New Orleans Saints: Roddy White

Former New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer is still keeping close tabs on the team, and he has agreed to join me on occasion this season to share his thoughts. I broke down Greer's first installment into two parts this week. Click here for his thoughts on the Saints' secondary.

Here are Greer's thoughts on Sunday's familiar opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, and their potent passing game:

[+] EnlargeJones & White
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe healthy tandem of Julio Jones and Roddy White is a test for any secondary.
On the Falcons: "Atlanta has a lot to prove. They have promise, and they're gonna be hungry after last year. And it's always a tough, tough game when you play the Atlanta Falcons. It usually comes down to the last possession. So I think emotionally it's going to be one of the toughest games the Saints play, because the Falcons aren't afraid of the Saints, and the Saints are definitely not afraid of the Falcons. With Atlanta's weapons coming back, Julio Jones and Roddy White being healthy, the Saints are gonna see a different receiver corps than they saw last year. This team is a pass-first team. They want to be able to create those open lanes to get Matt Ryan going. And then, when the opportunity comes, they want to be able to throw it over your head."

On White, a 10-year veteran: "He is growing as a NFL receiver, understanding that his speed is not what it was coming out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham. He's slowed just a step, but he has gotten much, much smarter with his zone recognition and with his route-running. He reminds me a lot of [former Saints receiver] Lance Moore, where every route he runs looks exactly the same. As a corner, if you don't have a good guess of the route he's going to run, every route on the route tree is an option. So with Roddy White, you have to be able to press, put your hands on him, disrupt his route. Then keep your eyes on his hips, being ready to break down on those intermediate routes, those 15-yard digs, the 20-yard comebacks, the 10-yard hitches. If you play off and play Roddy White's eyes, you are basically playing basketball on his court. That's exactly what he wants you to do. So you have to get into Roddy White's face and get your eyes on his hips. Then basically he becomes a less productive receiver."

On Jones: "This guy is the definition of explosive. Early in his career, he has relied a lot on his physical ability, and he has the physical tools to be dominant. It starts on the line, just like it does with Roddy. As strong and as powerful as he is, he has the ability to be disrupted at the line. Then as long as you can play on top and outside of Julio Jones, pinning him to the sideline on those deep balls, deep fades, you have a better chance of defending him than you would if you were playing off and trying to cushion him. I think what a lot of players try to do, they try to respect Julio Jones so much -- which he's due -- that they play off of him. And then once you play off of him, you're basically in a footrace with one of the fastest guys in the league. You don't want to do that. The best route-runner on the team is Roddy White, but if you give Julio Jones any space, he's gonna separate from you."

On whether Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis would likely be used to shadow Jones, rather than stay on one side of the field: "Oh, yeah, he would shadow Julio. Keenan, impressively, is one of the best-deep ball defenders in the league. That's one thing that really impressed me about Keenan Lewis. He defends the deep ball incredibly. So he would be the best option for Julio Jones."
Marques Colston and Paul WorrilowAP PhotoPaul Worrilow, right, and the Falcons defense will try to slow down Marques Colston and the Saints.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith seemed annoyed by the question, but he answered it.

A reporter asked Smith this week if he is concerned about there being more New Orleans Saints fans than Falcons fans at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night.

"Absolutely not," Smith said. "Our fans, I think, are the best in the NFL. We've got a great record since we've been here in terms of winning football games. They've been very supportive. I know that they are disappointed and they are discouraged, but there's nobody more disappointed and discouraged … than us here in this building and on this football team.

"We certainly hope that they'll be out there supporting us this week. It's a big division game."

The matchup would be much more intriguing if the 2-8 Falcons were on pace with the 8-2 Saints. But that's a far-fetched scenario now.

ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and Saints reporter Mike Triplett break down the NFC South clash:

McClure: Hey Mike, I know the Saints hold a decisive edge going into this game, but this is quite a rivalry and there is much hatred between the teams. Did any of the players give any specific examples of the bad blood that exists when these rivals collide?

Triplett: No one really mentioned bad blood, but we know it exists from past examples. And no one denies the passion that exists in these annual matchups, even on these rare occasions when one of the teams is out of the playoff race. A few Saints players compared it to a college rivalry, like Stanford-Cal, insisting that the records don't matter when they square off. I think they'd also like to exorcise a few demons from their ugly Thursday night performance at Atlanta last season, so the Falcons shouldn't cling to any hopes that this might be some sort of trap game for New Orleans.

