If the Falcons are going to keep the game against the Saints competitive, they’re going to need their offense to show up. Unfortunately, that’s been a hit or miss proposition in 2019 and this match up could be another bump in the road.
Dirk Koetter and company need to come ready with a game plan to protect Ryan and get his receivers the ball in space. Let’s take a closer look at this matchup.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line has been massively disappointing this year. Certainly, the loss of first rounder Chris Lindstrom hurt, but free agent signings Jamon Brown and James Carpenter were supposed to be much better than they are. Both are performing poorly and backup Wes Schweitzer has arguably out-performed both. Rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary is getting beat up a lot, and even the normally reliable Alex Mack is just having a terrible season. Only Jake Matthews is playing relatively well at this point.
The Saints are 10th in the league in sacks, so they can get after the QB. Of course, that starts with Cameron Jordan, who is one of the best in the league. Second-year player Marcus Davenport still hasn’t turned into a dominant pass rusher, but he’s playing well overall. The middle of this defense isn’t as dominant. Sheldon Rankins hasn’t quite lived up to his billing this year and guys like Shy Tuttle, Malcolm Brown and David Onyemata are all playing OK, if not exactly inspiring, football.
Frankly, this is the matchup that could upend the Atlanta offense. Guys like Alex Mack and Jamon Brown have to play better than they have. McGary needs to start showing progress, and one of James Carpenter and Schweitzer needs to show they’re more than replacement-level players. Until all of that happens, you have to give the nod to Jordan and company.
The skill positions
Matt Ryan has been better as of late, but his rough start to the season has ensured that this is one of his worst seasons in a long time. Julio Jones is still freakish and amazing, and Calvin Ridley is maturing into his WR2 role nicely. Austin Hooper is one of the best receiving tight ends in the game right now, and Russell Gage has shown glimpses of why the team felt comfortable trading Mohamed Sanu away. Unfortunately, the running game is abysmal with Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith and Brian Hill all unable to consistently produce meaningful rushing numbers. The potential is definitely there, they just need to consistently deliver.
Marshon Lattimore is a decent corner, but his strong rookie season has been his best season so far. Eli Apple is having one of his better seasons in his young career, but neither of these guys is a true “shutdown” corner. The safety situation is different, though, as Marcus Williams has turned into one of the better safeties in the league while Vonn Bell is an adequate starter next to him. Linebacker is the weak spot of this defense, though, with Demario Davis the best of the unit. Kiko Alonso and A.J. Klein are not very good at all.
Lattimore, Apple and Williams will likely be tasked with limiting Julio and Calvin. That could mean the passing attack will rely more on guys like Austin Hooper, Russell Gage and the running backs to do more damage. Those are matchups I like and they give Atlanta a very slight nod here.
This is going to come down to the trenches. If Atlanta can’t keep Ryan upright, nothing else will matter. If they can buy him enough time, there’s reason to believe Atlanta can put some points on the board. Yet, the inconsistent production of this offense gives me pause. Enough so that this is too close to call.