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With a chance to clinch a playoff berth and keep pace with the Falcons in the NFC South race, the Saints' run defense was overpowered in a 30-24 loss at Baltimore. The Ravens had gained just 198 yards on the ground in their previous three games combined and Ray Rice hadn't gone over the 100 yards rushing mark since Week Five, but New Orleans gave up a season-high 208 yards rushing.
Rice racked up 153 yards rushing on 31 carries and also had five catches for 80 yards. He shook off poor tackling attempts by the Saints on several plays and had success finding openings on screen passes, scoring two touchdowns.
"We didn't stop the run at all," FS Darren Sharper told reporters. " … We know we can play with this team or any team. It was just more about the fundamentals, more about not tackling."
The Saints will try to secure a spot in the postseason when they'll face the Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Monday night.
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On their way to a Super Bowl win last season, the Saints were able to overcome a porous run defense by forcing turnovers, but they didn't have any takeaways against the Ravens Sunday. Baltimore's offensive line generated good movement on some of Rice's long gains, and the sloppy tackling compounded the problem for New Orleans.
With positioning for the postseason on the line, the Saints can ill afford a defensive collapse down the stretch, but bouncing back from that performance will not be easy. The only other team to gain more than 200 yards rushing against them in 2010 is their opponent in Week 16.
Atlanta gashed New Orleans for 202 yards rushing in a 27-24 Falcons win in Week Three. Just like Rice did, RB Michael Turner will punish the Saints if the front four doesn't hold its ground and the linebackers and members of the secondary try to pull him down with arm tackles.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been credited with overseeing a transition from a defense that was too passive to a more physical one over the past two seasons. It wasn't tough enough on Sunday, though, and the Saints will try to restore their reputation against an offense that will pound away at them on the ground.