Vaughn, I haven't watched the Falcons too closely this season, but I keep being surprised that the hole gets deeper and deeper (especially after last week's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Any signs that they're close to putting things together?

McClure: I don't see the Falcons rebounding this season, not with the Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers still left on the schedule. They have to start building momentum for next season. I believe Coach Smith has already started the process by giving players such as center Joe Hawley, running back Antone Smith, tackle Ryan Schraeder and safety Zeke Motta more playing time. I wouldn't say that the Falcons are tanking it for a draft pick, but having a top-five selection has to be in their minds.

Smith talked about looking at scheme in terms of turning things around. I could see the Falcons running the ball more to balance out the offense. And defensively, they have to consider dialing up more blitzes to generate pressure, because the front four is not getting it done. They'll have a tough time contending with Drew Brees. Certainly Brees is itching for the opportunity to pick the Falcons apart, correct?

Triplett: Yes, Brees should be the Falcons' biggest concern, as usual. He's playing about as well as ever. Even when he hasn't been dominant throughout games, he's been clutch in the fourth quarter. And he's as competitive as it gets, so he certainly hasn't forgotten his shockingly bad performance at Atlanta last season (five interceptions).

I'm not sure it would do much good to blitz Brees. Three of his biggest throws this past week came when the 49ers blitzed. The best formula for slowing down the Saints passing game has been getting physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage to disrupt routes and playing solid man coverage.

The best news for Atlanta is that Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles are both a little banged up (Sproles' status is questionable). How will the Falcons match up against Graham in coverage?

McClure: In watching the last game between the teams, I saw at least three different defenders try to match up with Graham, and Graham had no problem going up against Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud. In fact, Graham scored a 7-yard touchdown after DeCoud was late getting over in coverage. It will be hard to match up one-on-one against a player as talented as Graham -- no matter if his foot and elbow are still bothering him -- so I could see some bracket coverage. But I will mention that linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who just returned to the lineup from a Lisfranc foot sprain, did an excellent job covering Graham on at least one play in Week 1. And I saw Weatherspoon working hard last week on his coverage skills coming off the injury.

Mike, I see the Saints lost cornerback Jabari Greer for the season with a torn ACL. The Falcons have Roddy White back somewhat healthy and have gotten great production from Harry Douglas. How will Greer's absence affect the Saints in terms of defending a capable receiving corps?

Triplett: That's a great question, because the Saints' play at cornerback has really been one of the underrated reasons for their success this season. Their top corner has been Keenan Lewis, who is playing at a Pro Bowl level and generally shadows the opponent's top receiver. But Greer has been very reliable as the other starter, allowing the Saints to trust those guys in single coverage quite a bit.

The Saints have decent depth behind Greer. They're going to be counting on second-year cornerback Corey White, who has shown a lot of promise but will likely face a few growing pains. His performance will be worth watching, because I'm sure the Falcons will test him out. Of course, it helps the Saints that they don't have Julio Jones to deal with, so they won't feel too sorry for themselves.

 
Freeman-BreesGetty ImagesBucs QB Josh Freeman faces off against Saints QB Drew Brees in a Week 2 division rivalry game.
Two of the biggest stories in the NFC South in Week 1 were that New Orleans played good defense and Tampa Bay never was able to get into an offensive rhythm.

Will that continue as the Saints and Buccaneers play one another?

ESPN’s Matt Williamson and Buccaneers team reporter Pat Yasinskas discuss the matchup.

Yasinskas: Matt, I have to admit I was stunned by the Saints holding the Falcons to just 17 points in the opener. I saw the Saints in training camp and had serious doubts about whether they had the personnel to run the 3-4 defense successfully, and they have endured several major injuries since then. Yet, the Saints kept one of the league’s best offenses in check. Was this just a fluke or is the New Orleans defense actually for real?

Williamson: If I were an optimistic Saints fan, I would take this stand: The Saints' young, talented three-man defensive line, led by Cameron Jordan, looks simply exceptional and fits the new scheme very well. Their secondary is also clearly improved from a year ago -- which isn’t saying much. If I were taking a more pessimistic view on New Orleans’ defense, I would say that Roddy White was a shell of himself and completely ineffectual, and the Falcons’ offensive line might be among the worst in the NFL right now. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but I also believe that as long as the Saints’ defense isn’t among the very worst in the league, that this is the team to beat in the NFC South. So, in return, here is my question: Even if the Saints’ defense isn’t noticeably improved and is closer to the 2012 version than what we saw last week, is Josh Freeman capable of exploiting it? Vincent Jackson played a great game in New York, but Freeman has looked terrible throughout the preseason and now into regular-season action.

