The Black & Gold Strategery: The Saints Ride into Atlanta

"Dave, I don't like this 'Jon' fellow. He wants me to run the ball!!"

Hello again everyone. I will be writing another piece this week on how best to attack the Falcons and what ways are best to defend against their almost mistake-free offense. This game could be huge in deciding playoff seedings for the entire conference. As well, the Saints have to win if they want to have any shot at winning the NFC South (however slight that may be at this point). If the Saints win, they will also have an opportunity to rest starters going into the Tampa game which may be big, as the Saints may not have a first round bye like last year and may need that week for resting purposes. Plus, of course, it's Atlanta! What Saints fan wants to get swept by the dirty birds?

Below the jump I will be use statistics from Football Outsiders to gauge the best route the Saints can take on attacking and defending against the Falcons various units. So read on!

Saints Passing attack vs. Falcons Passing Defense

The Saints biggest strength vs. the Falcons biggest weakness. According to Football Outsiders, the Saints have the 8th best passing attack in the league when adjusting via their DVOA (go here to find out how they adjust for their DVOA). The Falcons meanwhile have the 22nd ranked passing defense. This suggests the Saints should be able to pass all over the Falcons, however we have seen what happens when the Saints go into a pass-heavy game plan (Vikings and Ravens games). However, let's take a closer look at the numbers. Again, according to Football Outsiders here are the Falcons against different receivers:



vs. #1 WR vs. #2 WR vs. Other WR vs. TE vs. RB
Rk Team DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G
12 ATL 7.4% 22 8.6 71.9 3.6% 14 6.0 49.1 -16.0% 7 6.6 52.9 -2.4% 11 6.2 47.1 3.8% 14 6.0 34.0

After taking a look at these numbers, it suggests that Colston needs to work on those hands. This also suggests that Atlanta has some trouble with covering 2nd receivers, so Devery and Meachem need to show up this week instead of dressing in that invisible cloak. Also, it helps to have an explosive offense that passes the ball to many different receivers. Hey! I think we have one of those! The Falcons have some trouble with dumpoff passes as well, but not to TEs. So it may be best to try those screens to Reggie this week instead of last week. However, a main key in going toe-to-toe with the Falcons is to have quick scoring drives. If you have a long drive, they specialize in taking the ball away via interception. So big deep passes are warranted in this game. In fact take a look at these numbers:

Team Drives Yds/Dr Pts/Dr TDs/Dr Punts/Dr TOs/Dr INT/Dr FUM/Dr LOS/Dr DSR
ATL 149 31.89 (25) 1.62   (9) .195 (15) .396 (23) .168   (7) .128   (3) .040 (19) 25.35   (1) .675 (15)

Notice how they give up tons of yards, but drives won't always end in TDs, rather FGs or INTs. Also notice the bolded number (their bold); that is average starting position per drive. This reflects a good special teams, which we will come back to later.

Let's get back to defense. The Falcons lost two games: one to the Steelers and another to the Eagles. How did the Eagles do it? They passed the ball early but established the run in the 2nd half, stopped the run and forced Matt Ryan to try and win the game himself. When they forced the Falcons to become one dimensional, the game became a lot easier for the Eagles. So if the Saints have a pass heavy game plan, they need to at least establish the run to be able to mix it up, then try a play action pass to a receiver. They also need to limit dumpoff passes which will extend drives and increase the chance of failure on the Saints. And this leads us to...


Saints Running Offense vs. Falcons Rushing Defense

Now the Saints have the 22nd rushing attack in the league. I'm sure this doesn't surprise many, as you actually have to run to be successful at running. Now the Falcons, on the other hand, have the 13th ranked rushing defense. Not good if they want to establish the run that they already suck at. However, lets take a closer look, shall we?

