This sets up an exceptional game.
The Saints have too many weapons for the Falcons to handle. The last time the Saints played in Atlanta they won 17-14 in Week 16 last season.
I'm not sure the Saints are much better than last season, but the Falcons are worse than when they won the division last season.
For the Saints to win they will have to keep Brees off the ground, stop Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers from rushing for 150 yards between them, and have success throwing to Jimmy Graham.
Also, the Saints must stop the Falcons from scoring in the red zone (the Falcons have a clear advantage over the Saints in red zone offense against the Saints' red zone defense), turn jack-of-all-trades Darren Sproles loose in space so the Atlanta linebackers stay busy.
The Falcons have scored 147 points on 28 trips inside the 20-yard line. They've scored 18 touchdowns and made seven field goals. The Falcons' touchdown percentage (64.3) ranks second in the NFL. The Saints have yielded 15 touchdowns in 21 opponents' possessions inside the 20-yard line (71.4 per cent).
Prediction: Saints win this pick it game, 30-27.
Other NFL picks: Steelers -3 over Bengals; Chiefs -3 over Broncos; Jaguars -3 over Colts; Cowboys -5 over Bills; Panthers -3 1/2 over Titans (best bet); Dolphins -4 over Redskins (lock); Bears -2 1/2 over Lions; Rams +2 1`/2 over Browns; Eagles -12 over Cardinals; Ravens -6 1/2 over Seahawks; Giants +3 1/2 over 49ers; Patriots -1 1.2 over Jets; Packers -13 over Vikings. Last week: 10-4.
Saints middle linebacker Jon Vilma (knee) didn't practice on Thursday and will probably miss another game.
The Saints tackle the Falcons on Sunday in the Georgia Dome with the winner taking the lead in the NFC South division.
Saints coach Sean Payton reviewed the team's injury report and said the key to beating Atlanta is winning the turnover battle at his Thursday media briefing.
“LB Jon Vilma (knee) did not practice, DE Turk McBride (ankle) did not practice, CB Patrick Robinson (stomach) did not practice, and then WR Lance Moore (right hamstring) did not practice. It was a little tight prior to the individual periods, so we held him out. The following players were limited: CB Tracy Porter (neck/chest) was limited, RB Mark Ingram (heel) was limited, TE John Gilmore (neck) was limited, RB Chris Ivory (hamstring) was limited, and then T Jermon Bushrod (stomach) was full.”
You were asked yesterday about having four running backs in the rotation. What about having two?
“I don’t envision us having two this week. Obviously if you have to, you’re challenged in that you have to have plans whether it’s a fullback, you have to have a contingency plan if you’re only carrying two. I don’t envision that being the case this week.”
Is Patrick Robinson’s injury something a little more serious?
“I’m just listing it as stomach right now. Fortunately all the tests that we took were positive and yet it’s still something that we have to be smart about. I’ll just leave it at that.”
What do you see happening in this weekend’s game with Atlanta and what are some of the things that could change the game?
“We just talked about this a little bit as a team. I think when you’re playing in the division against a real good team like Atlanta on the road, there are some things that you have to do a very good job with. You have to handle the element of crowd noise in a dome somewhere else. I think you have to win that battle of pressure and protect your quarterback and find ways to get to the opposition’s quarterback. I think the big play aspect of it you brought up is significant in that certainly both teams are capable and explosive enough offensively to create those types of plays. I think that’s a challenge for both defenses. I think the running game and the ability to stop the run is significant in a game like this. Lastly, what’s most important and a lot of times it’s a by-product of what we talked about in regards to pressure, but clearly the turnover ratio and protecting the ball is paramount as well.”
Did you do anything to get Jon Vilma back faster?
“We’re just sticking with the course right now.”
Can you tell us about Gleason Gras?