Yasinskas: After watching Freeman in the New York game, I'm not so sure he's capable of exploiting any defense right now. He never got into any sort of rhythm in the passing game and, at times, look flustered. Over the past few years I've been steadfast in my belief Freeman has what it takes to turn into an elite quarterback. But that hasn't happened yet, and I'm starting to doubt if it ever will. He has plenty of weapons at the skill positions, but it seems like Freeman is regressing, instead of progressing. Speaking of regressing, what's your take on the Saints' running game? Coach Sean Payton has said he wants to run more, but the Saints got very little out of the running game in the opener. Now, they'll play a defense that was No. 1 against the run last season. Can Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas move the ball against the Buccaneers?

Williamson: That’s a great question and I know it is extremely early, but I have forecasted Ingram to have a breakout season in 2013. But I am having second thoughts on that, as he is a volume runner who needs to be fed the ball to be most effective, and I just don’t know if that will ever be the case here, as Thomas is such an effective all-around player and Sproles needs to be on the field. I do think Payton believes in balance and he wants to have a physical offense with a very good interior offensive line paving the way, but running against Tampa Bay doesn’t seem to be the prudent move. Of course, the Tampa secondary is also vastly improved, but Drew Brees is the type of elite passer who just produces no matter the competition ... and can the Buccaneers match up to Sproles and Jimmy Graham? I have my doubts they can. Therefore, I say this is a game Payton puts on Brees’ shoulders -- which is never a terrible idea. Along those lines, the Buccaneers clearly made a concerted effort to improve their pass defense by using numerous valuable resources to improve their secondary. Mission accomplished there. But this pass rush still has to be a concern, and if Brees is given time, he is going to find someone to his liking to eventually distribute the ball to. Brees is a tough guy to sack, but can the Bucs at least disrupt him in the pocket with some consistency?

Yasinskas: One of the few encouraging things to come out of the loss to the Jets was that the Bucs recorded five sacks. Four of them came from the linebackers, which shows a willingness to blitz. But the front four can be more productive and several guys have the ability to bring some heat on Brees. End Adrian Clayborn and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy both have the talent to get to the quarterback. But the real wild card could be Da'Quan Bowers. The team wanted him to start, but he didn't play well enough to earn the job in the preseason. For the moment, Bowers is being used as a situational player. But he has more upside as a pass-rusher than anyone on this team, and this game would be a good time for him to start showing. Brees is tough to slow down under any circumstances, but you absolutely have to have a strong pass rush to have any chance. Speaking of Tampa Bay's pass rush, that brings up another question. The Saints let left tackle Jermon Bushrod depart as a free agent and they've replaced him with Charles Brown. Can Brown be an effective left tackle?

Williamson: Because of their strengths on the interior and the need for the shorter Brees to have a clean pocket up the middle, the Saints construct their protections schemes from the inside out, which makes life for their offensive tackles easier. And, of course, Brees has a great feel for the rush to go along with underrated, but highly effective pocket movement and athletic ability to elude the rush, particularly from the edges. Bushrod never impressed me much, considering some viewed him as a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle. In fact, I think Brown has more natural ability when it comes to movement skills and length for the position. Brown played quite well in the preseason and that carried over to Week 1. It appears the Saints just might have found their starting left tackle for the foreseeable future.

Steven Jackson, Mark IngramGetty ImagesSteven Jackson and Mark Ingram will try to bring more balance to two pass-heavy offenses.
Sean Payton is back to right the wrongs of last season, when his New Orleans Saints went off the rails in his absence. The first test of the season is a fitting one: The Saints open against their hated NFC South rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, who ran away with the division last season even though they split with New Orleans.

Have Payton and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan fixed that horrid defense of a year ago? Will the Saints have much of a running game? Can the Falcons protect their franchise quarterback and give him time to find his myriad weapons?

ESPN.com NFL columnist Ashley Fox and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas discuss what Saints and Falcons fans can expect from the latest installment of this heated rivalry.

Fox: He’s back. It is redemption time for Payton after missing a year because of the bounty scandal. I’m sure, given how beloved Payton is in New Orleans, that the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be so loud it might lift off. I’ve seen different estimates for Payton’s worth. How many wins do you think he’s worth to the Saints?