LEFT END LEFT TACKLE MID/GUARD RIGHT TACKLE RIGHT END
TEAM ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank
ATL 4.70 22 3.69 10 3.38 3 3.44 9 4.84 28

Taking a look at these, 'gut' plays should be used at a minimum. The Falcons excel at stopping the run when you run straight at them. But stretch plays to the right and the left will work great against them. As such, the Saints need to try some cutback and stretch plays to the outside. Now lets take a look at the Saints O-line at run blocking:

Team Adj. Line
Yards
RB
Yards
Power
Success
Power
Rank
Stuffed Stuffed
Rank
2nd Level
Yards
2nd Level
Rank
Open Field
Yards
Open Field
Rank
NO
4.61 4.32 70% 10 19% 18 1.24 8 0.75 15

The Saints are actually a lot better at run blocking than the eyes perceive. The Saints are good at getting into the open, and are middle in the pack when in the open, most likely because Ivory is more of a power back instead of a speed runner like Chris Johnson. Let's dig deeper.


LEFT END LEFT TACKLE MID/GUARD RIGHT TACKLE RIGHT END
TEAM ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank
NO 5.17 3 4.53 11 4.84 2 3.58 27 4.17 15

As you can see, the Saints are much better running towards the left side of the line compared to the right (because all the good runs on the right are negated by holdings). And take a look at the left end ranking; 3rd in the nation at outside runs to the left, going against a team that is in the bottom third at defending outside runs to the left. I'm forming an idea. Maybe we should be running outside plays mostly to the left. And do some cutback plays to the right to help confuse the defense.

Now that we have discussed the Saints offense vs. the Falcons defense. It's time to flip the table.


Falcons Passing Offense vs. Saints Passing Defense

Atlanta has the 10th best passing attack in the league. Which is probably where you would rank Matt Ryan right now, so it makes a lot of sense. This is a high number for the part of their offense that isn't their strength, but it's what makes them dangerous. On the other hand, the Saints have the 10th best passing defense. Goes hand in hand with each other, eh? However, since football isn't a numbers game, 10 does not erase 10 and we can simply move on. We need to take a look at the minor details such as: how do the Saints match up against different receivers?



vs. #1 WR vs. #2 WR vs. Other WR vs. TE vs. RB
Rk Team DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G DVOA Rk Pa/G Yd/G
10 NO -2.4% 16 5.5 46.5 -3.0% 12 5.5 33.2 -12.2% 10 5.5 40.8 23.7% 28 7.7 62.8 18.2% 26 7.5 50.0

So the Saints are right down the middle at defending against #1 receivers, which does give us a statistical reference that Jabari is a little off from last year. However, other receivers the Saints do great against, which is surprising considering their injuries at that position. And they are near dead last at covering TEs and RBs. I'm shocked - SHOCKED! - to find out the Saints suck at covering those positions! (note the dripping sarcasm) Good thing they aren't playing a Hall of Fame tight end in the making and a running back that can catch the ball out of the backfield....OhWait.

Now, I can't suggest to cover the receivers and force long drives because that's what they excel at. Instead, flip the game plan. Force them to make big plays and beat the Saints deep. Cover the underneath routes, and double Gonzalez and Roddy White. Force them to make their other receivers stars. Fans will be pissed when they succeed, but keep in mind they're going against their conservative game plan. This will eventually force the Falcons to make a mistake.

Moving on to...

 

Falcons Rushing Offense vs. Saints Rushing Defense

Do I need to tell you that the Falcons like running the ball? If so, what type of rock were you hiding under? Ready to be a bit shocked however? The Falcons are ranked 16th in the league at running the ball. The Saints have the worst rushing defense in the league, right? No way they will be able to stand up to the Falcons with their....12th ranked rushing defense?? Huh??

Let's remember how Football Outsider's rank their DVOA. If you get a ton of yards against a horrible run defense, it does not count as much as a ton of yards against a good run defense. Turner's 1256 yards are nothing to scoff at, but a good chunk of them came against poor run defense teams. I hope that helps explain why they are ranked so low and the Saints so high.

To get back on track, let's take a look at the Falcons running in depth.

