Saints Defensive End Will Smith (source football.about.com)

New Orleans Saints defense must step up against the Atlanta Falcons

Last time the Saints faced the Falcons it was New Orleans that came out victorious at the Georgia Dome after Gregg Williams was able to thwart Atlanta’s fourth down conversion in overtime, returning the ball to Drew Brees and the offense.

Four plays later and the game was won thanks to a clutch kick from John Kasay, but as nice as it was for the Saints to secure the win ultimately it was the defense’s blunders that let Atlanta back in the game late.

New Orleans defense allowed Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to pass for 351 yards, including a near uncontested drive in the waining moments of the fourth quarter that setup the game tying field goal.

During the drive Ryan hit wide receiver Harry Douglas on two back-to-back 23-yard pass plays, then two plays later hit him once more for a 20-yard gain — making him responsible for 56 of the drives 85 total yards.

Douglas found a sweet spot in the middle of the Saints zone “prevent” style defensive look. New Orleans didn’t blitz on the drive, strange considering Ryan’s passer rating dropped significantly during the contest when under pressure (65.3 average).

Conversely when he wasn’t blitzed his passer rating was 96.5

But this time around the Saints have hopefully learned their lesson. This game is important to New Orleans, they win it they win the NFC South, and push the Falcons deeper into the crowded field of wild card hopefuls.

The Saints are a different team when playing at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season — seemingly scoring at will while the defense rarely surrenders big plays — giving them a strong advantage over Atlanta this week.

It’s clear that the Saints defense can get burned by Ryan and the Falcons, but the secondary has to cover better if they expect to try and shut down Roddy White and company.

Not only that but it’s also clear that if the Saints get a lead, and it’s likely that they will, going into a prevent defense would not be advised because the Falcons evidently know right where to go with the football.

Ryan is clearly affected by the Saints blitz packages, so why not use them early and often to disrupt his flow. But the secondary can’t do it all by themselves, the front four will have to find ways to apply more pressure consistently.

Defensive end Will Smith co-leads the team with seven sacks and is also the team leader in quarterback hurries with 26. Smith needs to find a way to turn more of those hurries into sacks — a quicker step off the snap or just relying on the bull rush — could do the trick.

The Saints also use Smith more then any other defensive lineman. He has been in on 712 snaps this season which is 58 more snaps than his closest competition in Sedrick Ellis who has 654.

Maybe New Orleans should spell him more with defensive end Junior Galette (323 snaps, 4 sacks), Jeff Charleston (201 snaps, 1 sack), or Turk McBride (196 snaps, 2 sacks) to keep him more explosive when he is called on in pass rush situations.

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