The stage is set for a Thanksgiving fight between two bitter NFC South rivals. Here are three in-game matchups to keep an eye on between Falcons/Saints.
Back in week three, the Atlanta Falcons coldheartedly “welcomed” their arch rival to Atlanta in an early divisional showdown. The Falcons fell short against the Saints, 43-37, and lost a key asset to their defense in the process. Much has happened for the Falcons since then and now the team finds themselves at 4-6 with the division-leading Saints in their path. The task appears daunting for the Falcons but their are a few factors in this one that can definitely swing in their favor. Observe the three match-ups within this game that will be significant factors.
Falcons DC Marquand Manuel vs. Saints HC/play caller Sean Payton
The earlier meeting this season was a complete disaster for the Falcons defense. The unit allowed 534 yards, 6.9 yards per play, and gave up five red zone touchdowns in six attempts. Watching free safety Ricardo Allen go down to a season-ending Achilles injury was unquestionably impactful also. Since then, little intricacies have improved for the Falcons on defense but they will still have their work cut out for them.
Getting after Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a good start but also, Brees is only seeing pressure on 21.3% of his dropbacks this season. Payton’s creativity on offense has possibly been the biggest catalyst for the Saints success on offense. Manuel has to be aggressive with his play calling and I would not be surprised if Manuel will dial up a few blitzes in this one to keep Payton and Brees guessing.
Falcons Receivers Julio Jones/Calvin Ridley vs. Saints Corners Marshon Lattimore/PJ Williams
The combination of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley was a force during the week three contest as the two combined for 12 receptions, 242 yards, and three touchdowns. In that contest, the Saints relied heavily on their man-to-man coverage in the secondary, which obviously had no effect on the two former Alabama receivers.
While the Saints have improved on defense since then, they are still 27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, 21st in passing touchdowns allowed, and 29th in yards per pass attempt allowed. Granted, the Saints offense is forcing opposing teams to throw more based on the pressure being applied on the scoreboard but this is still a matchup that the Falcons are able to exploit based on their respective abilities. The Saints are a defense that operates out of Cover 1 a considerable amount of times. Winning in this aspect will dictate whether or not the Falcons are able to hang around for an extensive period of time.
Falcons Offensive Line vs. Saints Defensive Line
The offensive line has seen a few key injuries that took away valuable starters but even at this stage of the season, they are still capable of being a good unit.
However, inconsistency has set in and has ran hot or cold on numerous occasions this season. Dating back to the early season contest against New Orleans, the offensive line allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to be sacked three times and the run game only generated 48 yards on 22 attempts. Speaking of run game, the Falcons have only topped 100 rushing yards twice this season and on six different occasions, they have failed to top 75 rushing yards as a team.
The Saints are the #2 rushing defense in all of the NFL and are tied for third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per carry. So the Falcons offensive line will have to have arguably their best game of the season. Creating run lanes in this contest will be incredibly tough but keeping Ryan upright and clean will be equally vital.