“I don’t know how many people are familiar with it. Generally in these media sessions, I don’t think there has been a time that we’ve asked fans for anything else other than crowd noise. Greg (Bensel) and I were talking about it briefly coming in here. I think by now everyone has a better understanding of the illness Steve Gleason has and the illness he’s battling. A week from this Sunday, so not this Sunday but next Sunday at Champions Square, they’re going to have an event there with music, Better Than Ezra, a pretty full itinerary. I know a number of our players are going to be there and I’ll have a chance to go as well. This is the day before the Monday night game against New York. This is a player and a family that, aside from our prayers, needs our help. His battle with this disease and his family’s battle with this disease are difficult enough, but the proceeds will go to a trust for Steve Gleason and his family. The one thing about this city is we’ve always found a way to rally around difficult times or certainly a person in need. I know this is a great cause. It’s easy for me to sit here and talk about our willingness to help and I think our fans and the people who have met Steve Gleason or at least know him even a little will find an opportunity to support this. The very simple way is attending – buying a ticket to this event with the music, the food, and there will be a lot of great things going on. From a timing standpoint, it kind of works out with our schedule in that typically the day before a game our walk-through ends early, we check into the hotel that night, and that will be the schedule for the Giants game. But I do want to bring it to everyone’s attention. I know the tickets go on sale tomorrow. I’m sure it will sell out. Obviously he’s meant a lot to this team and this organization, but I think more importantly he’s represented and meant so much to this region and this city. There are a number of things we’re working on and we have a long-term vision of a statue right there in Champions Square of him blocking that punt. It really represents more than the actual play itself. That play really represents what was the reopening of the Superdome and many would call it kind of the beginning of us picking ourselves up as a city and getting back to what we know as a normal way of life. I’m real anxious and excited that we can put on this even and help him and his family in any way we can.”
Did you know a lot about ALS before this?
“Not really. A player that I had coached in Philadelphia really about the same time that Steve’s diagnosis came out which was last year, Kevin Turner who was a fullback for us with the Eagles, was diagnosed I believe with the same disease. For me, I had heard of it and understood to some degree what it was, but not until Steve’s diagnosis did you begin to really understand graphs and how this disease attacks your body. The one thing about it is there’s no one more suited for this battle than Steve Gleason. He would epitomize someone that could, regardless of what anyone told him because throughout his career he was told there were certain things he couldn’t do. My first meeting with Steve Gleason was between the weight room and the locker room and I thought he was helping out Chief (Dan Simmons) in the equipment room and that’s the truth. I didn’t realize he was a safety and a special teams player. I kid him about that but we became better coaches and better players having had a chance to work with him.”
Can you give a timeline on his statue?
“No, I don’t have a timeline. I just know that it can happen quick enough. I just think it would represent the significance of that Monday night game and the significance of the ’06 season. I think it will be a great tribute to not only Steve, but really everyone that was on that team and everyone that was in that stadium and had gone through so much during Katrina and then the years following.”
What does Jacquizz Rodgers do that is different from Michael Turner?
“He’s a different type of player. Turner is that low center of gravity, rarely do you see negative tackles, tough runs, built low to the ground and just that steady back that is still explosive enough to hit the big runs. The comparison between some of our bigger backs and, I wouldn’t say Darren Sproles, but Pierre Thomas - there’s just different running styles. We have to be prepared for who’s in the game and understand the type of runs that they like to feature with that player and the play-actions that come with the personnel groupings. The thing you spend a lot of time on defensively from the very beginning of the week is personnel formation play recognition because all of us have certain tendencies of what we want to do with certain people on the field. We try to pay close attention to that self-scouting ourselves. Defensively, I know Gregg Williams and all of us when certain personnel is on the field, we’ll give tags. Those tags should equate to run or pass tendencies. I think they complement each other pretty well though.”
SOME hither, others yon: Reggie Bush has found his comfort zone with the Dolphins. After a shaky start, Bush notched two of his best back-to-back rushing performances of his career. Bush entered this season averaging 4.2 yards on his first 10 carries, but just 3.1 yards on carries 11 through 20. This year, he has stayed productive during the four games he has topped 10 carries, averaging 4.2 yards on those attempts. With the Saints, he had only 10 runs of 20 yards or more in 524 carries, which was 12th worst among active backs. Three of his past 24 runs have gone for more than 20. Those long bursts are one reason why his per-carry average is almost a full yard more than his 4.0 mark entering the season...
”Saints' Darren Sproles is the only player in the NFL with touchdowns rushing, receiving and on a return this season. He leads the Saints in rushing with 347 yards on 48 carries for a whopping 7.1 average per carry...During their three-game winning streak, the Falcons have re-emphasized the run and have averaged 157.7 yards rushing. Michael Turner is on a pace to run for 1,384 yards. He and Sproles were once teammates with the Chargers...
How long do NFL playing careers last? Six years if he makes an opening-day roster; 7.1 years if he plays three pension-credited seasons; 9.3 years if he is a first-round draft choice; and 11.7 years if is selected for or plays in a Pro Bowl...Football Outsiders write there's a 64 per cent chance the Colts will get the first over-all draft choice. Chances on the Packers going undefeated are 25 per cent, 85 per cent Dan Marino's NFL passing yardage record will be broken.. Detroit (a projected 4-point line based on current records) looks like the only remaining game which the Packers won't be favored by at least seven...
by Ed Staton