Falcons vs. Saints: New Orleans Breaks Up Atlanta's Perfect Season

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenContributor IIOctober 1, 2016

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 11:   Jimmy Graham #80 of the New Orleans Saints yells as he is introduced before playing the Atlanta Falcons at The Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 11, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Don’t look now, but with their 31-27 victory over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, the New Orleans Saints have won four of their last five games and are moving in the right direction.

They’re headed towards the playoffs.

The Saints’ record still sits at just 4-5, but over the last few weeks this New Orleans team has made adjustments and looks to be growing in strength. There are still seven games left on the schedule and the Saints likely need to win at least six of them, but there are many reasons to believe that this team can beat anyone.


Goal-line Defense

The Saints entered Week 10 with the NFL’s worst-ranked defense, giving up 471.3 yards per game this season. But while it’s relatively easy to gain yards on New Orleans in the middle of the field, when you get to the Saints goal line, moving the ball becomes very difficult.

New Orleans sealed its victory Sunday with three goal-line stops from inside its 2-yard line. With two minutes to play, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw an incomplete pass, and then followed that play up with a running play for negative yardage and another incompletion.

It was the Saints' second goal-line stand of the fourth quarter, and a not-so-unique result this season.

The Saints have made name for themselves with goal-line stands against teams like the Carolina Panthers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and last week in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles.



The Presence of a Run Game

The Saints have generally been a pass-first attacking offense, and with Drew Brees, Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham there’s no reason for that to change.

But the Saints are a much better pass-first team when the running game shows signs of life.

New Orleans is now 24-5, dating back to the beginning of the 2010 season, when it rushes for 75 yards or more.

Sunday against the Falcons, Chris Ivory ran for 72 yards himself. Mark Ingram added 67 yards and Pierre Thomas 10. The Saints rushers gashed through the Falcons defensive line and wreaked havoc in Atlanta’s secondary for most of the first half.



Much Improved Run Defense

The Saints kept Atlanta to 46 rushing yards on 18 carries Sunday, the only time this season they’ve held a team under 100 yards rushing.

The defensive line had penetration into Atlanta’s backfield and kept Michael Turner from gaining any head of steam. On the day, Turner only gained 15 yards on 13 carries.

For a defense that opponents averaged 176.5 yards per game on the ground against in the first eight games, the Saints started the second half of the season off right.