Despite it making a mockery of my pick for the game and my comments on the inaugural Wrong Football podcast, I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s Thursday night game where a desperate New Orleans Saints team managed to tear up the script and get an upset win over the visiting Atlanta Falcons.
The Saints managed to get a fast start, get the lead, and hold onto it for the rest of the game. Whilst they were marginally outgained by the Falcons on offence, they managed to take advantage of the Falcons’ flaws at key points to earn the win.
I’ll start with the Saints offence, and what I wrote about them when I was picking this game because Drew Brees answered the questions I had by having an amazing game. The Saints offensive line was giving up pressure all game, but Brees was so good that he was able to get the ball out and keep them moving. More importantly, he was also able to repeatedly link up with tight end Ben Watson who caught ten balls for one hundred and twenty-seven yards and a touchdown, exploiting the Falcons defence’s inability to cover him. The running game still wasn’t that effective, but thanks to Brees finding a rhythm, particularly in the second half, they were able to move the ball. I really can’t say too much in praise of Brees in this game as much like Philip Rivers in the last Monday night game, Brees was so quick with his decision with where to throw the ball that he managed to avoid getting sacked despite there frequently being defenders in the back field. Let’s face it we’d all rather Brees was playing well, so whilst he will face more complex defences this season, let’s hope that this is just the start of better things for the Saints offence.
That said, for large parts of the first half the Falcons defence had the upper hand and after giving up the first drive, did force several three and outs from the Saints as they managed to get pressure on Brees, and they prevented the Saints from running the ball effective all game. However, the Saints were able to repeatedly find Ben Watson who kept taking advantage of the Falcons coverage to have a career day. Also, despite repeatedly getting behind the Saints o-line, they were only able to sack Drew Brees once in this game, amassing four QB hits across the game.
If the Falcons defence struggled with one matchup, the offence struggled with turnovers, which ruined what could have been an otherwise fine performance. They struggled a little early on as the Falcons’ offensive line issues from last year resurfaced this week, but a combination of using play action and moving Matt Ryan to counter the line’s pass blocking issues, and effective zone blocking in the run game, meant that they were able to move the ball effectively for the majority of the game. The issue was that they repeated fumbled the ball, both on snaps to the quarterback and in the running game, ending good drives and preventing them from getting back into the contest. In fact the Falcons were able to run at will, racking up one hundred and fifty yards on just twenty-one attempts, but because of playing from behind were unable to exploit this as much as they would have liked. This also lead them to resort to the pass more than they would have liked, putting pressure back on their offensive line later in the game to stand up in more straight up pass blocking, which they were unable to do giving up five sacks. Special mention should go to Devonta Freeman who had a one hundred yard rushing day on just thirteen attempts as well as eight receptions for fifty-six yards, finishing the game with two touchdowns.
I was rude about the Saints defence, but whilst they had some effective moments in this game, they were run all over by the Falcons, and it was a combination of game flow and their opponents that enable them to do enough to win. I will say that I was impressed both with Cameron Jordan who ended the game with three sacks and racked up a further four quarterback hits, as well as corner Delvin Breaux who caught my eye several times in coverage. Time will tell if Rob Ryan is actually beginning to build something, or if this was a situational performance helped by a Superdome crowd who were given something to cheer early, and an opponent who had to move away from their game plan whilst being careless with the ball.
Take nothing away from the Saints though, they managed to put together all the ingredients to get the upset win, they started with an intensity that the Falcons didn’t seem prepared for, got an early lead to bring their home fans into play, and were able to generate enough defence to hold the Falcons at bay. It was great to see Drew Brees looking like the quarterback we have enjoyed watching so much over the years, and whilst I have no idea if this is a turning point in their season, it was definitely a step in the right direction.
The Falcons will be cross with the way that they gave this game away, but it also demonstrates that not all of their faults from last season have been corrected. The offensive line has been much better this season, but they will struggle in games where they are forced to chase the opposition or in situations where the defence can pin their ears back and rush the passer. They are clearly still a team to be reckoned with this season, but coaches around the league will be looking at the tape of this game to see those exploitable flaws, and it is just possible the Falcons might come back to the rest as the season goes on.