot and is capable of taking advantage of any single-coverage opportunities he gets working against Rossum. However, Hakim is at his best after the catch, so hitting him in stride so he doesn't have to slow down and give the pursuit time to close in on him is important. That means that Brooks has to be more accurate and consistent than last week when he completed just nine of his 22 passes.
The good news for Brooks and the Saints' offensive line is Atlanta defensive coordinator Ed Donatell likely won't blitz as much as he did when he faced mobile Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper earlier this year. With Hartwell and Cash out of the lineup, the defense is already more vulnerable to giving up the big play and Donatell doesn't want to exasperate that by frequently leaving his corners on islands.
Donatell wants to take away the big play and force Brooks to consistently make sound decisions. That means he'll regularly drop seven men into coverage and New Orleans should be able to commit five-to-seven blockers to slow down a four-man pass rush.