Week 3 is here, and the Atlanta Falcons (1-1) have a very important early season division game against the hated New Orleans Saints (1-1) coming up on Sunday. A win here would be big confidence booster for an Atlanta team that is weathering some injuries, and put the Saints at 0-2 in the division (with both of those losses being home games).
Needless to say, this is a big game for the Falcons. Plus, it’s always nice to beat the Saints. Read on for some of the most interesting Falcons’ players to watch in Week 3.
Duke Riley and Foye Oluokun
Let’s be honest here: Duke Riley had a bad game in Week 2. Could he show improvement over the course of the season? Absolutely. But I think it’s time to see what the Falcons have in Foye Oluokun—the sixth-round rookie LB from Yale. Oluokun had a pretty good preseason, getting plenty of snaps with the starters sitting. He looked solid in both run defense and coverage, and made several plays on special teams.
I expect Oluokun and Riley to split snaps against the Saints. Riley deserves a chance to grow and develop, and Oluokun deserves a chance to prove whether or not he’s the better option right now. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I think Oluokun might be the best candidate the Falcons have to play next to De’Vondre Campbell in the nickel defense. He’s a very smart player with great athletic gifts—the perfect piece for Dan Quinn to mold. Let’s see what he can do on the field against New Orleans.
Vic Beasley, Steven Means, and Brooks Reed
We’ve received a lot of conflicting and confusing messages from the team regarding Takkarist McKinley’s practice status today, but the crux of the story is this: both he and Derrick Shelby are almost certainly out for Sunday’s game. That means it’s up to Vic Beasley—who’s been mostly invisible in 2018—Brooks Reed, and newcomer Steven Means.
Beasley simply must step up this week against the Saints. Brooks Reed has been a serviceable rotational player in the past. Can he make enough plays against New Orleans? Steven Means is the wild-card: he looked very impressive in the preseason for the Eagles. Can he translate that into regular season production? They certainly won’t have an easy go of it against the likes of Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. If this team can’t pressure Drew Brees at least somewhat effectively, they’ll be depending on the offense to score 30+ points to win on Sunday.
Matt Ryan and Steve Sarkisian
Speaking of the offense, much will depend upon the performance of Matt Ryan and Steve Sarkisian against New Orleans. Ryan may need to be even sharper than he was against the Panthers in Week 2 to outduel Drew Brees and the Saints. At this point in the year, the New Orleans’ defense looks exploitable. Can Steve Sarkisian draw up another creative gameplan to attack their weaknesses?
Expect Ryan and Sark to have a good game on Sunday. The Saints are having even worse pass rush troubles than the Falcons in 2018, the LB corps is weak, and the secondary has been exploitable thus far. Much will depend upon Atlanta’s defense: if they can’t keep up with New Orleans, then the game could become a shootout. How will the offense respond in that situation?
Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith
Usually when talking about the Falcons’ dynamic RB duo, we’re talking about Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Could we start using that to describe the pairing of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith, too? If they can replicate their Week 2 performance, the answer might be yes.
Coleman looked like a dominant runner against the Panthers. He’s playing with better balance than he has at any time in his career, and is more patient in the backfield. Ito Smith looked like a totally different player behind the first-team offensive line. Smith made some ridiculous cuts and showed off impressive burst and physicality in his limited touches. If these two can continue to run like that behind this Falcons’ offensive line—which just lost LG Andy Levitre for the season—then the Falcons may have some difficult decisions to make in 2019.
The Falcons were forced to play S Jordan Richards far more than they would’ve liked in Week 2 because of Damontae Kazee’s ejection. It was a very dumb play that significantly impacted the defense. That being said, I think his return to the secondary will be a huge boon this week against the Saints. Richards is serviceable as a box defender, but asking him to play deep coverage is a big mistake.
Kazee is another ballhawk in the secondary that plays with physicality, and his coverage ability is significantly better than Richards and probably even Poole. The Saints have struggled with turnovers through the first two weeks (-3 turnover margin in 2018), and an interception or two from the Falcons defense would go a long way in getting a very important victory against New Orleans.
Another season-ending injury to the Falcons’ OL occurred this week with LG Andy Levitre being sent to IR. That meant third-year G Wes Schweitzer got inserted into the line-up early into the game against Carolina. Going up against a formidable DL of the Panthers featuring names like Kawann Short and Dontari Poe, Schweitzer more than held his own in relief of Levitre.
Perhaps Schweitzer really has improved drastically over his 2017 season, or perhaps he’s simply more comfortable on the left side—where he spent nearly his entire college career. Maybe it’s a little of both. At any rate, Schweitzer stepping in and replicating Levitre’s play at LG would be a huge godsend to this offense. Let’s see how he does against Sheldon Rankins and Cameron Jordan on Sunday.
Who are some players that you’ll be watching closely on Sunday? Do you think the Falcons’ defense can slow down the Saints’ offense? What do you think of Atlanta’s chances of winning a shootout with New Orleans?