Facing the Falcons on Monday night will present another challenge for the overwhelmingly successful story that is the New Orleans Saints defense this season. Believe it or not, though, I'm not that worried about Michael Turner, Roddy White or Matt Ryan. Why? Dolphins game aside, the Saints are actually very good against the run. Sure, Ellis being out concerns me but Kendrick Clancy isn't a slouch at stopping the run and he'll make his return to the lineup this week. I'm sure Turner will have his share of successes but I don't see him being the difference in this game.
I believe the Saints will get pressure on Ryan, either with their four man front or more likely when Gregg Williams dials up his complex blitz packages to confuse the young quarterback. The Cowboys were very successful at doing that a week ago. I believe the Greer, Porter and/or Sharper combination will cover Roddy White and limit his effectiveness. They've been so fantastic all season-long, there is no reason to believe that White will turn in anything better than an adequate performance. So that leaves Tony Gonzalez, and I'm actually not sure what the Saints have planned for him.Scott Shanle, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Randall Gay. The first three players listed will be covering Gonzalez more so than Gay. I can see Gay picking up Gonzalez on 3rd and long plays but for the most part that will be an anomoly. That matchup, by the way, is a mediocre one given Gonzalez' size and athleticism compared to Gay's size. I do like Gay's physicality for his size, his coverage skills and his speed so hopefully he can hold his own when he has to cover the big tight end. But let's look at the more frequent matchups on passing plays:
Gonzalez vs. Shanle:
Shanle has very sound technique and is very good in coverage for the most part. He's physical, strong and intelligent but he's a little stiff and his range is somewhat limited. Gonzalez runs well for his size and he's so athletic he'll beat Shanle to almost any well thrown ball. Shanle is probably most exposed on routes over the middle and routes down the field with no safety help.
Gonzalez vs. Vilma:
The part that really bothers me about this matchup is that it will take away from Vilma's effectiveness against the run. As we saw last week against the Dolphins, Miami was completely shut down in the second half thanks to Vilma's tackling and pursuit. Like Shanle, Vilma is good in coverage and has size and aggression but he's also got a little more speed and athleticism. That said, the athleticism still doesn't compare to Gonzalez and with a running back like Michael Turner, it's extremely dangerous to potentially distract your best weapon against the run by sticking him on a dangerous tight end.
Gonzalez vs. Harper:
Harper is probably the weakest pass defender of all the defensive backs on the team but he's without question the best tackler and the most physical. His awareness with the ball in the air can be poor so Gonzalez could take advantage of that having some of the best awareness of anyone in the NFL at his position. Harper, for his size, can still stay physical with Gonzalez but the Saints could be in big trouble on plays where Gonzalez makes a play on the ball and breaks Harper's tackle.
In all three scenarios the Saints are potentially exposed to getting beat, whether it's Gonzalez doing the dirty work himself or opening things up for the other playmakers on his team.
Consider the tight ends the Saints have faced so far this season:
Week 1: Casey FitzSimmons
Week 2: Brent Celek, who by the way had a monster game.
Week 3: Derek Fine
Week 4: Ben Hartsock
Week 6: Anthony Fasano
None of these guys are Tony Gonzalez caliber players and frankly none of them are even remotely close. The only tight end of this group that's of any dangerous ability in the passing game is Celek and he posted over 100 yards receiving against the Saints. You get the idea. Gonzalez is scary and he's going to be the biggest problem for the Saints come Monday night when their defense hits the field. The Saints have yet to face someone of Gonzalez' ability and there's no clear cut way they're going to stop him without leaving themselves vulnerable in other areas.
Do you think the combination of Shanle, Vilma, Harper and Gay can slow Gonzalez down at all? Give us your prediction on Tony Gonzalez' final statline for the game.