Shanle secured the lone takeaway of the game, allowing the Saints to get a field goal and a Win In The Turnover Column during the game. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Wednesday morning once again brings you the all important "must-read" of the day, the review of HansDat's Hot Reads from Sunday.
And they were pretty, pretty, HOT, if I do say so myself.
Make the jump to read just how things went down against the Falcons.
Primary Option: Protect Drew Brees
What I'd Like To See: Drew Brees needs to have time to survey the field, find his man, and get the ball to him. Keep him clean, please. Blocking well for the running game will help this, too.
From where I was sitting, it looked like Brees was hardly touched, barely pressured, and had plenty of time to survey the field, find his men, and get the ball to them. Brees was not sacked once, and they only hit him twice. And this was on the road, people. In hostile Atlanta, with no love lost between these two teams. If the o-line can keep this up, we might be ok. But those guys do need to improve their run- and screen-play blocking.
Checkdown #1: Control The Running Game
What I'd Like To See: The Saints defense needs to find a way to limit Turner, keeping him from a big day overall, as well as keeping him from ripping off the big plays, as well. On the other side of the coin, the Saints don't necessarily need a huge running game, but an effective rushing attack that can successfully convert the short-yardage third down plays to keep the chains moving, as well as consistently show up throughout drives enough to allow play-action fakes to be believable.
It didn't start off so well. On Atlanta's opening drive for the field goal, Michael Turner carried the ball 8 times for 39 yards and had a 10-yard catch and run. I had visions of him having a HUGE DAY as the defense wore down and eventually gashing the Saints defense with 68-yard cut-back TD run, but it never happened. Following that first drive, Turner only mustered 57 yards on 14 carries, with a long of 21 yards, and he failed to reach the end zone. I didn't think a 22-carry, 96-yard day could actually be considered "limiting" Turner, but in this case, I think it counts!
On the flip side, the Saints rushing game was pitifully nonexistent (16 carries, 41 yards, 0 TDs, and only 1 first down gained on the ground) and displayed nothing of what I asked it to do. Pierre Thomas went for 29 yards on 6 carries (for nearly a 5-yard average per carry), but he only got those six carries. Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles rounded out the anemic rushing "attack" by combining for 12 yards on 10 carries. It is so disappointing to see underutilization of the rushing game, and I fear it will haunt the Saints down the stretch.
Checkdown #2: Down And Out On Third Down
What I'd Like To See: Early success by the Saints defense in stuffing the Falcons on third down - less than 25% in the first half (and less than 33% for the game) - that allows the Saints to take the lead and take the crowd right down and out of the game.
While the Saints defense didn't quite achieve the early success I called for, they did hold the Falcons to 3 of 8 on third down in the first half (37.5 %, slightly below their 45% average), they kicked it up a slight notch in the second half and overtime, allowing only 2 of 8 third down attempts (25%), and making the total for the game 5 of 16 (31.3%), and significantly below the Falcons season average. Nice work, defense!
Safety Valve: Win In The Turnover Column
What I'd Like To See: The Saints positively SMOKE the Falcons in this category with no giveaways of their own and 3+ takeaways (2 INTs and a fumble recovery would be nice, but I'll take any combination) to help the Saints to an easy win. But I don't think that's likely. I think it'll take at least a net of zero giveaways/takeaways with an equal amount of points scored by each team on the turnovers for the Saints to have a chance at a win.
This was mostly a mistake-free game as far as takeaways and giveaways were concerned.
Scott Shanle came up with a crucial 4th quarter interception of Matt Ryan on a ball that should have been caught by Roddy White, and returned it to the Atlanta 26. While the Saints drive itself was painful - they were barely able to avoid moving backwards and completely out of field goal range, they did get three points here that would prove to be absolutely necessary in this close contest.
For a Saints team bringing in a -6 giveaway/takeaway total, getting the lone takeaway/giveaway of the game counts BIG TIME as a WIN.
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So, in the final tally of the Hot Reads, the Saints performed well in three of them, and reasonably well on half of the fourth, and they got the win.
What do you think of my assessment? Am I on the mark, or off the mark? What other factors of the game do you think were critical to this big NFC South road win in November?