Falcons vs. Saints preview: Atlanta looks to pound the rock, prevent a Saints sweep

Spoon is hungry for tackles yet again - Al Messerschmidt

It has been a whole three weeks since the Falcons and Saints last met. Can Atlanta take care of its biggest rival and build on its already large division lead in primetime? More importantly, can they figure out what to do with the running game?

The Falcons learned several things in their first and only loss this season, which came at the hands of the hated Saints.

You can play almost mistake-free football, and still lose.

You can have your quarterback have on of the best games of his career, passing for a personal-best 411 yards, and still lose.

You can have first and goal inside of four minutes left in the ball game, having posted several late rallies and comeback wins already against a clearly inferior team, and still lose.

The Falcons are not impervious - not that any talking head would've argued that, anyways - but now the team actually has reason to believe it.

The best way to regain that confidence, of course, is to soundly beat their division rival on a national stage. And they will do that by running the ball.

Though it might surprise the Falcons that were held to 46 yards rushing in the last contest with the Saints (Michael Turner had another pathetic 15 yards on 13 carries kind of day), New Orleans has the worst rushing defense in football in terms of yardage allowed per game (156.5 yards per game).

Enter Jacquizz Rodgers, who has a higher yards per carry average, more receptions, and is a better third-down blocker.

While Turner plodded to another sub-20-yard day against the Bucs last week, Rodgers managed 49 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, along with two catches for 30 yards.

The Falcons must exploit the Saints run defense. They must become less predictable when they run. And they must keep Drew Brees off the field as long as possible. Rodgers will facilitate that.

On the other side of the ball, the run defense has been another disappointing unit this year.

However, last week saw perhaps the group's finest performance of the season, as a healthy Sean Weatherspoon returned to the field and helped Atlanta hold the dangerous Doug Martin to less than 50 yards rushing all game.

Once again, let's rewind: against the Saints, Atlanta allowed 72 yards from Chris Ivory and 67 from Mark Ingram.

Brees will get his yards, of that we can almost certainly count on. But what the Falcons must count on is forcing New Orleans to abandon the run game early.

Look at what the 49ers were able to do: Brees passed for 462 yards, but the quartet of Saints running backs managed just 37 yards on 14 carries.

But the other variable in this equation, and perhaps the most important defensively, is turnover margin.

San Francisco forced five Saints turnovers in their win. The Falcons will need to compensate for their banged up secondary by doing the same. Asante Samuel, we pray, will be healthy and have his interception gloves up and running.

It's as simple as that. If the Falcons win, they are one step closer to securing home field advantage and maybe - just maybe (though probably not) - a win over the somehow-still media darling Saints will earn the team more respect.

But mostly, this is about preventing another Saints sweep. The Falcons have to remember last season quite vividly.

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