Last week’s victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a pivotal one for a multitude of reasons. Not only did it give the Saints a ½-game lead in the NFC South, but it provided the Black and Gold with another vital win within the division, something that was needed after the squad’s loss to the Bucs earlier in the season. But now, Week Ten brings a new foe, a new matchup and new problems.
Lost in all the celebration last week was the frightening injury of CB Tracy Porter, who collided with WR Mike Williams on a crossing route. Porter’s neck/head felt the full force of Williams’ knee, and he would later be carted off the field. This leaves the Saints without their best cover corner (arguably) at a time when they need all the help that they can get. This weekend, the Saints must travel to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, where a Falcons team will be awaiting their arrival. The Atlanta Falcons (5-3) are coming off of a blowout victory against the winless Indianapolis Colts, and they appear ready for their key matchup against their division rivals. "There is trash talk every week," Falcons RB Michael Turner said. "We know we don't like each other. We've been fighting each other since 2008 for this division. It's a rivalry game.”
For the New Orleans Saints, this is where divisions are decided. When the squad from the “Big Easy” steps onto the field on Sunday afternoon, they will be waging war against one of the top-ten teams in all of football. The worry? Without Porter, this may be a tad more difficult. The Atlanta Falcons are going into Week Ten with a healed receiving corp, as rookie WR Julio Jones (28 REC, 489 yards and two TDs in 2011) made his heroic return last week to complement the most proven member of the group, Roddy White (43 REC, 501 yards and three TDs in 2011). Add in WR Harry Douglas, who is averaging 11.7 yds/catch on 17 REC in 2011, and the greatest TE of all time, Tony Gonzalez, and the Falcons’ receivers become an immediate headache for any defensive coordinator. Without Jones, the Falcons’ passing offense has dropped in the ranks (currently 17th in the league); however, expect them to climb as long as their young tandem of receivers can remain healthy.
Speaking of defensive coordinators, Gregg Williams should have his hands full with the likes of QB Matt Ryan under center and RB Michael Turner in the backfield. Turner has had a decent season thus far, racking up 692 yards on 157 carries. He’s currently averaging 4.4 yds/carry, and he’s sitting nicely at seven TDs. With an effective running game, the Falcons will be able to open more holes in the Saints’ questionable secondary, making the team’s dominating WRs that much more difficult to keep tabs on.
So who will take on the role of “next man up” if Porter is unable to suit up on Sunday (which is likely)? The man most likely to take the position of starting CB opposite Jabari Greer is Leigh Torrence, who has registered 16 tackles, a sack, an INT and three passes defended. Something tells me that both Greer and Torrence will take turns covering the Falcons’ two primary receivers, and it will be interesting to see how they will match up. Now, you may be asking yourself, “Where is Patrick Robinson in all of this?” That’s a good question, and I wish that I had a definite answer. According to reports, Robinson had to miss practice today (Wednesday, November 9th) due to a non-football related injury (stomach pains). The initial belief is that Robinson’s ailment may be along the lines of appendicitis. If that is true, then we can count the second-year CB out for this weekend’s prime contest. If Robinson has to miss the Falcons game, expect rookie Johnny Patrick to see his share of reps on the first-team defense.
Also, there is one other injury worth mentioning on this fine Wednesday in Louisiana. The captain of the defense, LB Jonathan Vilma, also sat out of Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury. Vilma’s knee has been a cause for concern for most of the season, and it has finally gotten the better of him this week. If he isn’t able to suit up on Sunday, expect Jo-Lonn Dunbar to take his place at the MLB position.
All in all, the Saints’ defense will be heading into Atlanta banged up, bruised and ready for the bye week that lies ahead in Week Eleven. Let’s hope that fantasies of relaxation don’t float into their heads as Roddy White zips by them.
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