We're one day away from toe meeting leather for the first time in the 2010 regular season and I figured, why not answer some questions. Y'all responded with some good ones.

It seems we have some worriers out there in Saintsland, especially about the Saints defense. Let's get to our answers.

Q: First, I'm tired of hearing about the Falcons. When they were healthy last year, we beat up on them pretty bad. 1) Do you really think if the Saints stay healthy that the Falcons are true contenders for our boys? 2) A lot of analyst are bashing our defense when I think our defense is going to be sick this year. Our rank against the pass was skewed because we were up by a lot of points in those games. I believe that Sedrick Ellis is a monster. Before he got hurt, our defense was only allowing like 97 yards a game and when he went out in Miami, that jumped to 135 I believe. What are your thoughts on our defense and the importance of Sedrick Ellis this year? -- Spencer Prechter, New Orleans, La.

A: Two good questions. To answer the first one, yes, I think even if the Saints are completely healthy, the Atlanta games will be tough. They always are. Last year, the Saints won 35-27 in a tough game when Atlanta never gave up and 26-23 in a game that the Saints had to hold on. It's a rivalry in the truest sense no matter the records, these teams hate each other. And Atlanta is better this year. Matt Ryan has a year more experience and Michael Turner is healthy. Really, it's a very similar team to the Saints very good offense and with a little help from the defense, hard to beat.

As for your second question, Sedrick Ellis is huge for the Saints. The healthier he is, the better this Saints defense is. The coaching staff is looking for him to step up this year; in other words, they want to see him stay healthy and continue to be a menace in the middle. The run defense certainly took a step back a season ago when he was out. Still, I think there's a lot of question marks on the defense right now that will get answered Thursday night: How will Malcolm Jenkins play in his first full-time duty at free safety, how will the linebackers react to losing Jonathan Casillas and will the team keep the long runs from happening.

Q: Worried. Worried. Worried. Did I mention I was worried about the Saint's D? I doubt that Jonathan Vilma will be ready for a few more weeks (Can't trust what Payton says). Jonathan Casillas is out for season. Darren Sharper is out for six games. Usama Young and Patrick Robinson have not looked impressive. Not to mention no Scott Fujita.Oh, and by the way, we play two of the top five running backs in the league in Week 1 and Week 2.Anyone else with pre-game jitters? Frank Cruz, Rive Ridge, La.

A: Frank, first of all, you sound like the apocalypse has taken out the Saints defense. Losing Casillas was a big deal; the coaches liked what he was doing. But Gregg Williams said Wednesday that the way he runs his defenses, if a player is dressed, there are packages in the game plan for them. So if a player isn't dressed, that package is taken out. Vilma will play. He has been limited in practice all week but during Wednesday's walk-thru, he appeared fine and was running around OK. If the line stays healthy, they should be alright in the run game.

Q: I promise to stop bothering you, but I'm still kind of nervous about the Saints run defense. Do you think enough moves were made to get us at least in the top 15 in run defense? And also why not go after a nice defensive lineman or linebacker in the draft instead of Sean Canfield? -- Robert Brumfield, Tampa, Fla, by way of McComb, Miss.

A: I've discussed the defense up above, but to answer your question about the ranking, I think if guys stay healthy, then yes, the Saints could be a top 15 defense against the run. That also depends on whether the Saints are outscoring folks like they did in the first five games of 2009.

As for your final question, in the seventh round, it's all up in the air. The Saints did draft defensive lineman Al Woods in the fourth round and he was waived and subsequently picked up by the Steelers for the practice squad. The Saints would have gone linebacker in the first round but the guy they liked Jerry Hughes didn't fall to them. And Payton realizes at some point he's going to have to start working in a quarterback. Was Canfield the guy? No. But Tom Brady was a 6th-round pick remember.

Q: What is the head to all-time head record with the Saints vs. Cowboys? Charles Taylor, Nashville, Tenn.

A: Ah, I love our 'From out in left field' portion of the mailbag. But seriously, Charles is a frequent emailer and I appreciate that. The Saints are 8-15 all-time versus the Cowboys. New Orleans has won five out of the past six games in the series.

Q: Any word on a timeline on pregame festivities for game this Thursday? What time are they dropping the championship banner? Eric Dietrick, New Orleans

A: Official word is that the championship banner singular, meaning no NFC South title or NFC title banner will drop sometime shortly after 7:30 p.m. It's scheduled to happen after the Saints leave the locker room at 7:30 p.m. but prior to player introductions.

Q:With all the crying from the head coach and other Viking players about last year's game, should Coach Payton and Brees have to worry about dirty play Thursday night? Bart Dupre, Houma, La.

A: My best guess is that anything appearing dirty will be called immediately. The officials are aware of the perceived 'dirty' play from last season's NFC championship game (whether it was truly dirty or not) and will be on the lookout for it. That's precisely why Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress has talked about it ad nauseam this offseason. As several players in the Saints locker room said this week, the defense is always going after the quarterback in any game. It's up to the offensive line to keep that from happening.

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