After losing four out of their last five games, the Falcons were in desperate need of a break and reset. The team started to get hit with the injury bug, and it looked as if they hit a bit of a wall with an inability to get over it. While all teams go through injuries, this roster isn’t built well enough right now to properly recover from major ones.
Yet, despite that, the Falcons have been incredibly resilient and have been in the position to win games. As it sits currently, while the defense has shown some promise from some rookies, they just haven’t been able to make stops when needed down the stretch. The hope is that the rest from the bye week will recharge the group in time to go up against their most hated division rival in the New Orleans Saints.
How does this Falcons defense match up against Andy Dalton and this Saints offense?
In the trenches
While normally a solid group, the Saints offensive line has been inconsistent this season. While a regression was expected up front due to the play of Cesar Ruiz and Andreas Peat not really improving, another one of the culprits driving that inconsistency is the rash of injuries they’ve suffered throughout the season. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk has been a limited participant in practice for the past few weeks with a knee injury, and center Erik McCoy has just been reactivated from injured reserve after the Saints waived former Falcons great Josh Andrews, so it looks like he’ll be back in the starting lineup just in time to face the Falcons.
This Falcons defensive line is full of journeymen and young players, so to say there’s been inconsistency is a gross understatement. While second year player TaQuon Graham had shown good progress up front, it now seems as if he may be gone for the rest of the season. Without his help up front, offenses can ultimately use their resources to make sure Grady Jarrett doesn’t go off and wreck the game up front. While it appears as if Jalen Dalton and Arnold Ebiketie will be ready to play this Sunday, much more production will need to come from this unit for the defense to be effective. I just don’t have confidence that it will happen.
The skill positions
The Saints have taken some serious hits in the injury department all over the roster. They do have some skilled players that have been struck by injury, but this is still a dangerous group. Running back Alvin Kamara is still a threat in the backfield even if he hasn’t been very effective on the ground this year, offensive weapon Taysom Hill has been a thorn in the Falcons’ side for a bit now, and rookie wide receiver Chris Olave is a big play threat. If quarterback Andy Dalton is given time in the pocket, it could end up being a long day for the Falcons’ defensive backfield.
The Falcons secondary and linebacker corps have shown flashes at times, from the elite speed and athleticism from rookie Troy Andersen to cornerback AJ Terrell finding his form in coverage. However, this will be one of those times where this team will have to play as a complete unit to slow down the weapons of the Saints. Richie Grant has shown flashes as a starter, but I need to see him display confidence in his instincts and be aggressive to make plays while in the box and in coverage. This is still a young group overall going against a vet in Andy Dalton, so it will definitely be a challenge for the backend.
This Falcons defense has certainly been opportunistic at times throughout the season. This will be one of those games where they will have to be as opportunistic as possible and create some turnovers against this Saints offense that still has weapons that can hurt them. The key here is affecting Andy Dalton.
While I know there are many Falcons fans out there that want Coach Dean Pees to be aggressive and go after Dalton, that could ultimately lead to explosive plays and quick scores considering they haven’t been getting home in recent games when Pees does blitz. The hope (and I emphasize hope) is that the Falcons front four can generate pressure without the need of a blitz to really harass Dalton. If that can happen, the defense can force turnovers and give the offense some opportunities to put points on the board.
This is one of those games where one hopes that players like Lorenzo Carter and Arnold Ebiketie just decide to have a coming out party and wreck the Saints game plan altogether. However, if the defense can be relentless and make key stops, this game is very winnable on the Saints’ turf.