The New Orleans Saints have a simple formula for beating the Atlanta Falcons tomorrow night at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on NBC Thursday Night Football, and it's one that has been proven to work well for them in the past: hit, harass, and make life in the pocket for Falcons QB Matt Ryan, as uncomfortable as humanly possible — within the boundaries of NFL playing rules.
When Ryan has had games where he's had ample time to throw the football, Atlanta has beaten New Orleans more often than not. But conversely in the games where he's been heavily pressured, it's been the Saints who have prevailed.
And no one knows that better than Ryan himself, who in a press conference at the Falcons' team headquarters told the Atlanta media yesterday that he knows that the Saints defense will be looking to make things difficult for him once the game gets underway tomorrow night.
He specifically pointed out Saints defensive end Cam Jordan, who is having another phenomenal season and has given Ryan fits in the past; and 2nd year Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who is quietly having a solid year from his interior rush position along the Saints D-Line.
“Yeah, I know where they are at,” Ryan said, pointing to his right. “They are doing a good job. Jordan has been a good player for a long time."
"Their defensive front four has had a really good year. The front seven, in general has done a really good job. Dennis Allen has done a nice job of kind of changing fronts and giving you different looks. They are aggressive.”
One could hardly blame Allen and the Saints defensive coaching staff for pulling out all of the stops in a concerted effort to get to Ryan tomorrow night, after what happened to the defending 2016 League MVP in this past Sunday's 14-9 loss at home to Minnesota.
The Vikings defense actually didn’t even have a single sack this past Sunday on Ryan, but they scared him plenty.
At least, that was the word from Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen after the Vikings’ 14-9 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“If they’re scared to throw the ball down the field, then they’re not going to score so many points,” Griffen said to reporters in the locker room after the game, referring to Ryan and the high-powered Atlanta offense.
“They were scared of our rush. We affected him."
Griffen gathered his thoughts for a brief second, and then continued on.
"We didn’t get any sacks, but we affected him in many ways. We got pressure in his face. We hit him. So that’s all you can ask.”
As Tomasson notes: with Ryan getting rid of the ball quickly against the Vikings’ pass rush, he completed just 16 of 29 passes for 173 yards, with a long completion of just 20 yards.
Ryan had a passer rating of 72.9 — after entering the game ranked 10th overall in the NFL with a QB rating of 97.2.
As a result, the Falcons offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time in nearly two seasons. It also snapped Ryan’s streak of 30 consecutive games with at least one scoring pass.
The 173 yards passing yards were his lowest output since 2013 – and the Vikings secondary totally locked down his favorite target in All-Pro superstar wide receiver Julio Jones.
Just one week after going off for 253 receiving yards against Tampa Bay 2 weeks ago, Jones was limited to a pair of catches this past Sunday for only 24 yards.
So: can there be any doubts whatsoever as to what the Saints' defense's primary goal will be tomorrow night?
Last year against New Orleans during Atlanta's sweep of both games, Ryan completed 47-of-66 passes for 571 yards with six touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 127.8.
The Falcons averaged 41.5 points in those 2 games.
But last year's Saints 27th ranked defense was borderline "garbage" at times, and wasn't performing at anywhere near the level of this year's 2017 Saints defense currently is and has been doing.
Led by Jordan — who is the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November — the Saints rank seventh in the league in sacks per pass play.
They are 11th in pass defense, allowing 217.3 passing yards per game and 12th in total defense at 330.1 yards per game.
If there is any "weakness" for this year's version of the Saints defense, it's been that they've been vulnerable at times against opposing team's running games, allowing 4.62 yards per rush.
However: the Saints have made up for any defensive lapses by outscoring opponents by an average of 9.2 points per game, thanks mostly in part because of their own running game led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara; who comprise the #1 running game in the entire NFL.
But the Saints running game and their improved defense complement each other well, and it's clearly been the overall improvement of the defense that has allowed New Orleans to have its first winning season since 2013, and possibly its first NFC South Division Championship since 2011.
"I think they're doing a good job up front," Ryan said to ESPN Atlanta beat writer Vaughn McClure yesterday in that very same press conference, as he once again began referencing the Saints' defense.
"Their front four has been really solid against the run. They've also done a good job in terms of creating pass rush. Got some new players in the secondary that have done a good job for them this year. They had some injuries the last couple of weeks, but when you watch them throughout the year, they've done a nice job in the secondary."
"I think they're improved on the defensive side of the ball. I think they've played very well all year."
As well as the Saints defense has played this year overall, they still won't have an easy time of it against the high-powered Falcons offense tomorrow night.
But they still know what the key will be to any victory that they are able to leave Atlanta and the shiny new Mercedes-Benz Stadium with.
Truth be told, it's a very simple formula that has worked well for them in the past.
And that formula is: keep Matt Ryan CRYING, all night long................