It’s been eight months since we saw the Atlanta Falcons fall 10 yards short of reaching the Super Bowl in a 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in last year’s NFC title game. Now the Falcons are just five days away from opening the 2013 season against the hated division rival, New Orleans Saints as they look take the next step to getting a Lombardi to the great city of Atlanta.
In 2012, the Falcons (13-3) got off to a franchise best 8-0 start before suffering their first loss of the season in the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome in a week 10 battle in the bayou. This year Atlanta is heading to New Orleans with even more weapons in its arsenal by replacing Michael Turner with long time Rams workhorse Stephen Jackson. The addition of Jackson to an already potent offense should be more than enough to stress last year’s 32nd ranked and historically the NFL’s worse defense in terms of yards allowed in a single season, 7,042.
After serving a yearlong suspension for his involvement in the Bounty Scandal, what better way for Roger Goodell to welcome Saints coach Sean Payton back then throwing him into the fire and testing his offensive schemes against an opportunistic Falcons defense?
Last season New Orleans got off to a 0-4 start before finishing 7-9 without Payton, easily making last year their most disappointing season in recent memory.
Last November, Payton looked on helplessly from his couch as the Falcons intercepted his star quarterback, Drew Brees, five times and ended his NFL record 54 consecutive games of throwing at least one touchdown in a week 13 rematch in the Georgia Dome.
Since then, Atlanta’s defense has experienced a miniature overhaul this offseason by replacing three of last years starters—Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson, and John Abraham—with two rookie corners, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and two time Super Bowl Champion defensive end Osi Umenyiora , formerly of the New York Giants. The unit hopes to build off a year where they ranked 24th in total defense but 5th in points allowed with 18.7 under now second year coordinator Mike Nolan.
The Falcons defense isn’t the only unit that will be looking to improve off last year’s performance. Aforementioned, the Saints fielded the worse defense in the history of the league in 2012 and not surprisingly ranked toward the bottom in nearly every statistical defensive category.
During the off-season, New Orleans fired first year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and replaced him with Rob Ryan. The team also used three of its five draft picks on defensive talent along with bringing in cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker Victor Butler in hopes of improving on last year’s debacle of a defense.
However, Atlanta is no stranger to Rob Ryan’s schemes; in 2012 they faced Ryan in a week nine match up versus the Dallas Cowboys. The Falcons racked up 453 yards and averaged over seven yards per play against the Ryan’s defense as they went on to a 19-13victory.
While it is a new year and anything could happen, the Saints simply do not have enough talent on defense to contain; Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzales, Stephen Jackson, and Matt Ryan, but to be fair a lot of teams don’t. If Atlanta jumps to a big lead, Drew Brees could be a sitting duck behind an offensive line that has had some turnover as Nolan likes to send pressure at the quarterback from every level at any time.
Since Atlanta has had some issues covering the position, New Orleans best bet would is to try and outscore Atlanta behind Brees and stellar tight end Jimmy Graham, or the Falcons will cruise to victory in the Big Easy.
Look for the Falcons to take an early lead in the division as they try to become the first back to back division champions in the history of the NFC South.
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