Fresh off their bye week, the Falcons (3-6) are now set to face their most hated division rival: the Saints. This Week 11 matchup is a big one for New Orleans (7-2), who are trying to stay ahead of the Buccaneers (7-3) and other NFC contenders for a shot at a top seed in the playoffs. What once probably looked like an easy win against a flailing Atlanta squad has quickly changed into a potentially dangerous matchup.
These two teams almost always play each other close, but now the Saints have a series of injuries to contend with—including QB Drew Brees, who will be out for at least the next few weeks with broken ribs and a punctured lung. That means the Falcons will be facing a decidedly different-looking New Orleans offense on Sunday, one helmed by either former Bucs QB Jameis Winston or gadget player and “future QB1” Taysom Hill. That makes things tricky for projecting this game.
To help with some of that ambiguity, let’s compare the offensive and defensive statistics for both teams heading into Week 11.
OFFENSE - WEEK 10
|Points/game||21.9 (21st)||30.1 (3rd)|
|Total yards/game||338.0 (20th)||434.3 (1st)|
|Yards per play||5.3 (T-22nd)||6.4 (1st)|
|Passing yards/game||257.6 (12th)||291.5 (4th)|
|Passing yards per attempt||7.1 (T-18th)||8.2 (T-5th)|
|Sack Percentage||4.4% (8th)||4.5% (9th)|
|Rushing yards/game||80.4 (29th)||142.8 (3rd)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||3.4 (31st)||4.9 (T-4th)|
|Scoring Efficiency||37.9% (19th)||46.0% (4th)|
|Red Zone Efficiency||63.0% (12th)||58.6% (16th)|
|Turnover Percentage||11.5% (T-18th)||11.5% (T-18th)|
|Third Down Efficiency||43.5% (10th)||46.1% (4th)|
The Falcons have continued their trend under Dirk Koetter of being an offense that puts up tons of yards but falls behind in scoring. Atlanta is 13th in scoring offense despite being 5th in total yards, and are also lagging behind in yards per play (T-12th)—showing that their yardage numbers are at least partially based on volume. The passing game remains the greatest strength, as the team is 2nd in passing yardage and T-7th in yards per attempt. On the ground, the Falcons is slightly below-average in rushing yardage (18th) but among the league’s worst in yards per carry (30th with just 3.7).
Atlanta remains strong in the advanced statistics. The Falcons have protected the football well on offense, as they’re 5th in turnover rate. They’ve also been above-average on third down (43.4% conversion rate, 12th) and in pass protection (5.1% sack rate, T-13th). Atlanta is currently an impressive 5th in scoring efficiency, but this doesn’t tell the whole story as it counts drives that end in a FG. If you look at red zone efficiency, aka the percentage of red zone trips that end in a TD, the Falcons are a paltry 27th with just a 52.9% rate. Thanks, Dirk Koetter.
The Saints aren’t quite the dominant league-leading offense of past years, but they’re still dangerous. New Orleans is currently 5th in scoring offense, 12th in total yardage, and T-12th in yards per play. The passing game—once the strength of the team—has been fairly average this season, as the Saints are 15th in passing yardage and T-16th in yards per attempt. On the ground, New Orleans has also been rather mediocre: 12th in rushing yardage but just T-21st in yards per carry.
The Saints have excelled in the advanced statistics, overcoming yardage issues with scoring efficiency (3rd with 49.0%). They’ve also been effective in the red zone, where they are 12th with 65.0%, and are among the league’s best on third down (47.9% conversion rate, 5th). New Orleans has protected the football well (6th in TO%) and has also held up in pass protection (T-7th in sack rate).
Offensive Advantage: Saints
DEFENSE - WEEK 10
|Points/game||27.5 (28th)||24.0 (T-18th)|
|Total yards/game||360.5 (17th)||371.5 (21st)|
|Yards per play||5.6 (T-17th)||6.0 (T-27th)|
|Passing yards/game||237.4 (13th)||270.5 (25th)|
|Passing yards per attempt||7.1 (T-10th)||7.8 (T-22nd)|
|Pressure Rate||18.6% (31st)||25.1% (16th)|
|Rushing yards/game||123.1 (24th)||101.0 (10th)|
|Rushing yards per attempt||4.4 (T-19th)||4.3 (T-14th)|
|Scoring Efficiency||43.9% (25th)||35.9% (13th)|
|Red Zone Efficiency||66.7% (T-21st)||68.0% (25th)|
|Turnover Percentage||8.5% (24th)||15.2% (6th)|
|Third Down Efficiency||47.9% (30th)||34.7% (7th)|
The Falcons improved on the defensive side of the ball since Raheem Morris took over, mostly due to a stout run defense, improvements on third down, and generating more consistent pressure through blitzing. Atlanta is now 25th in scoring defense, but remain among the worst in total yardage allowed (30th) and yards per play (32nd). The passing defense is still a disaster, as the Falcons are 31st in passing yardage allowed and 30th in yards per attempt. The run defense, however, continues to be a bright spot: Atlanta is 6th in rushing yardage allowed and T-12th in yards per carry.
The advanced statistics are still a mixed bag for the Falcons. Atlanta has been just slightly below-average in scoring efficiency (T-19th), but are among the league’s worst in red zone efficiency (31st). Morris has drastically improved the third down defense and pass rush, as the Falcons are now 8th in the league in both categories after struggling during their 0-5 start. The team has been about average in creating turnovers (T-18th) through 9 games.
New Orleans hasn’t been nearly as good on defense in 2020 as they’ve been in recent years, but still have some notable strengths. The Saints are currently 13th in scoring defense, 4th in total yardage allowed, and T-4th in yards per play. The team has been about league-average against the pass: 15th in passing yardage allowed and T-13th in yards per attempt. On the ground, they’ve been arguably the NFL’s best run defense: 2nd in rushing yardage allowed and T-1st in yards per carry with just 3.3.
The advanced statistics paint a decidedly mixed picture for the Saints. In scoring efficiency, New Orleans is a solid 12th, but they’ve been awful in the red zone (T-29th). They’ve been fairly effective rushing the passer, with a 24.3% pressure rate (10th), but the Saints have been well below average (22nd) on third down. The team has been average at generating turnovers, with a 10.6% turnover rate (16th).
Defensive Advantage: Saints
On paper, the Saints have the advantage on both sides of the ball. New Orleans has been far better at scoring in the red zone than Atlanta, which puts them as a top-5 scoring offense despite trailing the Falcons in most yardage statistics. On defense, the Saints have a lot more talent and have been far more consistent over the first 10 weeks of the season. New Orleans may not be the elite contender they were in 2018 and 2019, but they’re still one of the better overall teams in the NFC.
The big question heading into this game is health. QB Drew Brees will almost certainly miss the contest with broken ribs, leading to either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill starting in his place. While Brees has only been a shell of his former self, he’s still an elite decision-maker in the pocket with exceptional accuracy on short-to-intermediate throws. How quickly can either Winston (much more likely) or Hill acclimate to being the engine of the offense, and will Sean Payton change anything to accommodate these different passers.
It’s not just Brees who is banged up, either. EDGE Cameron Jordan and WR Tre’Quan Smith also missed practice this week, while CB Marshon Lattimore and RB Alvin Kamara have been limited. The Falcons, meanwhile, are unlikely to be missing any starters for the game other than EDGE Dante Fowler Jr., who is on the reserve/COVID-19 list. I’d expect this game to be a much more competitive contest than it seems based on the statistics.
Overall Projection: Saints favored
What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ Week 11 divisional matchup with the Saints? Do you think Atlanta can pull out the win on the road?