Keep an eye on these Falcon players on Sunday, as good (or bad) performances from them should be critical to whether the Falcons win in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints.
LB Akeem Dent – Dent will likely draw several assignments on Jimmy Graham. No easy task in his debut in the Falcons nickel subpackage, as he’s expected to replace Stephen Nicholas as the team’s full-time linebacker next to Sean Weatherspoon, who will likely have his hands full trying to deal with the speedy Darren Sproles. The Falcons have also talked about mixing in Joplo Bartu in their dime subpackage this year, so it will be interesting to see if or how that plays into Sunday’s gameplan.
TE Tony Gonzalez – The Saints inside linebackers aren’t known for their great coverage ability, nor are their safeties. Gonzalez has had big games in the past against the Saints, including a 11-catch, 2-touchdown performance in last year’s road loss. If the Falcons can get Gonzalez going and moving those chains by working the middle of that Saints’ defense, it could mean great things for their offense.
RB Steven Jackson – The Falcons struggled running the ball in short yardage in their loss to the Saints last season. One of the keys to success for the Falcons will be not getting into a shootout, and if the Falcons can control the game on the ground and tempo, then it will be a good indicator for success. They will try to establish Jackson early in the game to help set up manageable third down situations for Matt Ryan and the passing attack.
CB Desmond Trufant – Due to the Falcons focus in coverage on Graham and slot receiver Marques Colston in the middle of the field, Trufant may find himself on an island throughout the game. That will include instances where he’s left alone against Colston, Lance Moore, and others such as Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, and/or Robert Meachem if the Saints choose to play him on Sunday. Expect Drew Brees and Sean Payton to try and exploit the green rookie in his first NFL regular season start.
DE Osi Umenyiora – If the Falcons gameplan against the Saints last time was any indicator, Osi will get plenty of opportunities to rush the quarterback. He’ll be facing primarily Charles Brown, who is relatively green as he’ll be making his ninth start for the Saints, but his first at left tackle. Osi traditionally has taken advantage of weaker tackles, and it will be an important matchup for the Falcons defense to try and exploit.