No one, including myself, expected dominance last week, but that is what was displayed by the Atlanta Falcons as they took on a Las Vegas Raiders team that could very well be playoff bound by season’s end. It was easily the best performance that we have seen this season from the Falcons defense, to the tune of five turnovers and five sacks.
Now it is time to turn the attention to their biggest rival. This is a New Orleans Saints team that is in the midst of an eight game winning streak and currently possess the #1 seed in the NFC. While the playoffs are on life support right now for the Falcons, they can certainly impact the playoffs for the Saints, just as they did last year with a win that ultimately cost the Saints home field advantage and forced them to play the opening round of the playoffs.
This go-around, Atlanta has the Saints at home, coming off a huge win. Let’s break down this upcoming contest.
About their opponent
As mentioned, the Saints are riding high on a nice winning streak without their starting quarterback in Drew Brees over the last two and a half games. They are leaning on backup quarterback Taysom Hill to run the show on offense and in two games, he has thrown for 311 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. Right now, the Saints have the #1 defense in the NFL and have held three of their last four opponents to nine points or less.
Falcons offensive line vs. Saints defensive line - Going back to the first matchup between the two teams, this was a major, major factor. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked eight times and the Saints registered 11 quarterback hits on the game. Ryan was unable to find a comfort zone for most of the game and was rattled.
The Saints are fifth in the NFL in sacks per game but they are second in the league in sacks per game over the last three games played. Not just sacks on Ryan but creating run lanes against a Saints defense that is second in the NFL in run defense. The Falcons may not truly beat this defensive line for all four quarters, but they need to make life a little easier for their backfield.
Falcons defense vs. Saints QB Taysom Hill - Hill was sacked three times in the first matchup. For the most part, though, the former BYU Cougar was able to set a pace along with the Saints playcalling that still allowed him to not be challenged. That needs to change this time around.
Whether it’s shutting down run lanes in zone reads or generating turnovers and forcing him out of his element, the Falcons defense need to force Hill to make plays. This defense has relied a lot on the element of blitzing since interim coach Raheem Morris took over, and ramping that up and applying pressure will be key.
Here’s something small to keep an eye on for the Falcons. Currently, the Falcons defense is fourth in the NFL in yards after the catch allowed with 1,524. Seven players on the defense have allowed 123 yards or more after the catch on the season. When you’re playing a team like the Saints, aspects such as this are important.
Ensuring they don’t give plays the time to develop longer than they should is something that is needed when a well-coached team like the Saints come to town. Going back to last season, the Falcons were ranked sixth as a defense in that department. Just a little nugget to keep an eye on.
Yes, the Saints are the #1 seed in the NFC. Yes, they have statistically the best defense in the league. But top to bottom, talent against talent, this is another winnable game for the Falcons.
Records are usually thrown out of the window in a deeply rooted rivalry such as this. Records were thrown away last year when the 1-7 Falcons waltzed into New Orleans and handed the Saints a 26-9 defeat. The same can happen again. But only if this Falcons team wants it. They wanted to punch the Raiders in the mouth last week. Let’s see what happens this time around.