Falcons brace for rematch with vaunted Saints

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter addresses the challenges of facing the Saints defense.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

With positive COVID-19 tests creating scheduling issues around the NFL, the Falcons after their win Sunday were not scheduled to return to their facility in Flowery Branch until Wednesday.

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris, who must get the team ready for its rematch with the New Orleans Saints, took the mini-shutdown in stride. The Falcons (4-7) are set to play the Saints (9-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons are looking to atone for a 24-9 loss to the Saints in New Orleans on Nov. 22.

“Mondays (are) pretty much normal for us,” Morris said. “You kind of go into your own lab and do your own work. We are all just kind of at our houses working on that (game plan).”

Ideally, the Falcons would have started their preparations together Monday.

“It’s still nice to be able to walk by and see guys in the training room or whatever the case may be,” Morris said. “That’s just not the case right now. It will be fine.”

The Falcons have closed their facilities four times this season. But with the coronavirus pandemic surging and more players testing positive, the NFL ordered every facility closed Monday. Around the NFL, Tuesday is the normal off-day.

“Just something that we’ve got to deal with, another stage of what we are all going through with the COVID-19,” Morris said. “As long as it’s on an even playing ground, I think we all can abide by the rules and do what we need to do in order to win football games.”

After the loss to the Saints, the Falcons pummeled the Las Vegas Raiders 43-6 on Sunday.

“The biggest challenge is getting your butts kicked the first time and having to bounce back,” Morris said. “You have to look yourself in the mirror and be honest with yourself, (make sure) they know the facts and why it happened.”

They Falcons led for most of the first half, but trailed 10-9 at halftime. The Saints dominated the second half of the game.

“They dictated terms last time out and we get to go out and try to dictate terms ourselves,” Morris said. “When we do that, that’s when we have results like we did (against the Raiders). When we are not, we have the unfavorable results like we had against the Saints the first time.”

The Saints are trying to earn the top NFC seed for the playoffs and win their fourth consecutive NFC South title. They have a one game lead on the Green Bay Packers for the top spot in the conference and are two and half games ahead of Tampa Bay (7-5) in the division. The Falcons have longshot playoff chances while the Carolina Panthers (4-8) were the first NFC South team eliminated from the playoffs.

The Saints are set to play their third game without starting quarterback Drew Brees. Taysom Hill has led them to victories over the Falcons and Broncos without throwing a touchdown pass.

“This is a good football team,” Morris said. “They’ve got a good coach. They’ve got good players. They are going to find ways to win, and they do it better than a lot of people. They have been doing it better than a lot of people for awhile. It’s a big challenge for us going up against a division opponent.

Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter knows that three field goals likely won’t cut it in the rematch.

“We’ll everyone that is playing these guys is struggling,” Koetter said. “If you look at the Saints’ numbers, they’ve got fantastic numbers. Nobody is giving you a lot of great ideas on how to run it up on them. I’ve never seen a defense ranked top 10 in so many categories, and they are playing with a lot of confidence.”

The Saints are ranked No. 1 in total defense, giving up 284.9 yards per game. They rank fifth in points allowed (20.5 per game), fifth in passing yards allowed (208.3 per game) and second in rushing yards allowed (76.6 per game).

In the previous meeting, the Saints sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan eight times and registered 11 quarterback hits. He had his lowest passer rating (48.5) since Game 7 of the 2013 season (47.2).

“I think when you look back at our first game, we have to minimize the negative plays, do our best to stay ahead of the chains, stay out of third-and-longs, then you have to find some ways to make explosive plays,” Koetter said. “Now, that’s all good coach’s talk and is easier said than done because they are playing so well on defense right now.”

Part of the Saints’ defensive plan it to play tight man-to-man coverage that borders on questionable play.

“I think they go with the basketball theory that if you’re fouling on every play then they won’t call it all the time,” Koetter said. “That’s just part of it. That’s part of what makes them who they are. Then you couple that with they have a good pass rush, then you can’t hold the ball.”

The Falcons plan to run the ball better against the Saints because the pass defense was so stifling.

“We have to keep it from being a pass-every-down situation,” Koetter said.

Morris is looking forward to seeing the players Wednesday.

“Can’t wait to see them,” Morris said. “Fired up to get into the lab and get ready to find a different way to go out and do our business.”

Falcons’ next four games

Saints at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6

Falcons at Chargers at 4:25 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13

Buccaneers at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20

Falcons at Chiefs at 1 p.m., Dec. 27

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