Falcons prepare for battle against Saints


The Falcons will begin their 2013 season on Sunday in a place that has not been very kind to them over the years.

The Superdome will be buzzing when the Falcons face the New Orleans Saints because the fans know that their team has a good chance to not only knock off the Falcons, but to win the NFC South.

The reason for the level of optimism for Saints fans is the return of head coach Sean Payton who was suspended last season. When Payton and quarterback Drew Brees are together on the sidelines, the Saints are 10-2 against the Falcons. Brees has also thrown for 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions during that span. It’s clear that he has a ton of trust in Payton who also calls the plays.

The Saints also have a new look on defense as they added defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to lead the unit. Ryan has installed a 3-4 scheme that will include more blitzing. The change should the help the Saints defense who surrendered a league record 7,042 yards last year.

However, the unit will start the season shorthanded as two of their top defenders, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith will be out for the opener. Vilma is on short-term injured reserve and Smith is out for the year with a torn ACL.

This should bode well for the Falcons who come into this season as one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. Matt Ryan finished the 2012 season with 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns, both are career highs. Those numbers could improve this season because both Roddy White and Julio Jones are ready to do damage. The duo had a combined 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns last season making them one of the most dangerous wide receiver tandems in the NFL.

But the biggest addition for the Falcons and one of the biggest additions for any team is signing Steven Jackson to a three-year deal. Jackson has rushed for 1,000 yards for eight consecutive seasons and should add more balance to an already potent offense.

As good as the offense is for the Falcons, they have to make plays on defense in order to come away with a win. The Falcons only produced 29 sacks last season, the fifth-worst total in the NFL. And 10 of those sacks came from John Abraham who was released by the team earlier this year. The Falcons hope the signing of Osi Umenyiora will help bolster the pass rush. They also will rely on Kroy Biermann, Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi to get after the quarterback.

The one matchup to watch is the Saints receivers vs. the Falcons secondary. The veteran receivers led by Marques Colston and Lance Moore will face a secondary that features veteran Asante Samuel and rookie Desmond Trufant. Robert Alford, another rookie is also expected to see some time at cornerback making the Falcons secondary very young. Trufant and Alford made some plays during the preseason, but will have their growing pains during the regular season, especially in the early stages.

It’s been three years since the Falcons have won in New Orleans and since 2001 the Saints have won 15 of the last 24 meetings. But the Falcons won the last meeting against New Orleans back in November 23-13 and they are the defending NFC South Champions. With both teams being explosive on offense and add the fact that this is one of the best rivalries in all of football, there will be a lot of fireworks in New Orleans on Sunday.

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