At 10-1, the Atlanta Falcons are still tied for the league’s best record. However, many of those 10 wins have come in an unconvincing fashion, leaving many skeptical of how good they really are.
The task isn’t easy in Week 13 when the New Orleans Saints come to town for Thursday Night Football. The Saints handed the Falcons their only loss two weeks ago in New Orleans, and played a more physical and complete game than the Falcons. In order to avoid another loss, the Falcons have to play better Thursday in the Georgia Dome.
Here are the three keys to an Atlanta victory over the Saints Thursday night:
1. Feature Jacquizz Rodgers early and more often
Against the league’s leading rush defense in Tampa Bay, the Falcons were able to get 49 yards off 10 rushes from backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Atlanta started the Tampa Bay game with a couple of unsuccessful runs inside with Michael Turner and then brought in Rodgers who was able to get to the outside and get some positive yards.
Since this worked quite often against the top rush defense, the Falcons need to do this against New Orleans’ league-worst rush defense. Even though Matt Ryan threw for over 400 yards in the last matchup, it was only because the Saints were able to turn the Falcons into a one-dimensional team and force Ryan to throw the ball over 50 times.
The Falcons should continue to start with Turner, but quickly begin featuring Rodgers in the backfield. This should help establish a running game and alleviate Ryan from being the only driving force in the offense.
2. Turn the Saints into a one-dimensional team
Drew Brees isn’t the type of player that defenses are going to shut down. In order to beat the Saints, the Falcons have to do what the Saints did to them in the last meeting; eliminate the running game and put all the pressure on the quarterback.
Even with one of the NFL’s worst rushing attacks, the Saints were able to out-rush Atlanta 148 to 46 yards in the previous matchup. To win this game, the Falcons have to contain Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas.
Drew Brees isn’t going make many mistakes, but when he does, the Falcons need to make sure they capitalize. Eliminating the running game and forcing Brees to make all the plays gives the Falcons defense a better chance of beating this high-powered offense.
3. Claim the home field advantage
Although the Falcons are undefeated at home this season, Ryan has played some of his worst football of the season in the Georgia Dome. Ryan doesn’t have one offensive statistic that is better when he is at home.
His six touchdowns, nine interceptions, 78.9 quarterback rating and 64.8 completion percentage are all significantly worse than his statistics on the road (15 touchdowns, four interceptions, 110.2 quarterback rating and 71.6 completion percentage).
Of late, Atlanta is one of the best home teams in the NFL, but this year they aren’t making it easy for themselves. Atlanta needs to feed off the emotion of the fans, get caught up in the game, be more physical and own the Georgia Dome. It may sound ridiculous, but playing at home, being comfortable and having more fun are going to be huge mental factors that should give Atlanta an edge on the Saints.