Which Falcons defense is legit? The one that completely shutdown David Carr and the Raiders or the one that made Taysom Hill look like a legitimate QB? It’s hard to know for sure, but rivalry games tend to go completely off script - so these comparison may not ultimately matter.
That said, this nugget is very interesting:
The Falcons have gone from 27th in pass defense DVOA in the first half of the season to fifth since Week 10, from 19th to eighth in run defense DVOA, and third in total defense DVOA since Week 10, up from 18th. Only the Saints and Steelers are better in the season's second half.— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) December 3, 2020
Can Atlanta live up to it this weekend? Let’s re-examine this matchup.
In the trenches
The Saints offensive line took a hit last weekend when left tackle Terron Armstead was put on the COVID-19 list. He ended up missing the game against the Broncos and is at high risk of missing this game as well. However, this Saints offensive line is a good one and James Hurst actually filled in nicely for Armstead. The only weak link on this line is right guard Cesar Ruiz, so look for the Falcons to try and overwhelm the rookie repeatedly.
For the Falcons, can defensive player of the week Jacob Tuioti-Mariner continue to impress as a pass rusher or was that a one week anomaly? If he can’t step up, perhaps Steven Means - who also played well against the Raiders - can be “the guy” on the edge. Grady Jarrett can’t do it alone, though John Cominsky has slowly been coming along as an interior rusher as well. This is still not a good overall unit, but there are a few bright spots here and there.
As with the first time these teams matched up, the nod has to go to the Saints. We just can’t put faith in the Falcons repeating what they did last Sunday when it’s been such a rare occurrence over the last ... decade.
The skill positions
Both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are healthy and should be playing in this game. Thomas did some damage to us in the last game but the Falcons actually did a good job of keeping Kamara in check. He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and only got 45 yards total on the ground. Taysom Hill looked like a far more capable QB than he should, and the inability to consistently pressure him was certainly an issue. The Falcons may need to blitz more often with guys like Foye Oluokun and Deion Jones if they’re going to pressure Tebow-clone more than they did two weeks ago.
The Falcons linebackers were amazing against the Raiders and they’ll be important again in this game. We’ll need them to blitz while also trying to repeat their performance in limiting Kamara. A.J. Terrell will need to have another big game to keep Michael Thomas in check this time. Keanu Neal and Deion Jones have been playing better as of late, and we’ll need more of that on Sunday.
The Falcons actually have some decent matchups to lean on here. Taysom Hill just isn’t a consistent, quality QB and the Falcons now have some experience to rely on in confronting him this time around. Even still, Atlanta has enough gaps in the back end of their defense to raise some concerns.
The Saints offense will still get the nod because of the soulless ghoul who coaches them. The Falcons have opportunities to keep this one close, though, especially if guys like Terrell and Oluokun continue to deliver.