A Saints victory over the Falcons won’t happen unless these things do
By John Hendrix
As the New Orleans Saints (1-4) prepare to take on the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons (5-0), it proves to be a pivotal game for both squads. The Falcons can increase their early grasp on the NFC South race with a victory, and the Saints could actually benefit tremendously from an upset of a better team.
In order for the Saints to have any chance of winning Thursday Night Football, a game in which sees them as underdogs by 3 points, there are several crucial pieces that have to show up and result in some of their best football.
Be the real secondary
If there’s one player the Saints defense need back at full strength, it’s Keenan Lewis. This unit had so many high hopes entering the season. After all, how could you not? You arguably landed one of the CFL’s top prospects in Delvin Breaux, signed a free agent cornerback in Brandon Browner who just won back-to-back Super Bowls with different clubs, and had Lewis in place with your safety rotation of Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro in place.
With the familiar duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White entering the picture tonight, coverage is likely the number one priority. At this point, you can’t rely on the Saints defense to generate a threatening pass rush. The team trusts Breaux enough to let him be by himself, and while we’ve seen that plenty of times, the other players simply need to play up a level.
Unleash your weaponry
Against Dallas, we finally saw a glimpse of what the New Orleans Saints got during the offseason when they opted to sign the C.J. Spiller. In the game against the Eagles, Spiller touched the ball a whopping 5 times, and finished with 2 total yards. Spiller’s lack of reps are frustrating to many. You didn’t spend $16 million acquiring a player to ride the bench. Spiller can run more routes than just a wheel and screen. Find a way to get him involved in the play-calling, and I promise that the team will reap the benefits.
The Falcons defense has been vulnerable to opposing running backs in the passing game. Darren Sproles (7-76), Shane Vereen (8-76), and Lance Dunbar (10-100) have all had successful games against the Dirty Birds, and Spiller should find similar success. If he’s not involved, then clearly play-calling is to blame.
Offensive line must be stellar
Let’s just call things for what it is. With the exception of Terron Armstead, the Saints offensive line play has been fairly atrocious through five weeks. Speaking of Armstead, he is needed desperately on Thursday night, but will miss another game. Peat will instantly find himself starting at left tackle, yet again.
Drew Brees is currently on pace to be sacked 53 times this season, as per ESPN. This unit has to keep him upright against a Falcons squad who only has 6 sacks this season, which is almost dead last in the league. Your starting rotation likely consists of Andrus Peat, Zach Strief, Senio Kelemete, Jahri Evans, and Max Unger. It could be a long night for Brees if this unit doesn’t come together to open lanes, protect their quarterback, and just elevate their overall play. On the other hand, the receivers must get separation.
Take care of the ball
New Orleans currently has a -5 turnover differential, thanks largely in part to 10 turnovers. For some perspective, that’s third most in the league behind Indianapolis (12) and Detroit (15). I don’t exactly remember a Sean Payton team that’s had as much trouble as holding onto the ball, tied for the league lead in fumbles (6) with Detroit and Cleveland.
Just when the Saints looked to get back into last week’s game, turnovers absolutely killed them. It’s also a domino effect, as your defense ends up getting gassed because of it. That’s why I didn’t blame them, despite them yielding over 500 yards of total offense to the Eagles.
Do something you haven’t been doing
If there’s been one thing missing from the New Orleans Saints attack, it’s a killer instinct. It’s just been difficult to find points for Sean Payton’s squad. Let this tweet from Times-Picayune columnist Katherine Terrell set the tone.
Whether you chalk this up to lack of playmakers, bad play-calling, or whatever other reason you can come up with, the proof is in the numbers. This once potent offense isn’t taken seriously like it used to be. Against the league’s 2nd highest scoring offense (32.4 points per game), you’re going to need to channel the inner Saints of years past.
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