The Falcons (1-7) are coming off an uneventful bye week that didn’t produce any coaching changes, despite the team being all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs after only eight games. This week, Atlanta travels to face the rival Saints (7-1), who are having the opposite season. Despite losing their franchise QB for the first half of the year, the Saints haven’t missed a beat due to their reliable defense and solid offense, and are currently the #2 seed in the NFC.
A loss here eliminates any chance of the Falcons having a winning season—although if we’re being honest, we all know that wasn’t going to happen anyway. A win would be a serious thorn in the side of a rival who is jockeying for a first-round bye in the playoffs, and would also just be great because you have to beat the Saints.
Here are some of the most interesting players and coaches to watch as we head into Week 10’s matchup with New Orleans.
The coaching changes
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn did not get fired during the bye week. It was somewhat surprising given the team’s level of play and the 1-7 record, but we all know that Arthur Blank is one of the NFL’s most patient owners. Instead, there appears to have been a small shuffle in the defensive and offensive assistants. The biggest change was Raheem Morris, who moved from WRs coach to secondary coach.
This isn’t a bad move, as Morris arguably has a lot more experience as a defensive backs coach. But will the move make any difference? And if it does end up making a difference, why wasn’t a change made sooner? Keep an eye on the play of the secondary to see if the change bears any fruit against New Orleans.
After getting a pretty impressive performance from Matt Schaub against Seattle, it appears that the Falcons will be getting Matt Ryan back for Week 10. Ryan was a limited participant in practice on Thursday, but all signs point to him being available for the Saints. Ryan has been one of the NFL’s best passers through the first 10 weeks of the season, despite a patchwork offensive line and a defense that is allowing over 31 points per game.
The big question is: will Ryan’s return result in a win on Sunday? He certainly isn’t going to hurt the chances of the Falcons pulling off an upset, but the team has a daunting task ahead of them against New Orleans. The Saints have a very good pass rush—they’ve piled up 24 sacks on the season—and Atlanta’s offensive line is suffering from injuries across the board. Let’s hope Ryan can avoid further injury and make some miracles happen.
The pass rush
Well, the pass rush finally got a sack—two, actually—against the Seahawks. It was the first time in over a month for the unit. That brings them to a grand total of 7 sacks through 8 games. In case you were wondering, that’s the worst mark in the NFL—even worse than the Dolphins. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the issue is this season, as the talent is largely the same as 2018 (where the team had 37 sacks) or perhaps even better.
It’s clear that giving Vic Beasley the fifth-year option was a major error, as well as failing to bring in any additional EDGE help outside of a fourth-rounder in John Cominsky. The scheme is probably also to blame, as the Falcons are terrible in the secondary and are rushing only 3 at a higher rate than in previous years. One of the keys to beating the Saints is getting pressure on Drew Brees, but can the Falcons actually pull it off? Anything is possible in these division games, but I doubt it.
The offensive line
It seems like we’re dealing with a new offensive line injury every week. Wes Schweitzer—the Falcons’ third-string guard—has played in 7 out of 8 games, and now he is dealing with an injury himself that is likely to keep him out against the Saints. Luckily, Jamon Brown and James Carpenter are likely to be back on Sunday. However, both have been limited this week with foot and knee injuries, respectively.
The Falcons made a huge investment in improving the offensive line this season, and the football gods spat in their face. First-round guard Chris Lindstrom hit IR after the first game of the season, first-round OT Kaleb McGary missed almost all of training camp with a heart procedure, and their two free agent guards have each missed a significant number of games with injuries. The banged-up unit will now face a Saints pass rush averaging 3 sacks a game. Keeping Matt Ryan upright will be of vital importance for his health and if the team wants to leave New Orleans with a win.
After a pretty poor start to his 2019 season at slot CB, Damontae Kazee appears to be headed back to his old role at FS. With Desmond Trufant likely to return to action this week, the Falcons have some flexibility in the secondary to move pieces around. Kazee simply never looked comfortable in the slot, which brings up even more questions about the coaching staff’s decision to move him—and their ability to teach a player a new position.
Kazee is now returning to the role that saw him garner 7 interceptions in 2018. We know he’s comfortable there and has great instincts for the position, so hopefully his play—and the play of the whole defense—will improve as a result.
Who are some players you’ll be watching closely when the Falcons take on the Saints on Sunday?