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Observations from Falcons vs. Saints

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After re-watching the game, here are some in-depth observations from the Falcons 20-17 victory over the Saints.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Whew, what a game. That Falcons-Saints TNF tilt was without a doubt one of the more bizarre performances we’ve witnessed this season. For a Thursday night game, the contest was actually very entertaining—especially if you were a Falcons fan, because nothing surpasses beating the New Orleans Saints on national television. Bask in it, my friends.

The game was actually a back-and-forth affair that saw the Falcons try very, very hard to gift-wrap the Saints a win—and New Orleans just wouldn’t take it. They matched every Atlanta mistake with a mistake of their own, and the game ended up somehow going in Atlanta’s favor after three Matt Ryan interceptions.

I’ve recently re-watched the game, and it was equally entertaining the second time. If you’d like a play-by-play rendition in Twitter thread form, check out my tweet recap:

For my more in-depth analysis of the game, take a look at my extended thoughts below.

Deion Jones played one of the best games of his career

Deion Jones has had an up-and-down 2017 season. He’s been good in coverage for the most part, but has struggled at times defending the run and has a tendency to get washed out of plays by offensive linemen. Jones had by far his best game of the season on Thursday Night Football—a dominant performance that saw him making plays all over the field, including the game-clinching interception.

Jones’ speed and ball-hawking ability make him a very dangerous defender. He shut down multiple screen plays and jet sweeps for a loss. Against the powerful Ingram, he held up relatively well. He even shut down a pass to Kamara before the dynamic RB left with a concussion. Jones, if he plays to his ceiling, is one of the most exciting LBs to watch in all of football. The Falcons are lucky to have him.

Matt Ryan had arguably his worst game of the season

Ryan hasn’t had his best year in 2017, but a bit of regression was to be expected coming off an MVP season in 2016. The regression has come in the form of slews of turnovers—most of which haven’t actually been the fault of Ryan. In this game, Ryan tossed three picks. Two of them were bad throws and bad decisions, with one being a bobbled catch by Hooper that ended up in the hands of a defender.

Ryan was a bit off on several of his deep throws throughout the game. Outside of those turnovers, however, Ryan largely kept the offense moving and made several key plays that ended up being just enough to get the Falcons the W. Atlanta will need better and more consistent performances from Ryan if they want to end up in the playoffs, so let’s just hope this game was simply a bad Thursday performance.

The offensive line was fine with Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer

One of the big stories of this offseason will be whether or not the Falcons decide to part ways with Andy Levitre (or ask him to take a pay cut). If last night was any indication, that proposition may be even more likely. Garland—outside of a single holding call and a snap that saw him get absolutely abused by Cam Jordan—played very well and looked like a capable starting G. His versatility to play any of the three interior spots makes him a very valuable reserve. If he can actually be a competent starter, however, that makes things very interesting for Atlanta.

Levitre will be 32 when the 2018 season starts and will also be on the last year of his deal. That deal will see his cap hit spike to $8.3M in 2018, which would make him one of the highest paid Gs in the NFL. It’s very possible the Falcons extend Levitre for a few more years to reduce that cap hit, as the veteran has been a reliable player and good starter since he arrived in Atlanta. However, with several important players coming due for extensions, Levitre could find himself a cap casualty next year. Having good players waiting in the wings like Schweitzer, Garland, and 2017 rookie Sean Harlow could give the Falcons flexibility in this situation.

The run defense stepped up against the Saints

After developing a reputation this season for being unable to stop a concerted effort to run the football, the Falcons stonewalled the Saints’ top-tier rushing attack on Thursday Night Football. The loss of Alvin Kamara no doubt helped in that regard, but Mark Ingram was totally unable to produce consistently for the Saints outside of a few plays. Atlanta’s defensive line and LBs really came to play against one of the most dangerous rushing offenses in the NFL.

Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe had very good games against the run, and Deion Jones routinely made plays in the backfield to put the Saints in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. The Saints have actually been mediocre on third downs in 2017 despite their strong offensive production, and the Falcons took advantage of that—holding New Orleans to just 3 of 10 on third down conversions. This was arguably the most impressive performance by the defense all season, and it couldn’t have come against a better opponent.

Dan Quinn’s coaching errors almost cost the Falcons a W

Two egregious errors by Quinn almost let this win slip away for the Falcons. The first was just before the half, where Quinn inexplicably let the clock tick down into the teens despite having two timeouts left. The second was the decision not to take the holding penalty that would have given the Saints a 3rd and 11 instead of 4th and 1 (which New Orleans successfully converted).

Both errors, somewhat comically, led to INTs (and equally awful errors by the Saints). The first basically squandered Atlanta’s chance to get points before the half, and Matt Ryan ended up forcing a pass to Julio that was picked off. The Saints bungled their ensuing field goal attempt with a penalty that likely, in part, cost them the game. The other error led to a first down for the Saints and a march all the way to the 10 of Atlanta, where Drew Brees inexplicably threw an INT in the endzone to Falcons’ LB Deion Jones. Quinn got bailed out by the Saints’ dumb mistakes, but that type of decision-making will end up costing the team games. Hopefully he can fix those issues going forward.

What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ glorious defeat of the Saints? Have you enjoyed all the Saints’ tears on Twitter over the last few days? I sure have.