We are getting closer and closer to that time again, folks. That time where, despite what differences we may all have, we can come together through one common bond: a hatred for the New Orleans Saints. Sunday, the Falcons take on the Saints in a division game with pretty big implications. The Atlanta defense will be tasked with stopping the dynamic New Orleans offense—or at least slowing them down enough to give the Falcons offense a chance to win the game.
Unfortunately, Atlanta’s streak of injuries and health concerns has continued, as well as concerns about the play of back up players that have been thrust into starting roles like Duke Riley and Damontae Kazee. On its face, this matchup is a tough one for Atlanta, but let’s dig a little deeper just to make sure.
We’ll start with the trenches.
In the trenches
Don’t look now but the Saints offense is pretty good—shocking, I know. With any team, the success New Orleans has experienced has a lot to do with their offensive line, but that does not mean they are incapable of playing poorly or getting beat.
Led by Terron Armstead and Max Unger, the Saints offensive line has been solid in pass protection, allowing only four sacks of quarterback Drew Brees. Last year, the Saints were built off a powerful running game that seems to be missing through two games this year: the Saints have a total of 105 rushing yards and have only rushed the ball 36 times.
If the Falcons want to slow down the Saints offense, the recipe is pretty well-known: get to Brees and impact his timing with his receivers. With Takkarist McKinley injured, Grady Jarrett, Steven Means, and Vic Beasley will need to step up and get after Brees when he drops back. Those prospects don’t look too promising.
The offense goes through Brees, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas in the passing game and I don’t have a ton of faith in Atlanta’s defensive line to disrupt Brees and throw that trio off too much. The supposed success in being able to stop the run helps a little bit, though.
Don’t look now. No, really. Don’t look, because this could be ugly. On the outside, Atlanta should like their matchups with Thomas, Ted Ginn Jr., and Austin Carr. However, once you throw Kamara and Benjamin Watson into the mix, this becomes troublesome for the Falcons.
I like the matchups for Atlanta defensive backs Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, and Brian Poole and I think they will win a decent share of snaps against the Saints’ wideouts. I absolutely hate the idea of Duke Riley covering Kamara out of the backfield, and I am having flashbacks to Watson torching the Falcons the last time he played for the Saints.
Can the Falcons find ways to get Kazee and Campbell more involved in covering those two guys without opening up major windows for Brees? Hopefully. When he was in the game last week, Kazee covered Christian McCaffrey and did a decent job (though he only did it twice, maybe).
The Falcons will still have a chance to slow down the production of the Saints offense, but they are going to have to tackle better than they have all season and they will have to limit big plays on the outside. I feel great about 50 percent of the Falcons being able to do that. The other half? Well . . .
Advantage: New Orleans Saints
This makes it seem like the Falcons have zero chance to stop the New Orleans offense and that Brees and company will score 40 points on Atlanta. That isn’t totally true but if Atlanta is going to slow them down, it is going to take a turnover or two plus a couple of big performances from some key guys.
The Saints have only completed 33 percent of their third downs so far and the vast majority of those conversions have come through the air, so if Atlanta is able to get the Saints in third down situations, they have a good chance of getting off the field.
It seems like the Falcons should have an idea of what the Saints will try and do on offense, but that means the only thing left to do is to stop them from doing it. I wouldn’t count on it. This game is always weird, though.