Are you ready for some football? We're just hours away from the Saints first primetime game of the season and their biggest challenge to date in 2009. Having not yet played any division games, tonight's contest will answer the final remaining question surrounding this football team: Do they have what it takes to win the important ones that count the most?
Nearly at the halfway mark of the season, this game could be considered the turning point. A loss would keep the race for the NFC South crown competitive, reveal the Saints inadequacies and, knowing the 43-year history of this team, could be the beginning of an awful backslide into mediocrity. A win, however, could supply the needed push that would allow them to continue rolling through the fluffy part of their schedule, give them a choke hold on the division and all but assure this team as one of the best in franchise history .
To help get you through these final excruciatingly slow hours before kickoff, here are my three keys to Saints victory tonight for you to debate while you wait.
Put Matty on Ice
Until Michael Turner proves himself a more serious threat this season, the real challenge for the Saints defense tonight will be shutting down the Falcons passing attack. Led by sophomore prodigy quarterback Matt Ryan and also including the dangerous receiving tandem of Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta poses a serious threat to the Saints secondary. Very important in winning this battle will be the ability to get pressure on Ryan, confusing him with different looks and bringing heat from different players and angles. Remember, the Boston College standout is still relatively young. Will Smith and Charles Grant have fallen off the radar recently; it would be nice to see them return to early-season form and be a part of accomplishing this goal. On the other end will be the Saints secondary. They've all played well to this point and I expect more of the same tonight from players like Darren Sharper and Jabari Greer.
Paging Doctor Brees
Atlanta's defense is less than formidable and while they're ranked 23rd at stopping the run, their pass defense is slightly worse with a 26th ranking. That added to the fact the game is at home in the Dome and I would say the conditions are ripe for Drew Brees to surgically carve up Atlanta's secondary more precisely than Michael Baden dissects a cadaver. A hot-handed Drew almost always equals pain for Saints opponents. With so many talented receivers for him to choose from, the Falcons secondary is outnumbered and in trouble.
Last weeks game against Miami was the first time the Saints didn't score on their opening drive and also the first time they had given up any kind of lead. Though the results were still positive, the situation was less than ideal. To avoid getting down by multiple scores and having to put together another miraculous comeback victory, it would be much more convenient if the Saints returned to their dominating offensive ways. Win the coin toss, put the ball in the end zone and never look back. It does wonders for my agita.
As a procedural reminder, the game thread is scheduled to open tonight an hour before kickoff at 6:30pm Central. To handle expected comment overflow, a second half game thread is also scheduled to open at 9:15pm Central so remember that and be sure to make the switch at the appropriate time. This is a nationally televised game so I am expecting a large turnout.
After the game, be sure to listen to Forecast Radio, our live post-game show with Ralph, Kevin and myself at 11pm Central. Being a primetime game, I'm sure the three of us will all be some sort of drunk. Listener phone calls are highly encouraged so reach out and touch us at (347) 215-8037. Go ahead and click the show's link now and use their "Reminder" feature so you don't forget.
Also, if you haven't already done so you can go ahead and make your three predictions in our weekly prediction thread. Good times.