Inside slant: Atlanta Week 14 preview

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' NFC South rivals. Today's edition previews Week 14's games, including personnel news, analysis and insider matchups for the Atlanta Falcons. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

The Falcons have been off the past two days so there has been no official word on whether a change is forthcoming at quarterback, however, the insertion of Chris Redman as the starter seems likely. Coach Bobby Petrino seems to have grown tired of Joey Harrington, and Byron Leftwich remains too nicked to place behind the bare-bones offensive line.

The Redman scenario could prove to be interesting should he show some signs of success over the final four games. There is a lot of speculation as to which, if any of the quarterbacks, would be retained for next season. Leftwich seems like a leading candidate since he has played well when he's been healthy, which hasn't been much.

Harrington, like Leftwich, seemed like he had a shot a few weeks ago but after being yanked as the starter for a fourth time, his relationship with Petrino appears to have deteriorated to the point where he might not even get back on the field this season.

As for Redman, he could be an ideal tutor for the expected young quarterback(s) the Falcons figure to have on the roster by next summer, either through the draft, trade or free agency. Redman was signed last spring to play that role, but after the whole Michael Vick fiasco, he moved up in the pecking order. After shaking off the rust of not playing a full season since 2003, he regained his chops and could have been kept out of the starting lineup in large part because Leftwich and Harrington were top-10 draft picks signed to contracts for a combined $13 million.

None of the quarterbacks know the system as well as Redman or knows the demanding Petrino as well as Redman, who played under then-offensive coordinator Petrino at Louisville in 1999.

SERIES HISTORY

76th meeting. The Falcons lead the series, 42-33, but New Orleans has defeated Atlanta the past three times, including 22-16 on Oct. 21 at the Super Dome. Atlanta led 13-7 at halftime but came untracked in the second half after one-time starter Joey Harrington took over for Byron Leftwich, who suffered a serious ankle injury after his impressive first start with the Falcons.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Like the last times these teams played, a quarterback switch appears to be in order. Chris Redman, who completed 16 of 24 passes in the fourth quarter Sunday at St. Louis, is expected to be named the starter ahead of Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich.

--The Falcons could start seven different players than they did in the October loss at New Orleans. Redman is the only question mark. LT Quinn Ojinnaka, RG D'Anthony Batiste, TE Alge Crumpler (hurt first game), FB Ovie Mughelli and DTs Jonathan Babineaux and Montavious Stanley either came off the bench or did not play in the four-point loss. Redman (third quarterback), Crumpler, Batiste and Stanley were inactive.

--The Saints have scored at least 22 points during their current three-game winning streak, while Atlanta has not managed any more than 16. --New Orleans wide receiver Devery Henderson has roasted the Falcons for big plays over the past two seasons. His 37-yard touchdown pass gave the Saints a 7-0 lead in the first meeting this season. Henderson scored on an 11-yard reverse in the first game between Atlanta and New Orleans last season, then opened the game with a 76-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees.

--The Falcons have been on national television twice this season (N.Y. Giants and Indianapolis) and have lost by a combined score of 62-23.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4

Number of draft picks over the past two years that are starting. From the five-man draft class of 2006 -- the fewest picks in franchise history - only one is starting, LT Quinn Ojinnaka.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"It's been difficult to be consistent and difficult to score enough points." -- Coach Bobby Petrino, regarding the inability to have a stable quarterback or offensive line.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

With Chris Redman getting rid of the ball quicker and earlier into the routes than Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich, the Falcons might be able to get the tight ends involved in the passing game more than they have the past few weeks.

The patchwork offensive line has forced the coaching staff to keep in one, if not two tight ends in maximum protection, leaving just three wide receivers to get open. Tight end Alge Crumpler had a season-high seven receptions against St. Louis last Sunday and four of them came once Redman entered in the fourth quarter.

Whichever running back is in the game might not be able to get out on many routes because the Saints figure to get some pressure up the middle -- they had three sacks in the first game -- but the ability to get more receivers involved, especially Crumpler, could allow this dormant offense to open up some.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--The Falcons were off Tuesday and Wednesday, so there were no medical updates. The only player to appear to have suffered an injury Sunday was backup FS Antoine Harris (left knee).

--Injured WR Brian Finneran held a gathering early this week where players feted TB Warrick Dunn for him surpassing 10,000 rushing yards.

--If Chris Redman is named the starting QB for Monday night's game, Byron Leftwich is expected to be the backup depending on his health. He suffered a tailbone injury vs. Tampa Bay Nov. 18 and does not seem to be fully recovered, although he has practiced.

--FS Chris Crocker, who will become a free agent at the end of the season, said he and his agent have not heard from the Falcons about a possible extension. Crocker said he would like to stay with the Falcons and with the recent demotion of backup Jimmy Williams that could be a possibility.

GAME PLAN

Despite New Orleans allowing a league-low 11 sacks, Atlanta is going to try to apply heavy pressure on QB Drew Brees to jam his passing lanes and force him to make throws that he'd rather not make. In order to do so, outside linebacker Michael Boley could be used a lot more as a pass rusher, not just from the edge, but on twists that allow him to come through the guard-center gap. Brees has had success going deep on Atlanta, especially to Devery Henderson on streak routes down the sideline or skinny posts. He's had time to make those throws and the Falcons must limit the number of explosive plays -- something they have not done lately.

Offensively, TB Jerious Norwood might not get more carries than usual but he could be used more in the swing pass game, where his speed might be able to counter the Saints' ability to quell Atlanta's perimeter running and passing game the past two seasons.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall vs. Saints WR Devery Henderson. Henderson has been about as marginal of a wide receiver as there is in the NFL, except when he plays against Atlanta. He has torched them the past three games, in part because Hall has underestimated his speed. Henderson is not going to catch many underneath routes but for whatever reason, Hall has allowed Henderson to diminish his secondary cushion with incredible quickness and get by him for the deep ball.

Atlanta's offensive line vs. the Saints front. Rookie LG Justin Blalock continues to have problems in pass protection, in large part because he's trying to use his upper body to re-direct players instead of moving his feet. He is going to have to be active against New Orleans because its edge pass rushers will occupy the tackles and, most likely, a running back in space. That creates some one-on-one matchups on the inside and the Falcons are going to have to be more competitive guard-to-guard to keep Chris Redman or whomever the quarterback is, upright.

INJURY IMPACT

If FS Antoine Harris' knee is problematic, that could force Atlanta to do some shuffling with its nickel packages. FS Jimmy Williams is not quick enough to pair up with Saints TB Reggie Bush if that matchup ever surfaces and he has digressed over the season with his overall play.

The Falcons might try to find some way to get rookie CB David Irons on the field in nickel sets, possibly as the nickel back. Irons is one of the fastest and most determined players on the team, whose game action has been stunted by him playing behind Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall.


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