In today's Key Matchup, we take a look at the challenge awaiting the Saints' pass defense in Week 10, when Matt Ryan and Co. will visit the Superdome.
Key Matchup: Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. Saints pass defense
Coming off its best performance of the season, the Saints’ 32nd-ranked defense faces a much tougher test in Week 10 test than it did in Week Nine vs. Michael Vick and the Eagles.
After all, Falcons QB Matt Ryan is an MVP candidate for good reason.
With a blitz-heavy, attacking approach, New Orleans allowed a season-low 13 points, scored its first defensive touchdown of the season and made a season-high seven sacks vs. Vick.
Is this a sign of things to come, stylistically, for the Saints’ “D” or did defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo just happen to take full advantage of a struggling quarterback with a leaky offensive line?
“I think people, just by nature — football fans, coaches, players do the same things — think the answer to everything is to just blitz,” Spagnuolo said Tuesday, per WWL-TV. “That’s not necessarily true, especially when you’re playing a pretty good quarterback. This guy this past weekend (Vick) was a good quarterback but we felt like we could do some things. They had an injury in the O-line early and that made a difference and we were cognizant of that.
“But going into this next game, I don’t know what it will be.”
Maybe that was just a head fake by Spagnuolo, who certainly does not want to show his hand before the Saints’ biggest game of the season, but, in our estimation, folks would be right to read that as an indication the Saints will not simply rinse and repeat their Philadelphia game plan.
Spagnuolo is far too smart to do that.
While the Eagles have explosive playmakers on offense, the Falcons' Ryan is more adept at beating the blitz, and he has bigger, more physical receivers than the Eagles do. Julio Jones and Roddy White will beat a jam at the line of scrimmage from CBs Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson, and, while mixing in some timely blitzes against Atlanta certainly makes sense, Ryan could consistently burn New Orleans if it becomes overzealous.
Don’t be surprised if the Saints, who have collected 14 sacks in their three wins and six sacks in their five losses, play it much more conservatively on defense against the Falcons.
Unfortunately for Spagnuolo, he might not have a defensive line that's capable of creating pressure on its own (without blitzing) against Ryan, who usually does a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly. And the Saints' secondary (SS Roman Harper, in particular) is vulnerable to giving up yards in big chunks — New Orleans has given up more than nine yards per play in four games this season.
The Saints are going from playing a mistake-prone, inefficient offense to the exact opposite on a short week coming off a Monday-night win.
The results the Saints produce defensively compared to Monday night vs. Philly could differ dramatically, as well.