Despite Stats, Falcons Expect A Tough Saints Defense

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The rankings for nearly every defensive statistic in the NFL say the Saints aren't very good.

Granted, they've not played well this season, but they've done enough in the last four weeks to get three wins. Monday's 28-13 win over the Eagles for the Saints was the most impressive defensive effort of the season.

After two weeks of giving up over 500 net yards to their opponents, the Saints dropped the number to 447 yards of oppositional offense and limited the Eagles to only 13 points. The confidence on the defensive side of the ball is growing as they continue to adjust to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's scheme.

For the Falcons preparing, they're going to look at everything the Saints have done this season, not just recently.

"I think when you look at the last four weeks, it's a team that has won three of four," Matt Ryan said on Wednesday. "They're a team that is playing with some confidence. I think their defense has played pretty well, especially this past week. I thought they were aggressive, physical. They were flying around, making some plays. You try and learn from what some of the teams did well earlier in the year, but you also try to plan and adjust to some of the things that they've been doing well in the last couple of weeks."

One thing they expect to see a little more of from the Saints D is a more effective pass rushing approach, something that has been hit or miss this season. In the previous two weeks prior to last week's win, they produced only two sacks. Against the Eagles, they produced seven, three from second-year end Cameron Jordan.

"They probably ramped up their blitz ratio in that ballgame," head coach Mike Smith said. "They got after them pretty good. Sacked the quarterback seven times and it was a little different game plan from what they've shown the week before. One thing about coach Spagnuolo is that he's going to have a different game plan every week. He's very good at identifying what he wants to attack and how he wants to attack it, and he puts the game plan together, so there's sometimes not a whole lot of carry over week-to-week from his game plans."

The Saints have given up more than 200 yards rushing in consecutive games heading into the Falcons matchup. Last week, Atlanta got Devonta Freeman over the 100-yard mark for the second time this season. In the last two games, the Falcons have rushed for more than 120 yards in each game.

In Falcons-Saints matchups, however, stats and records rarely matter. The Saints have won 10 of the last 12 against the Falcons, but things are usually close. The last time the two met was a big 45-16 win by New Orleans and there may be some hard feelings in Atlanta's return to the Crescent City.

And it's a division game which carries a little more weight with players and coaches.

"You pit a lot more weight in terms of the value on division games," Smith said. "Ultimately, your number one goal is to win your division because that's the way to guarantee you're going to be in the second season. We basically weigh them as one and a half games, and it's very important for us. This is only our second division game. This next quarter of the season three out of four will be against division opponents."

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