New Orleans notched another victory inside of a dome on Thursday Night Football in Atlanta, 17-13. Shining in the absence of running back Darren Sproles was Pierre Thomas by taking advantage of targets through the air summing 15 total touches for 130 yards. The usual stars of the show connected a handful of times, tight end Jimmy Graham reached triple digits in yards and crosses the endzone. Drew Brees managed the offense by taking care of the ball and only getting sacked once, throwing for 278 yards and his other touchdown to second tight end Ben Watson. Insert head coach Sean Payton back into the picture and the offense gets back to the elite level, ranking third overall and fourth in points.
Allowing the 4th fewest points per game, the Saints corralled the Falcons offense by hitting quarterback Matt Ryan 10 times while recording five sacks in the process and forcing a fumble. Defensive standouts in prime time begin with one of the most improved players in the NFL, defensive end Cameron Jordan. He made six tackles, two of those for a loss, deflected a pass, and got credited for 2.5 sacks although he hit the QB four times.On the other side defensive end Artis Hicks contributed 8 tackles, one for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. The secondary was very active, Corey White led the team with 10 wrap-ups, Kenny Vaccaro and Roman Harper each got to nine. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been thriving this season with a change of scenery, perhaps improving under the management of head coach Sean Payton.
Home Field Advantage
This is the most dangerous team Sean Payton has assembled, or inherited. Whatever Rob Ryan and the defense is doing is working, so far. Right now at 9-2, they are a game behind the Seattle Seahawks. Both squads are undefeated at home, vs NFC teams, and obviously within the division. They have at least a three game cushion and are locked in as the top two seeds, and barring a drastic meltdown, both will get a first round bye but the top seed gets home field advantage. New Orleans and Seattle, two of the toughest places to play, let alone steal a win. Oh and one more thing, next week we get to see them clash at the 12th Man on Monday Night Football. This could be a preview of what’s to come, with the winner obtaining the upper hand in the battle for home field advantage. Whoever wins in week 13 may not lose another game this year. Who dat?
As for the flip-side of things, Atlanta continues to struggle as they only posted one touchdown to go with a pair of field goals at home. As if losing to a division rival wasn’t enough, the effects of losing offensive linemen in the offseason has been evident. The silver lining as of late has been receiver Harry Douglas, stepping up when the team has been in dire need. Matt Ryan is doing what he can at the helm, Atlanta ranks 7th in passing offense but second to last in rushing. When there’s a weakness it usually results from a combination of flaws, so you can point fingers at the line and the backfield duo of Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. The defense doesn’t have much to boast about however, ranking as the 7th worst unit giving up the 4th most scores.
This time around it doesn’t look like they need to trade up in the draft to get the playmaker they desire. If the season ended today they would get the 5th pick, looking into the future any help in the trenches is desirable. The lines are where good units are built, if the guys up front don’t execute then you virtually don’t have a chance to win many games. Hence, tailoring Super bowl expectations because of a disappointing season. Injuries are part of the game where timing and luck are everything, to keep afloat you have to have some depth throughout the roster. Especially if destine Hall of Fame tight end, Tony Gonzalez, holds his word and walks away from the game.