While the Falcons have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the same is not yet true for our hated rival the New Orleans Saints. As it happens, our final game of the season in week 18 is hosting them in Atlanta. Can Arthur Smith finish his first year in Atlanta by sweeping the Saints and ruining their playoff hopes? Let’s see how the Falcons defense may fare against this New Orleans offense.
In the trenches
I’m not going to exhaust my fingers bemoaning the Falcons defensive front. It’s Grady Jarrett and no one else blah blah blah. They had been good against the run until the Bills punched them in the mouth and ran for over 200 yards. This unit needs an overhaul in 2022. With just 16 sacks on the year, Atlanta isn’t just dead last in pressuring the QB, they are substantially behind the 31st team. Fix this please Terry Fontenot!
The Saints offensive line is actually a bit of a mess right now. Their bookend tackles haven’t played together in weeks. Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk have both been dealing with knee injuries, with the latter having not played since week 10. They had already lost Andrus Peat and starting center Erik McCoy has been beat up as well, though he has played recently. This unit is down to three backups as starters and it has shown.
I’m not foolish enough to think that Atlanta is going to fully capitalize on the beat up Saints OL, but there could be those rare opportunities for disruption. If they don’t get back at least one of their 2 starting tackles, Atlanta could pull even with this decimated unit.
The skill positions
A.J. Terrell is deserving of All-Pro consideration after getting snubbed for the Pro-Bowl. He is currently the highest graded corner by PFF and his coverage stats are ridiculous. He’s allowing just 44.3% of targets to be completed for just 182 yards and a silly 6.7 yards per catch. He’s also the only player really worth writing about outside of the trenches. Young guys like Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins and Darren Hall have shown promise, but their inconsistencies have contributed to this terrible defense this year.
The Saints miss having a franchise QB. Taysom Hill is not Drew Brees. He’s not a terrible passer and he is quite dangerous on the ground, but this once dangerous aerial attack is nowhere near what it once was. Alvin Kamara is also having a down year (by his standards), averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and with only 4 rushing touchdowns. He does have 423 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns as a receiver, but teams are able to hone in on him. This receiving corps also doesn’t keep defensive coordinators up at night, especially without slant route specialist Michael Thomas out for the year.
This is a sad version of the Saints offense, but Atlanta’s defense doesn’t inspire confidence as well. They did do a fairly good job against Josh Allen, though, so that deserves some consideration and moves us towards a push.
Over the last 4 weeks, the Saints offense has scored more than 20 points just once (30 against the Jets on Dec 12th). They have been hit hard by injuries and the departure of several key players. This is not the explosive offense it used to be. That said, Atlanta isn’t particularly primed to take advantage of it. This matchup is ugly versus ugly but the Saints get the slight nod because of the Falcons inability to pressure the QB.