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Falcons-Saints Preview

By BRETT HUSTON,

STATS Senior Writer

(AP) -- The New Orleans Saints aren't going to complain about their two victories, but there's still plenty of room to improve for a team that's adjusting to wearing a weekly target on its back.

It's a mark the Atlanta Falcons think they're finally capable of hitting.

The Super Bowl champions have dominated Atlanta since Drew Brees' arrival four years ago, but Matt Ryan and the Falcons are hoping an outstanding Week 2 performance has them ready to measure up to their NFC South rivals Sunday at the Superdome.

Brees has completed 74.3 percent of his passes and hasn't turned the ball over, but New Orleans hasn't quite looked like the same overwhelming offensive force that it did en route to its first championship.

Yet, even with the league's 21st-ranked offense at 297.5 yards per game, the Saints are 2-0. San Francisco outgained New Orleans by 130 yards Monday night, but Sean Payton's team forced four turnovers in a 25-22 win.

"We've been here before," said Brees, who threw two touchdown passes. "We knew exactly what we had to do, just find a way to win. We've shown that we can win in a lot of ways. To be battle tested like this, just in the first two weeks of the season, is going to serve us very well as we go forward.

"We've stayed with the mindset we are the hunter, not the hunted."

The Falcons (1-1) would tend to disagree considering they've been chasing New Orleans since Brees signed there in 2006. The Super Bowl MVP is 7-1 against Atlanta, averaging 292.2 yards through the air with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.

That's certainly been enough to impress his counterpart, who's thrown four interceptions in two losses at the Superdome.

"You take a look at what (Drew's) done and I think the biggest thing is how consistent he is week to week," Ryan said. "His performance seems to stay at a high level every time he steps on the field and that's probably the thing I've been most impressed with Drew."

It was the Week 2 performance of Ryan and the Falcons, though, that was reminiscent of the Saints' offensive juggernaut from last season. Ryan bounced back from a shaky performance in his season debut at Pittsburgh to throw for 225 yards and three touchdowns, and Atlanta's ground game nearly equaled Ryan's effort with 221 yards in a 41-7 win over Arizona.

It didn't take long for the Falcons to shift their focus to the Saints.

"It's got to give us confidence but at the same time we're going against the world champions, so we know our plates are full," tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "We know we've got to duplicate what we did this week and maybe even keep rising up. We've got to get better."

Both teams enter Week 3 with concerns in the offensive backfield - particularly the Saints. New Orleans has been slowed by a rushing game that's averaged an NFC-low 2.6 yards per carry and lost Reggie Bush for up to six weeks with a broken leg in Monday's win.

The Saints re-signed veteran Ladell Betts on Wednesday to back up Pierre Thomas.

Atlanta lost its top two tailbacks against Arizona, but while starter Michael Turner (groin) isn't expected to miss any time, backup Jerious Norwood was placed on injured reserve after tearing his ACL.

Jason Snelling had 129 yards in their absences and was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, but the Falcons may not need him to take too many carries from Turner on Sunday. The 2008 All-Pro had 20 rushes for 151 yards and a touchdown in a 35-27 loss at New Orleans on Nov. 2.

Atlanta could use another strong effort from Turner to keep the pressure off Ryan, who improved to 10-0 in his career with a passer rating above 100 after posting a 117.3 in Week 2.

Ryan could get a boost Sunday with the return of wide receiver Michael Jenkins, who's missed the first two games with a shoulder injury.

Roddy White, tied for the NFL lead in receptions with 20, has made sure Ryan hasn't missed Jenkins too much, but Ryan may want to avoid going to the two-time Pro Bowler too often. The Saints, third in the league with 26 interceptions last season, picked off Alex Smith twice Monday night and forced a safety.

"That defense attacks the football," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "... I would love to sit there and find out exactly what they're doing with these guys because they are very good at creating turnovers."

New Orleans is 22-3 since 2008 when it intercepts a pass.

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

•The Falcons beat the Cardinals, 41-7, last Sunday and are now 4-1 in their last five games dating to Week 15 of 2009. Atlanta held the ball for 39:13 against Arizona in Week 2 -- its highest single-game TOP since Week 9 of 2008 vs. the Raiders (45:15).

•Including a 37-yard game-winner, Garrett Hartley kicked three fourth-quarter field goals last Monday and the Saints beat the 49ers, 25-22, to start the season 2-0 for the second straight year. Including the 2009 playoffs, New Orleans has won 17-straight games when scoring 20 points or more.

•Matt Ryan threw a career-high tying three touchdown passes against Arizona and is now 14-1 at home since joining the league in 2008. With his 117.3 rating in Week 2, the Falcons improved to 10-0 all-time when Ryan posts a QB rating of 100 or higher.

•Drew Brees had two touchdowns and completed 73.7 percent of his passes en route to a 108.9 rating on Monday night. Including the 2009 postseason, Brees has now had six straight 100+ rating games and hasn't thrown an interception since Week 15 of 2009 (240 consecutive attempts).

•The Saints have defeated the Falcons three straight times, with all three games decided by eight points or fewer. Dating to the 1997 campaign, these two clubs have split 26 games, each winning 13 times.

•Reggie Bush suffered a broken right fibula Monday night and is most likely out for at least six weeks. Since Bush's first season in 2006, the Saints are 19-11 without him in their starting lineup (21-15 with Bush in starting lineup).

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Dunta Robinson better get up to game speed this week. I'm done giving lead-way b/c he didn't play any pre-season games.

For a Vet, with that price tag, he has looked slow, indecisive, lost, beat, behind WAAAAy too much so far.

Grimes did a better job of sticking with Fitz last week than Dunta did.

The 49ers ran the ball well on the Aints. we can too. + we have an actual QB that they have to worry about.

no reggie to scheme for, sweet!

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Every single 1st and 10 in the 2nd half we have run the ball for almost no gain. Smart.

Then we'll run the ball on 2nd down for little or no gain, setting up 3rd and long. Smart.

Gonzo, Roddy, and Douglas (and Ryan making the reads/throws) have been bailing out the bad playcalling on 1st and 2nd down.

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