As the Who Dat’ Nation, basked in the warm glow winning against the Dallas Cowboys, and watching the first signs of a running attack coupled with running back Mark Ingram having his best game as a Saint, we may start to look at the heart of this schedule. On Sunday, the Saints beat the San Francisco 49ers by the score of 23-20, and many in Who Dat Nation know the score was not really indicative of the game (special thanks again to the defense); we now enter into the “Meat and Potatoes of the schedule. It actually began with the Dallas victory and its’ only just begun. The Saints travel to Atlanta for a short week with a matchup against the hated division rival Atlanta Falcons, and while the Falcons have a terrible 2-8 record, nothing would make their season than to beat the Saints. As the saying goes “misery loves company”. This could be a game in which it would allow the surging Carolina Panthers to game significant ground against the Saints in the division. Earlier, most experts thought New Orleans would have this division wrapped by this time, but the Panthers apparently have other thoughts. The Saints have upcoming Atlanta (2-8), Seattle (10-1), St. Louis (4-6), back to Carolina, and close with Tampa.
On the surface, you would say well just beat Seattle, and everything will be ok, but look closer and St. Louis has a decent defense and remember the shock we all took in 2011 when the Rams totally demolished the Saints under then Coach Steve Spagnulo. Steven Jackson (now with Atlanta), ran for 151 yards on 31 carriers in that game and while their starting QB Sam Bradford is out for the season, their defense has been leading the way for them, and keeping games close. The same can be said for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, good defense in spite of a rookie QB. The schedule makers didn’t do them any favors either with most of these last games on the road. The team we saw against Dallas was a complete New Orleans Saints team, and while we all know that different games call for different strategy, we once again abandoned the run game against the 49ers. Statically the run game looked adequate, but more touches by Ingram, Thomas and Sproles, maybe would have put this game completely out of reach early and just may have avoided Brees the lone interception he recorded.
Many questions will be answered as we enter into these games, and the wrong answers to these questions could spell disaster. The one concern I believe most fans have is Payton’s’ insistence to abandon the run game, and yet we still believe him when he says “we have to run the ball” or “we will run the ball more”. Was the Dallas game our one fill of the run game for the season? That remains to be seen, and I believe we will see more of it this week against Atlanta. Defensively, this team has been solid. They are ranked #4 overall in the NFL, a far cry the “worst defense in NFL history”, and the Steve Spagnulo’s passive defense of last season. This season, this defense has carried this team until the offense finally decided to show up and that’s’ been several games this season. Defensive Coordinator Roy Ryan has bought a swagger back to this defense and an aggressiveness that seems favorable to the personnel he has. This defense will play an integral part in the upcoming success of this ball club, and judging from its play thus far, I see no reason for them to let up and keep the Saints in games and at the table for the “Meat and Potatoes” part of the season.