The Atlanta Falcons are stuck in a difficult place after a disappointing loss to the slumping Carolina Panthers in Week 8. Back at home and with a chance to get their first winning record in years, the Falcons flopped on offense and got run over by a very bad Panthers offense en route to a narrow, mistake-filled loss. The game left a bad taste in the mouth for Atlanta’s fans, and things aren’t going to get any easier this week.
A matchup with the hated New Orleans Saints looms on Sunday—a game that the Falcons probably need to win to keep any fleeting Wild Card hopes alive. The Saints are 6-2, and though they’ve been far from the juggernaut of years past, they’ve been a very tough opponent for just about every team on their schedule.
Can the Falcons get back to their winning ways—and an even record—with an upset in Week 9? Let’s take a closer look at the offensive and defensive stats to find out.
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 are coming off their second-worst offensive performance of the season, but they’ve steadily improved since their Week 1 debacle against the Eagles. Atlanta is below-average on offense overall, though: 21st in scoring, 23rd in total yardage, and 24th in yards per play. Their strength is still the passing game, where the team is 15th in passing yards and 6th in sack rate allowed. The Falcons have also been very good on third down (44.2% conversion rate, 8th) and in the red zone (63.6% TD rate, 14th).
Most of Atlanta’s struggles have come from the very conservative nature of the offense. The team has been exceptionally inefficient in both the passing game (6.6 YPA, T-26th) and the running game (3.7 YPC, T-28th). A run of poor turnover luck has also hit the team in recent weeks, with the Falcons tossing two interceptions against the Panthers. The team is now 22nd in turnover rate at 13.2%.
The Saints are not the offensive juggernaut of years past, but they’ve been opportunistic and have benefitted from their defense getting them two pick-sixes and 13 total turnovers (T-7th). As such, their overall stats are a bit wonky: 14th in scoring, but 29th in total yardage and 28th in yards per play. Their biggest strength has been the running game, as New Orleans is 10th in rushing yardage—but even this has been inefficient at just 4.0 YPC (21st). The Saints have also been very good in the red zone (68.0% TD rate, 7th) and have protected the ball well (7.7% TO rate, 6th).
New Orleans has been among the worst passing offenses in the league in 2021. The Saints are averaging just 180.9 passing yards per game (31st). They’ve also struggled on third down, with a 37.6% conversion rate (22nd). Even their pass protection, which was once among the best in the league, is merely average (5.8% sack rate, 18th).
Offensive Advantage: Evenly matched
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)|
Atlanta’s defense was tough to watch in Week 8, as they gave up 10/17 third downs (58.8%), 203 rushing yards, and lost the time of possession battle by nearly 10 minutes. They also allowed only one offensive TD and kept the game within one score for all but the last 6 minutes. This unit is difficult to evaluate, but they’re definitely not good. Overall, the Falcons are 26th in scoring defense, 15th in total yardage allowed, and T-18th in yards per play. They’ve been best against the pass—in large part due to the stellar play of A.J. Terrell—allowing just 233 passing yards per game (12th) and 7.2 YPA (T-14th).
In terms of struggles, the Falcons have been bad against good rushing attacks. They’re 25th in rushing yardage allowed, despite being fairly average in yards per carry allowed (T-18th). Atlanta’s biggest issues stem from their lack of pass rush: the team is 30th in pressure rate at just 19.1%. That has carried over to their third down defense, as well, where the team is now 30th with a 50% conversion rate allowed.
New Orleans has been a very good defense overall: 4th in scoring, 10th in total yardage allowed, and T-9th in yards per play. Their biggest strength is run defense, where the team has been elite: 2nd in rushing yardage allowed, and T-1st in yards per carry at just 3.5. The Saints have also been the NFL’s best red zone defense, allowing just a 43.8% TD rate. Third down is another strong point, as New Orleans is allowing just a 37.5% conversion rate (10th).
This defense doesn’t have many weaknesses, but they’ve been below-average against the pass. The Saints are 22nd in passing yardage allowed and T-17th in yards per attempt. New Orleans has also been a mediocre pass rush, with just a 23.8% pressure rate (T-18th). This is a good unit without many cracks in their armor, and they’ve held some of the best offenses in the league in check.
Defensive Advantage: Saints
These division games are always likely to be closer than expected, but the stats do favor the Saints in this one. Both offenses have performed below expectations to start off the 2021 season, and it’s tough to tell how much the switch to backup QB Trevor Siemian will really hurt New Orleans. The Saints were already leaning primarily on the rushing attack, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. Atlanta, meanwhile, will have to find a way to overcome the loss of Calvin Ridley for an unknown amount of time. Against Carolina, the Falcons struggled to get much going due to a number of mistakes.
On defense, the Saints have the clear advantage. New Orleans is an elite run defense and a merely below-average passing defense, but they’ve been opportunistic and have created problems for pretty much every team they’ve faced. Atlanta’s defense has been better than expected—and they probably deserve more credit for their efforts against Carolina than I’ve given them—but they’re still far from a difference-making unit. They’ll need to find a way to keep Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in check to have a chance in this one.
Overall Projection: Saints
What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ Week 9 matchup with the Saints? Do you think Atlanta can pull off the upset win on Sunday?