Despite the dismal performance against the Bucs on Sunday, there’s still reason to think the Falcons can deliver against the Saints again on Thursday. If Takk McKinley can get fully healthy and the guys up the middle can shut down the run, we could be in for a repeat performance.
Let’s quickly revisit how things match up.
In the trenches
Just two weeks ago, the Falcons stunned everyone when they brought down Drew Brees six times in one game. They followed that up with five sacks against Kyle Allen a week later. Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley showing up like never before were big factors in this. Adrian Clayborn was also a big contributor in those performances. They will need to repeat it on Thursday night against a normally stout Saints offensive line.
For the Saints, they have the talent on the OL to dominate. However, it looks like Terron Armstead is set to miss the game and left guard Andrus Peat is not practicing either. Even when he did play in the last game, Grady Jarrett was abusing him. His backup did not fare any better. Armstead being out is a big blow to this unit. Expect Atlanta to attack from this side early and often.
These injuries matter. If McKinley can get healthy, it’s possible we see this offensive line struggle again. Yet, Sean Payton knows this is a weakness and will probably have some kind of game plan to minimize it. Plus, I can’t fully buy into the Jekyll and Hyde Falcons defense.
The skill positions
The Falcons secondary has been far better in recent weeks. Desmond Trufant has returned to his Pro Bowl form over the last several games, while guys like Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Oliver continue to grow. The Bucs game was a setback for several of these guys, but their overall play has been trending up.
For the Saints, they will rely heavily on Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. After those guys, the quality drops off a good bit. Drew Brees is still as accurate as they come, but it seems clear that he is not throwing downfield as accurately as he has in the past.
Atlanta will need Trufant to help slow down Thomas, while Deion Jones will be needed to limit the damage that Kamara does. They are both capable of it, but this is no easy task. Yet again, this one is probably too close to call.
Yes, the Falcons defense has been abysmal for most of the year. Yes, they also showed up and whooped the Saints. Yes, it makes this matchup impossible to predict. I still believe they can get it done again, but I’m not willing to put money on it either.