The Saints are set to take on their bitterest divisional rivals this evening on the day of the Turkey and instead of sharing what they’re thankful for this holiday season, they’ll look to pummel the Atlanta Falcons into ground as they ave their last few opponents. This is yet another “must-win” feeling game as the Saints and Rams work to keep pace with one another for home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Falcons would love nothing more than to complicate that matter for New Orleans which is presently on a skyward trajectory having won nine games in a row for the second time since 2009. So what can the Saints do to insure no such thing happens? Here are my 5 keys to victory for New Orleans to continue their hot streak.
1. Control the WRs
Believe it or not, after not scoring a touchdown for the first seven games this season, Julio Jones has found the endzone three straight games after the bye week. Marshon Lattimore has fared well against Julio in most of his matchups including earlier this year where he allowed on 1 catch for 17 yards against this season’s receiving yards leader. But in week 3 the rest thorn in the side of the Saints defense was Calvin Ridley who exploded for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns. 119 of those yards and all three touchdowns came courtesy of P.J. Williams who was trying to hold down the outside opposite Lattimore. That’s no longer the case now that Lattimore’s (one year) college teammate Eli Apple is in town. Apple is a bit faster than Williams running a 4.40 to P.J.’s 4.45 at the combine and has shown to be just fine out on the perimeter by himself. Meanwhile, Williams has found a steady position of improvement in the slot where he’s played very well. So this time around, the recipe (because it is Thanksgiving, after all) seems just write to keep these WRs a bit more contained than last they met.
2. Continue to Control the Run Game
This is something that keeps coming up and I kind of feel cheap for saying it again but it goes further than the league’s #2 ranked rush defense. This also comes down the offense. I’ve mentioned a couple of times on podcasts that one of the Saints’ best weapons in run defense, aside from Demario Davis who has been invaluable this season, has been its high-voltage scoring offense. Because Drew Brees and the offense keep scoring like they do, it makes it hard for the opposing teams to even have time beyond the first two drives to establish a run game. I’ll speak more on this in a moment but it’s going to be a huge boon for this Saints team to keep the running game contained in the many ways they do so and making Matt Ryan, who tends to make mistakes when the game is feeling out of hand, beat the Saints through the air.
3. Let Boom & Zoom Eat
For the last two games both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have been having days. Ingram has gone over 100 yards rushing two games in a row, meanwhile Kamara has added over 100 all-purpose yards in each of those games. Surprisingly, Ingram didn’t even catch a pass in the Eagles game, only the fourth time that’s happened in a game since 2014. Which goes to show that regardless to what type of game you ask these guys to play, they’ll play the hell out of it. Remember too that in week 3, the Falcons didn’t have to account for Ingram at all as he was serving his four-game suspension. Now, not only do they have to account for both he and Kamara, they have to prepare to contain them without very important pieces on defense including Deion Jones who will not make his return this evening.
4. Saints Must Keep Their Foot on the Gas
The Saints, not including kneel downs, have scored on 9 of their last 11 possessions. Opening that up, they’ve scored on 25 of their last 30 possessions, touchdown or field goal. They’ve averaged 48 points over the last 3 games, notched 100 yard rushers in the last two, 150 yard receivers in two of three including Michael Thomas going for 211 against Los Angeles and rookie Tre’Quan Smith going for 157 last week, and Drew Brees has accounted for 4 touchdowns in each of those last three games. This Saints team is as on fire as on fire can be. If they can keep their foot on the gas against the 29th ranked passing defense and 23rd ranked rushing defense, they should come out of the holiday with a W just like they did on Christmas Eve of last season.
5. Crowd Noise
The Saints have done an incredible job controlling time of possession, yielding it only twice so far this season. They’ve been winning it considerably (5:00+) for the last few games and will likely look to keep that trend. For instance, last week though both the Saints and Eagles had 11 drives, the Saints ran 19 more plays including only 1 kneel down. Now, the other important part becomes the time that Atlanta spends with the ball. This is a team not at all accustomed to crowd noise. So little so in fact that they pumped fake crowd noise into their stadium and got in trouble for it. So when they come to the Mercedez-Benz Superdomeand are away from their Greater Value equivalent, the Who Dat Nation should always be unforgiving, disorienting, and just plain loud.
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