<span>The New Orleans Saints don't need any reminders about how formidable this week's opponent will be.
But in the wake of Atlanta's 24-0 victory yesterday over the Raiders, the wakeup call for the Saints sounded like a massive bronze bell at the crack of dawn.
Following an idle weekend the New Orleans Saints returned to work this morning and continued their preparation for Sunday's game at Atlanta against the Falcons (5-3) on Sunday afternoon in the Georgia Dome.
Sunday's game marks two important milestones for the Saints, as the team embarks on the final eight games of the 2008 season and has the opportunity to play a team one game ahead of them in their own division. The Saints will face the Falcons twice over the next two months and will also travel to Tampa Bay (6-3) and host the Carolina Panthers (6-2) in the final game of the regular season at the Superdome.
But for now, as it should be, the Saints' focus is squarely drawn to the Falcons, who traveled to Oakland yesterday and throttled the Raiders, 24-0.
According to many national pundits, the Falcons are one of the surprise teams in the NFL this season and have received tremendously consistent play rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, the third overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. Ryan, with a completion percentage of 58.6% and a passer rating of 85.6, has given the Falcons consistent and steady play and not illustrated the normal roller coaster play normally associated with rookie signal-callers.
Buoying the play of the Atlanta offense has been the outstanding skills of former San Diego Chargers RB Michael Turner, who has rushed for 794 yards and six touchdowns the first half of the Falcons' season.
One of the reasons behind the Falcons' strong start to the season has been their penchant for starting games quickly. The Falcons established early leads in all of their previous victories — Detroit (21-0), Kansas City (24-0), Green Bay (17-7) and Chicago (9-0) — and did the same to the Raiders yesterday.
Scoring on their first four possessions, Atlanta jumped out to a 24-0 by halftime of yesterday's game and never looked back. Atlanta scored on their opening drive, which was has proven to be a good omen, going are 4-0 when they score on the opening drive this season.
Atlanta is far from a one-dimensional offensive team, however, as their defense has been impressive in their own right. Just yesterday, in fact, the Falcons limited the Raiders to -2 yards in the first half and surrendered only 77 yards in their first shutout win since the 2002 season. The Falcons set a record for fewest total yards allowed in a game, allowing one fewer than Tampa Bay got in a 17-0 loss in 1977.
"Defensively, I thought it was outstanding today," Atlanta rookie Head Coach Mike Smith said. "It was a very dominating first half. I thought we were very efficient throughout."
Atlanta is lead on defense by DE John Abraham, who has racked up 10 sacks already this season. The Falcons, who are averaging 325 yards per game against them (16th in the NFL), are also a perfect 3-0 on their home field and are in the plus column in the giveaway/takeaway department at +1.