Another pivotal matchup between two bitter NFC South rivals. Here are three important matchups to watch between the Falcons and the Saints.
The legendary Vince Lombardi once stated, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”
That statement fits well with the current state of affairs for the Atlanta Falcons as they enter the third week of the season as injuries abound. Even with the Falcons embarking on this important early-season contest as the walking wounded, there is still enough talent present to get their second win on the season. It will also be their second divisional win, which is huge before the end of the first quarter of the season. Let’s present three critical matchups within the Falcons/Saints battle to closely observe.
Falcons linebackers/safeties vs. Saints RB Alvin Kamara
It’s arguably the biggest matchup in the entire game.
While the Saints have in their arsenal an underrated receiver in Michael Thomas, who has played very well so far this season, it is no secret who is the biggest weapon on offense. Kamara walked away as the Offensive Rookie of the Year last season with 1,554 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns. Kamara is a huge threat in the passing and run element for the Saints and is a better version of what the Falcons saw last week in Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey.
Without the presence of linebacker Deion Jones, the Falcons are without a superior linebacker in pass defense. So the responsibility falls on linebackers De’Vondre Campbell and Duke Riley, and to an extent the safety combination of Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee. Since the Saints do not have the ability to gash defenses with a running quarterback nor a true threat at tight end, the linebackers for Atlanta will have more focus on this great assignment ahead.
Falcons 3rd down defense vs. Saints 3rd down defense
l decided to try a little twist here and focus on a certain aspect of the game that has been an issue for both teams through two weeks. On one side, the Falcons are 30th in the NFL in third down defense, allowing a 48.1% conversion rate. In comparison, Atlanta was 17th last season as a top-10 ranked defense, while in 2016, they were 26th. Chalk some of that up to the absence of Jones and strong safety Keanu Neal.
For the Saints, they are also in the bottom half of the league in this category, ranking 28th and allowing 48% of the conversions they encounter. The Saints were slightly better against the Browns last week on third down, and some of that is partly because of the type of offense the Saints faced with Cleveland compared to the aerial assault that we have seen from Tampa Bay so far this season.
With two high-powered offenses on the field in this duel, third down is going to be incredibly important. Winning this particular component may be a catalyst to a division win here.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. Saints pass defense
A flat Week 1 performance for quarterback Matt Ryan against the Eagles was erased after his solid outing against Carolina last week.
That was a productive and physical defense that Ryan 23-of-28 passes against and now he gets a Saints defense that is 29th overall, 29th against the pass, 32nd in yards per pass attempt, and 23rd in passing touchdowns allowed. In the two games against New Orleans last season, Ryan passed for 509 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions.In both games, Ryan never really looked like himself in those games, but he did against Carolina last week. The veteran quarterback found rhythm with rookie wideout Calvin Ridley last week and will probably look to continue that task once again as the Saints have allowed the sixth most passes with 21 or more yards of air travel according to Sharp Football Stats. So far, teams are seeing plays unfold against the passing defense of New Orleans and are at least attacking the coverage.
Honing in on the dynamic Julio Jones is not necessary with the amount of talent at Ryan’s disposal. Ryan has a vulnerable opponent in front of him, and the opportunity to produce big will likely be present.