Similar to the comparison between the Falcons offense and the Saints defense, this particular match up looks heavily slanted towards the offense. The Falcons defense is still a work-in-progress, which is a polite way of saying that they stink. Meanwhile, the Saints feature a future hall of fame QB with some very good receivers in tow. Let’s take a look at how this match up breaks down.
In the Trenches
Along the defensive line, the Falcons have some interesting young talent. Grady Jarrett has been solid as the nose tackle in the base D, while Vic Beasley has been underwhelming so far coming off the edge. Veteran Jonathan Babineaux is probably looking at his last season in Atlanta as his play has dipped a good bit. Tyson Jackson looked promising in the preseason as a 3-tech, but the team has been deploying him more as a DE, which has resulted in the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Meanwhile, guys like Derrick Shelby and Brooks Reed have looked forgettable, while only Adrian Clayborn and Dwight Freeney have shown any sort of pass rush acumen. In short, this is a depressing unit, and opposing QBs are able to prepare 5-course meals against this embarrassingly bad pass rush.
On the other side, the Saints feature a line with some talented pieces and some question marks. Max Unger is a good center that has helped stabilize that position for the team. Terron Armstead is one of the better young left tackles in the league. Zach Strief is the elder statesman of the group, but is still playing decently at the age of 90. The Saints recently re-signed the decrepit remains of Jahri Evans to stabilize the right guard spot, and so far his corpse has performed pretty well. The biggest disappointment on the line has been first rounder Andrus Peat, who failed to take the right tackle position away from a 90-year old arthritic man, and has been unimpressive at the left guard position.
This match-up is less about the Saints looking great and more about how putrid the Falcons defensive front has been. Unless the Falcons suddenly sign the ghost of Reggie White to fix this unit, I doubt they’ll ever be considered the favorite in a match up against any offensive line. Yuck.
Advantage: Saints (by a mile)
The Skill Positions
If there’s one area where the Falcons have some talent, it’s at the second and third level. However, it’s an area with a ton of inexperience as well. Desmond Trufant is one of the league’s premiere cover corners, though his hands are made of ball-rejection cream. Robert Alford has had a rough year so far, but has normally been a good CB2 even if fans are constantly calling for his head. Free safety Ricardo Allen has been a consistent player, if not particularly flashy or great. Strong safety Kemal Ishmael is having a nice start to the season, though one has to wonder if rookie first rounder Keanu Neal will see action on Monday. Nickel corner Brian Poole has been surprisingly good, and could be one of the better un-drafted free agents we’ve picked up in a while.
The Falcons linebackers are an interesting group. Rookie Deion Jones has been up and down, but has flashed big time potential in the middle of the D. Sean Weatherspoon has been solid, though his tendency to miss tackles is still apparent. If he plays, De’Vondre Campbell is explosive and has shown great coverage speed though he is still raw overall. On balance, this is not a great group of linebackers, but the potential is there. Unfortunately, potential doesn’t always lead to tackles or defensive stops.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints feature a future hall of fame QB in Drew Brees, who is still playing at a high-level despite his advanced age. Receivers Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead are very good, while rookie receiver Michael Thomas has looked good as well. Coby Fleener continues to be a disappointment at the tight end position and Mark Ingram is off to a slow start.
This sounds like a good match-up, but the problem is that the Falcons secondary is exposed by the complete lack of a pass rush. No secondary in the world can cover receivers for 90 seconds at a time, which is the average amount of time opposing QBs have in the pocket when facing the fearsome Falcons pass rushing unit. Adding an accurate and smart QB to the mix only makes things worse.
This game has all the makings of being a shoot-out, which probably means we’ll end up with a completely unexpected defensive battle. However - on paper at least - this match up certainly seems to heavily favor the Saints offense. Right now, the Falcons are on-pace to finish with a whopping 8 TOTAL sacks on the year, which seems ridiculous until you actually watch the unit play - and you realize that number probably seems generous. No matter how good Trufant is, the comically bad performance in the trenches will continue to set this Falcons defense up for failure. The Saints have a clear advantage here, unless the Falcons can find some way to reverse their defensive misfortunes.