The list of the most intriguing Atlanta Falcons this week features several players who will have critical roles if they hope to beat their rival Saints, including one player making his return to the starting lineup and one set to face his old team.
It starts with quarterback Desmond Ridder, who is returning to the lineup after being benched for two games. The Falcons coaching staff is terming it a “reset” for Ridder.
He’s expected to start for the remainder of the season, but his status as the team’s top signal-caller beyond 2023 is in jeopardy. If he was demoted once, it can easily happen again when the team should have plenty of alternatives to upgrade the position this offseason. Ridder must prove that this reset was worthwhile first by eliminating turnovers, the primary catalyst for his demotion in the first place.
After a big stink was made about running back Bijan Robinson’s lack of touches after the Falcons’ Week 9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, we saw a big increase in his workload the following week against the Arizona Cardinals. It paid off with Robinson having a productive game as an individual, but didn’t pay off for the team due to the Falcons losing in Arizona.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has recently discussed continuing to feature Robinson, and hopefully this week it will lead to greater team success.
Another player who hopes increased individual success this week will lead to greater team success will be tight end Kyle Pitts. Like the Falcons, the Saints have struggled to defend tight ends this year. Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson eviscerated the Saints' defense to the tune of 11 catches and 134 yards in Week 10.
The Falcons hope their tight ends have comparable success against the Saints this week, and Pitts and Jonnu Smith are the two most likely to benefit should it happen.
Defensively, the Saints present many challenges that linebacker Kaden Elliss will be out front in terms of preventing. Two of those challenges will come in the form of covering Saints running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Taysom Hill, a pair of players who have had a lot of past success against the Falcons defense.
Elliss is uniquely positioned to help stymie their success, due to his past as a teammate of both players for four seasons prior to joining the Falcons this offseason. Four years of practicing against them should give Elliss some insight into ways to contain both, and the Falcons will need his best effort today to do so.
The Falcons' defense has given up far too many explosive plays during their recent three-game losing streak. The Falcons need to avoid that continuing for a fourth game, and that responsibility could fall primarily on safety Jessie Bates. That’s especially true because the team will be facing the speedy Saints wide receiver Rashid Shaheed this week.
With nickel cornerback Dee Alford recovering from an ankle injury and backups Clark Phillips and Mike Hughes not being known as speedsters, Shaheed could present a major challenge for the Falcons' defense. Thus, Bates will have to provide much-needed deep help for whoever lines up in the slot if they don’t want to have a fourth week where explosive plays prove the downfall of the unit.
Can you name other Falcons that intrigue you in this week’s rivalry game?