You can usually tell a lot about a respective team in the first week, but ultimately it does not seal their fate (see the Packers and Colts). I’ve often stated that the New Orleans Saints season has not looked right since Week One, and many would tend to agree. For this 2014 team, we have learned that there were bigger problems that existed within the franchise that likely hindered success. Throughout all these trials, the Saints still control their fate with just two games to go. However, a familiar foe is ready to play spoilers for them, the Atlanta Falcons.
The last time these two met, which was just over three months ago, the Saints defense was shredded for 568 yards by Matt Ryan and company. The Saints jumped out to an early lead, and would end up being up 20-7 for a short time. That’s when Atlanta rallied and scored 17 unanswered points. Arguably, that’s the point where we knew that the matchup was going to have a typical ‘down to the wire’ finish like so many of the previous contests. Sadly I don’t have to spell it out, but the Saints lost in overtime.
In order for the Saints to march to a victory on Sunday, I have three key areas the team must excel in to break their four game losing streak of misfortune at home.
All the way back in Week One, that was a big point of emphasis that I stressed, and it doesn’t change for this game. Matt Ryan was only sacked once in the Week One matchup, and was allowed to extend plays to find open receivers, which ultimately made the Saints pay. Ryan was hit only three times on the day.
The Saints resembled the 2013 defensive unit last week against the Chicago Bears, as they sacked Jay Cutler seven times on the night. Whether you chalk that up to a poor Bears offensive line or the fact that the Saints front seven has been given ‘new life’ is completely debatable. We have seen the Saints defensive line flash these bits of brilliance this year, but what has to frustrate many is the inconsistent play year over year.
Matt Ryan is no stranger to success against the Saints, as he boasts a 19-7 touchdown-interception ratio in his twelve career games. With an ailing Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Saints must simply make the most of the opportunities given to them when it comes to disrupting Ryan.
I know this seems like a given in any respective contest in a sports game. The Saints had several errors the last time they met, which led to missed points and ultimately losing the game.
The first instance occurred when Zach Strief was flagged for an illegal use of hands on the very first drive, which took New Orleans from a 2nd and 9 at the Atlanta 17-yard line to a 2nd and 19 at the Atlanta 27-yard line. Up until then, the Saints moved the ball with ease.
The second instance occurred when the Falcons had the ball in the second quarter down 13-0. On a 3rd and 15 at the Saints’ 25-yard line, Corey White was flagged for a questionable defensive pass interference. The end result was a receiving touchdown from Roddy White, who arguably got away with another push-off.
The third instance was right before halftime. After the Saints went up 20-7 and with only twenty seconds to play in the half, the Saints yielded 58 yards in two plays to set up a Matt Bryant field goal before things ended.
Although mistakes have been a resounding theme for the 2014 Saints, they must simply eliminate or reduce the amount to come out on top. This applies to both sides of the ball, and can be further expounded on in the next area.
For God’s Sake, Start Strong!
The last four home games have been nothing short of pitiful, as the Saints were outscored 45-13 in just the first quarter alone. That’s right, the team only had one first quarter touchdown (Baltimore) in four home games. That’s very uncharacteristic for a Sean Payton team. It’s no wonder that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome crowd has had such an uneasy feeling, as they’ve been taken out of the game early and often.
The Saints’ trend shows them settling more in the second quarter, as they have only been outscored 27-20 in the past four home games. Many of us can recall the fourth down failures that negated points deep in the opponent’s territory in the Bengals and Ravens game, which completely changed the momentum in each game.
All we ask of this team is to start strong, finish stronger. Who Dat Nation needs reason(s) to be in this game from the very beginning to the very end.