Yasinskas: I think Payton's presence instantly takes the Saints from a nonplayoff team to a playoff team. His skills as an offensive guru are well known, and that certainly will help. But I think the more subtle benefit to having Payton back is his skill as a motivator. He's a master in that area, and he'll have his team ready for big games. Speaking of changes that came in the offseason, what do you think was the biggest move for the Falcons?

Fox: To me, the biggest change was the addition of Steven Jackson. As you well know, the Falcons struggled to run the ball late last season, when Michael Turner clearly had nothing left in the tank. I know Jackson has hit the age when running backs typically decline, but the Falcons don't need him to carry the load. They're going to pass to get a lead and run to win the game. As long as he can stay healthy, Jackson should be able to do that. How effective do you think the Saints' running game will be?

Yasinskas: That's a very timely question. Several times this offseason, Payton has said he wants more out of his running game. The Saints always are going to be a pass-first team. But if you look back at their Super Bowl year, their running game ranked in the top 10. Payton wants to get back to that, and I believe he has the tools to do that with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram. I think you'll see more of Ingram this year. He's a guy who needs 10 to 15 carries to get going, and he can bring more balance to the offense. Speaking of balance, the Falcons seem to have plenty of that. How potent is their offense going to be?

Fox: I think they have a chance to be as potent, if not more so, than last season. The newly signed Matt Ryan has all of his toys back -- Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez. He threw for more than 4,700 yards last season and set career highs for completion percentage, attempts and completions. He could break those again this season. It will be interesting to see if the preseason, when the Falcons were flagged for countless penalties, was an aberration. They were the least penalized team in NFL history last season. As far as setting NFL records, the Saints' defense did last season and not in a good way. Do you think it is going to be any better this season under Ryan?

Yasinskas: It's hard to imagine the New Orleans defense being any worse than it was a year ago. Things just never worked for former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. I think there will be improvement with Ryan, but I'm not sure how significant it will be. The Saints are switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, and I'm not sure they have all the personnel they need to be successful. Time will tell, but it's more than fair to say the defense is the biggest question mark for the Saints. Speaking of question marks, do the Falcons have any glaring weaknesses?

Fox: It is the offensive line. If Ryan is worth his salt as a defensive coordinator, he will strike the right side of the Falcons' line. That’s where the potential problems are. After 13 seasons and 194 starts, center Todd McClure retired after last season. Peter Konz, who started nine games as a rookie at right guard, slides back to his natural position at center. Left guard Justin Blaylock and left tackle Sam Baker are veteran rocks. That’s not the problem. The Falcons let right tackle Tyson Clabo walk in free agency. His replacement, Mike Johnson, broke his leg during training camp. Johnson's replacement, Lamar Holmes, was bad enough in the preseason that the Falcons signed Jeremy Trueblood earlier this week. Right guard Garrett Reynolds missed the second half of last season with an injury. How do you think Ryan will try to exploit the weakness?

Yasinskas: I agree with what you said about Atlanta's offensive line. It potentially could be a huge problem, and I'm sure Ryan is well aware of that. I'd look for him to try to exploit the right side of the line as much as possible. But the Saints have had their share of injuries on defense, and it still isn't clear how they'll apply pressure. Defensive end Cameron Jordan really is the only proven commodity as a pass-rusher. The Saints have big hopes for outside linebackers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson, and those guys need to become forces in a hurry. Atlanta has so many offensive weapons that the Saints need to get some pressure on the quarterback. Speaking of Atlanta's offensive weapons, is White completely healthy?

Fox: The Falcons better hope so. And they say he is, more or less. White sprained an ankle in the second preseason game but finally returned to practice this week. He is Mr. Reliable, having started 128 straight games, and had only two drops last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald had fewer among receivers who were targeted at least 100 times. So the Falcons need White to be healthy and productive. What’s up with the Saints’ third receiver situation?

Yasinskas: The Saints just brought back Robert Meachem, who didn't work out as a free agent in San Diego. I think Meachem can get back to being an impact player as a third or fourth receiver in time. But I think the Saints will open the season with rookie Kenny Stills as their third receiver. He has big-time speed, and the Saints need a downfield weapon to go along with Marques Colston and Lance Moore. Stills is an under-the-radar player who could have a big impact on this game. Do you see any Falcons who fall into that same category?

Fox: There are two undrafted rookie free agents on defense who won’t start but should see plenty of action. One is Joplo Bartu, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker out of Texas State. The other is Paul Worrilow, a 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker out of Delaware. Both are unheralded guys who are big and strong and really caught the coaches a little by surprise. Remember those two. OK, so give me a prediction. Who wins?

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider