When it comes down to these two teams, there is no love lost. These are two teams that have had built up animosity and friction over the years that has also spread over to two cities that have a disdain towards each other as well. Once the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints became division opponents in 1970, the seeds of this rivalry were planted. Now, 50 years later, the two teams will continue their annual tango in New Orleans this Sunday.
Let’s break down the first of two matchups between the Falcons and Saints this season.
About their opponent
Sitting in first place in the NFC South, the Saints enter the matchup at 7-2 and on a six game winning streak. Still fresh in the mind is the 38-3 mauling by the Saints against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two weeks ago. A new development, however, changes things a bit for the Saints as they will be without their starting quarterback Drew Brees for several weeks due to fractured ribs and a collapsed lung suffered last week against the San Francisco 49ers. In his place, we’re apparently getting gadget quarterback Taysom Hill.
Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter vs. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen - Yep, I’m sighing as well. I think we are all in agreement when I say that Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has not quite been the most reliable or most polished play caller this season. If the Falcons are going to pull off this win in New Orleans, he will have to call his best game of the season up to this point.
New Orleans is fourth overall in defense, fourth in yards per play allowed, and 13th in scoring defense. Last season, as a 1-7 team, Atlanta was able to beat New Orleans on the road thanks to a solid run game and complete control in time-of-possession. I’m not sure if that strategy is solid enough to beat the Saints this time around, but Koetter needs to force Allen and his defense to cover the entire field by spacing them out and keeping them on their heels with a mix of formations and motions. This isn’t the game to bunch things up.
Falcons defensive line vs. Saints offensive line - This was a battle in the first matchup between the two teams last season that dictated the entire game. The Falcons were able to get to Brees for a total of six sacks on the game, with stud defensive tackle Grady Jarrett leading the way with 2.5 sacks. The Falcons are still lacking in the department of quarterback sacks this season with just 14 sacks registered as a unit. That ranks 24th in the league. The Saints offensive line have given up just a total of 13 sacks on the season. Regardless who is at quarterback for the Saints, Atlanta is going to have to win this phase once again in order to pull off the upset. Given the impact of the Falcons blitzing in recent games, we can add that as a key element here as well.
Being that Taysom Hill is likely to receive a considerable amount of snaps on Sunday, it’s probably worth noting what to look out for when it comes to the Saints dual threat. I am not buying that he will see majority of the snaps, but I do believe we will see him in a QB capacity more times that we usually have.
With that as the case, the element of RPO (run, pass option) is alive and well with Hill behind center. The Saints have ran a total of 12 run-pass option plays this season with Hill orchestrating seven of them. Of those seven plays, five of them were runs for Hill. Of the 34 total carries for Hill this season, the dual threat quarterback averaged 3.8 yards per attempt before first contact. That average is the highest on the entire Saints roster. In other words, Hill’s strength is being able to turn into a running back and find yards. Which the Falcons need to forcefully take away from him and turn him into a pocket passer.
Because of the surprising upset in the first matchup last season, this upcoming contest has its fair share of intrigue. The concept of the Saints being without their starting quarterback makes things even more interesting. Is this a winnable game for the Falcons? To be quite honest, yes it is.
The Falcons are coming into this contest about as healthy as they have been all year since the first game of the season. Meanwhile, the Saints are a team that is coming off a physical battle against San Francisco last week with injuries to key players in key spots. While interim head coach Raheem Morris has been impressive this season, a win in this spot would be a feather in the cap. This is a rivalry that has shown that records don’t matter. For the Falcons to pull off the upset, the mentality needs to be of a team that is playing fresh, loose, and a chip on their shoulder. Because just like they proved last season, this is a particular battle where anything can happen.