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Falcons offense vs Saints defense: A much closer match-up than you’d think

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Two potential playoff teams match-up well.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

In what is arguably the most important game of the season, the Falcons travel to New Orleans on Sunday to face the hated Saints. The last game against Drew Brees and company went down to the wire and there’s no reason to think this game will be any different. Here’s a look at how the Falcons offense matches up with the Saints defense.

Note: Assessments based on PFF Edge ratings

In the trenches

The Falcons offensive line has been good this season, though they’ve had periodic lapses. Center Alex Mack is easily one of the best in the league and has no notable weak spots to his game. Tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder have been solid, but not consistently great this year. If Andy Levitre can’t make a go of it at left guard, Ben Garland has actually filled in fairly well in recent weeks. The weak link on the line is at right guard, where first year starter Wes Schweitzer has struggled. He’s shown glimpses of getting it together, but is very inconsistent.

New Orleans defensive line is capable of causing damage. They’re led by the criminally underrated Cameron Jordan, who is stout against the run and the pass. On the interior, second year tackle Sheldon Rankins has turned into a very good starter while Tyeler Davison is also a quality starter on the inside. David Onyemata is also a good player in his second year in the league. In nickel sets, Hau’oli Kikaha has not been particularly good but has potential.

This is a more difficult match-up than what it appears. The Falcons offensive line needs to play up to their full potential or this could get ugly.

Advantage: Push

The skill positions

The Falcons are led by QB Matt Ryan, who is having a better year than most realize, despite the down statistics. Julio Jones has been dominant at times, but has also been prone to some terrible drops this year. Mohamed Sanu is having one of his best years and has become a reliable target in the middle. Austin Hooper has been inconsistent this year, following up great plays with frustrating drops. In the backfield, Devonta Freeman has been playing extremely well, though he’s been uncharacteristically fumbling the ball in recent games. This is a talented unit that can still play better overall.

The Saints feature two very good, young corners. Marshon Lattimore is a legitimate defensive rookie of the year candidate while second year corner Ken Crawley has been very good as well. Safety Kenny Vaccaro has been disappointing this year, but has shown to be a very capable player in the past. Rookie Marcus Williams is playing very well in the free safety spot. The linebackers are better than last year, but are arguably the weakest unit on this defense. Manti Te’o is playing decently after a mostly disappointing first four years. The same can also be said for Craig Robertson. Michael Mauti is mostly a liabilty when he’s on the field, though he’s not on the field much.

This Saints defense is not the same trash we’ve seen in the past. They are a quality unit with several young, talented players. The Falcons offense is also talented, but has not consistently delivered this year. This game will likely come down to execution, as the talent level is pretty close here.

Advantage: Push

Overall

Falcons vs Saints has been one of the best rivalries in the NFL over the past decade. The games have almost always been close and this game is not likely to break that trend. The Saints have done a good job of boosting their defensive talent in one season while the Falcons clearly need to play better on offense. This one is too close to call.

Advantage: Push