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Improved Saints Secondary Still Faces Tough Challenge Against “Matty Ice” and the Falcons Wide Receiver Corps

While there’s no disputing that the New Orleans Saints defensive secondary has shown great improvement in the past few games after a horrific start earlier in the season, the group will still be facing a difficult challenge on Thanksgiving Night at the Superdome against the very-talented Falcons WR corps.

11th year Atlanta QB Matt Ryan (a.k.a. “Matty Ice”) still has a very talented array of WR’s at his disposal; and as a matter of fact, it’s the very same group of players that were able to “torch” the New Orleans defensive backs to the tune of 26 receptions, 374 receiving yards, and FIVE TD passes at Atlanta back in Week #3.

“Matty Ice” actually had his best performance of the season in that defeat against the Saints, as he threw for 374 yards and five touchdowns while completing 26 of 35 passes.

Ryan has recorded a total of ten 300-yard passing games in 20 total career match-ups against New Orleans; and has led or been a part of 8 wins by Atlanta over the Saints during that time span.

Photo courtesy of Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

Ryan told the team’s official website on Monday that they’re well aware of the big-time “roll” that the Saints are currently on, but are hoping to meet the challenge of pulling of a possible upset over the heavily-favored Black and Gold.

“It’s a short week and they present a lot of challenges with what they’ve been doing, so we’ve got to get to work on them quickly”, he told reporters in the team’s post-game press conference.

“I think the opponent that we’re going against, the stage that it’s on, makes it pretty easy to be able to turn around quickly and put this one behind us,” he added. “And then you just have to stay on them, too. You just have to say, ‘No, listen, we are done with yesterday. We learn from it and we get to work and start to prepare.’”

Without question, Ryan will be looking to succeed against New Orleans this Thursday Night by getting his favorite target Julio Jones more involved, as he has been doing for the past several games.

Jones has now tallied a touchdown reception in 3 straight games, after he didn’t record a single score in any of the Falcons’ first 7 games of the 2018 season. Jones currently is on a 5-game streak of 100 receiving yards or more, with his latest effort coming last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, as he had 118 yards on six receptions.

Photo courtesy of David Goldman, The Associated Press

In the that Week #3 contest at Atlanta, Jones caught 5 balls for 96 yards. In his 8-year NFL career all-time against the Saints, Jones has caught 80 passes for 1,254 yards in 14 games.

And while the Saints secondary should be able to weather any storm that should arise with Jones since #1 CB Marshon Lattimore is expected to be covering him one-on-one, it’s the rest of the Falcons WR corps that potentially could be problematic, specifically WR’s Calvin Ridley and Mohammed Sanu.

Ridley — Atlanta’s rookie receiver and a former All-American at the University of Alabamacaught seven passes for 146 yards and scored three touchdowns against the Saints in that Week #3 contest at Atlanta (most of it against Saints CB Ken Crawley).

Amazingly, his season stat totals up to this point were a byproduct of that one game. In 10 games played, Ridley has 39 catches for 532 yards and seven touchdowns this season so far.

Photo courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

And even though Ridley has had a quiet few games as of late, the Falcons and “Matty Ice” aren’t too concerned about his recent lack of production since the Falcons have so many different weapons on offense.

“I think he’s done a nice job for us,” Ryan said of Ridley. “[The] way our offense is built we have so many different weapons that the ball is going to find different guys depending on the week. And they all understand that the matchups kind of dictate where we go.”

In their loss to Dallas last week, the rookie only caught one pass for five yards and his critical drop of a Ryan pass in the 4th quarter that ultimately led to a Dallas interception by their rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, was a major factor in that defeat.

But Ryan told the website that he isn’t too worried about Ridley’s recent struggles.

“I think mentally he’s in a good place,” Ryan said. “There’s ups and downs through every season for all of us and I think he’s handled that really well. I expect him to play well.” Saints #2 CB Eli Apple most likely will draw the coverage assignment against the former Crimson Tide star.

Besides Jones and Ridley, there’s also the wily 6th year-veteran Mohammed Sanu; the former Rutgers University star who has 38 receptions for 472 yards and 3 TD’s. 

Photo courtesy of David Goldman, The Associated Press

Sanu caught 4-of-6 targets for 56 yards in their loss to the Cowboys, and has caught at least four receptions for 45 yards in each of his past three games.

However, Sanu hasn’t found the end zone in four straight games; and he undoubtedly will be looking to have success in this week’s game, as he likely will draw coverage from Saints slot CB PJ Wiilliams.

Bottom line: there’s no doubt whatsoever that the Saints secondary has undergone some very notable (and at times dramatic) improvement over the course of the last few games.

But nevertheless, this Falcons WR corps remains a viable threat — and it’s the reason why the Saints secondary will face yet another tough challenge on Thanksgiving Night at the Superdome against “Matty Ice” and the much despised Dirty Birds….


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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