The last time the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints played back in Week 3, the Falcons came away with a win, 45-32. While a win is a win, it is never a good thing when a defense gives up 474 yards to the opposing offense on the way to giving up 32 points. The Saints and Falcons are both different teams from that early season matchup, but the matchup may look somewhat similar this week. Hint: All offense!
In the trenches
When we look at the PFF ratings for the Saints offensive line, two guys stand out: Max Unger and Zach Strief. Both of these guys have been very solid during the 2016 season, as Unger continues to demonstrate why New Orleans wanted him, and Strief consistently holds down the right side of the line for Drew Brees—Jahri Evans has been decent on that right side as well. The left side of the line, though, is another story for the Saints: Senio Kelemete and Andrus Peat both have below-average ratings for the 2016 season.
In light of this, I would expect to see Vic Beasley continue to move around and hopefully, coupled with Reed and Freeney, be able to generate some amount of pressure. The interior will be more of a struggle in the passing game and the running game, but I’m not sure that it will be enough of a struggle to say that the Saints will own the line of scrimmage. The Falcons always seem to struggle to get Brees on the ground but that is due to how quickly he is able to get the ball out. I think Atlanta’s defensive line plays the run pretty well, but they may struggle to get Brees on the ground once again.
Last week I predicted that the Falcons would struggle with the Panthers skill players and I am happy to say that I was wrong, for the most part—there were some plays to be made down field, but Cam missed on some throws. However, I don’t expect Brees to miss on the throws Cam did, so it is kind of tough to say that this group will win matchups on the outside or down the field.
The Saints three wide receivers all have above-average grades and have been playing very well all season—Brandin Cooks is a consistent threat on the outside, Willie Snead is turning into a very reliable option in the slot, and Michael Thomas is playing great ball as a rookie. I’m going to be totally honest and say that this group scares me because they are all great athletes and they have played really solid football lately. We can’t forget Coby Fleener and Mark Ingram, either—Ingram is playing with renewed passion the last two weeks and was a key part of the Saints’ win over Tampa Bay last week.
On the other side, though, Jalen Collins continues to grow as a defensive back and Robert Alford has played very well in Desmond Trufant’s absence. The young Falcons defense will be forced to play very disciplined football. Keanu Neal should be able to handle Fleener and I think the two rookie linebackers will have solid games. I’m worried about the matchup with the New Orleans receivers and the Falcons defensive backs, as this sort of quick, athletic receiver seem like tougher matchups for Alford and Collins.
The X-factor here is Brees. I think the Falcons could play pretty good defense and still lose matchups because of how good Brees is. I’m giving the matchup to the Saints here, but I think the Falcons secondary holds up pretty well.
Advantage: New Orleans Saints
Anyone who thinks the Falcons will be able to shut down the Saints has not been watching them play this season. New Orleans sports one of the top offenses in the league and a big part of that is the play of Drew Brees and their renewed commitment to running the football.
I expect the Falcons to play the run well but I’m not expecting a huge game when it comes to rushing the passer. On top of that, the Saints wideouts have been exceptional this season and pose threats to the Falcons inexperienced secondary—I think the Falcons defenders play well but not well enough to cancel out Brees ability to fit the ball into tight windows.
I don’t like calling matchups draws in this series of articles, but I really think that is what will happen. The Falcons play pretty well but the Saints are just a good offense with a lot of weapons and a phenomenal quarterback—luckily, that bodes well for the Falcons, as the Saints’ defense has a similar problem, only much, much scarier.