Team Adj. Line
Yards
RB
Yards
Power
Success
Power
Rank
Stuffed Stuffed
Rank
2nd Level
Yards
2nd Level
Rank
Open Field
Yards
Open Field
Rank
ATL 4.35 4.16 71% 7 17% 13 1.08 21 0.77 14

These numbers aren't surprising at all. Falcons are good at power running, don't get stuffed that often and struggle getting to the second level. In fact, the Falcons run 43% of their running plays up the middle, where it's harder to get to the 2nd level. But Turner gets them their yardage needed. Let's take a look at which runs are most effective.

LEFT END LEFT TACKLE MID/GUARD RIGHT TACKLE RIGHT END
TEAM ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank
ATL 4.54 15 4.43 12 4.14 15 4.42 9 4.67 8

 

As you can see, the Falcons are good at running to the right, for whatever reason. Before we make any conclusions, however, we need to take a look at the Saints D-line.

Team Adj. Line
Yards
RB
Yards
Power
Success
Power
Rank
Stuffed Stuffed
Rank
2nd Level
Yards
2nd Level
Rank
Open Field
Yards
Open Field
Rank
NO 4.11 4.10 42% 1 20% 12 1.08 9 0.81 17

So how's this for a surprise? When you need a defense to prevent a 3rd and 3 or shorter from being converted, the Saints defense is best in the NFL (note: I did wait until they adjusted for Ray Rice). Some of these numbers I have trouble justifying as my eyes say differently, so let's just move on to the specifics.


LEFT END LEFT TACKLE MID/GUARD RIGHT TACKLE RIGHT END
TEAM ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank ALY Rank
NO 1.95 1 4.18 16 4.07 20 4.86 29 4.62 28

Take a look at that left end statistic. First in the nation at outside stretch plays. Just don't look at the other stats. So the Falcons are best when running to the right side of the line, and the Saints defense sucks at defending against the right side of the line. Fan-freaking-tastic. Well, maybe they don't run to the right side much...


Team
RB
Carries
LEFT
END
LEFT
TACKLE
MID/
GUARD
RIGHT
TACKLE
RIGHT
END
ATL 400 16% 17% 44% 11% 13%

This is the good news: the Falcons love gut plays and runs to the left side. The Saints shouldn't cheat left because of their weakness to the right. In this case, it may be best to stick to just playing the gut and watching the ball closely. The Saints aren't as doomed as you might think. The hardest part may be tackling. Otherwise, they can limit Turner.

 

Saints Special Teams vs. Falcons Special Teams

So the Saints are ranked 24th in Special Teams. Anybody shocked? (crickets) Meanwhile the Falcons are ranked...6th. That is a huge difference bound to show up on Monday. As I mentioned earlier, the Falcons have the best average starting position in the league. It is one of their keys to success. Let's get some numbers to compare.

TEAM S.T.
DVOA
LAST
WEEK
WEIGHTED FG/XP KICK KICK
RET
PUNT PUNT
RET
NO -2.0% 26 -2.4% 25 -7.9 0.2 -2.7 3.1 -3.0
ATL 5.1% 7 7.0% 3 3.9 12.7 10.1 -1.1 0.5

Here's the good news: most of the Saints bad numbers are thanks to FGs (looks at Hartley). The punt numbers almost wash out in that the Saints punt numbers are good (thanks Morstead!) and their punt returns suck. The Falcons stink at punting and their return game is crap. Problems arise when you look at the kickoff coverage teams, as the Saints are low and the Falcons are high. Not good news for Saints fans. Greg McMahon needs to work on this a lot over the week in preparation. All four aspects of the team need to show if they're are going to beat the Falcons.


In Summary...

On offense it is okay to focus on the pass, but do not abandon the run. Establish the run, then use play action for deep plays to the receivers. In the second half, the run becomes even more important to run out the clock. When rushing the ball, utilize outside plays to the left and right, but mostly the left.

When the Falcons pass, cover Roddy White and Tony Gonzales to prevent them from dominating and force their other players to step up. Force Atlanta to abandon their conservative game plan and make them gamble. Focus on defending running plays to the center, but be prepared on runs to the right which is where the defense is weakest.

Special teams need to be focused, and make the tackle when they can.

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