After the mid-season bye, the Saints and Falcons meet for the first time this season in the Superdome, New Orleans. Two polar opposite first halves to their respective seasons with the Saints sitting pretty atop the NFC South with a 7-1 record and the Falcons wallowing bottom of the division with just 1 win to their name at 1-7. Surprisingly the Falcons only win came against the much-fancied Eagles but they have endured losses to the Vikings, Colts, Titans, Texans, Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks. 3 of these teams the Saints have already beaten and will be looking to add the dirty birds to that list on Sunday. Normally the game which Saints fans look for first on the schedule, they will go into this one with huge amounts of confidence and as clear favourites to get to 8-1. As always let’s look at the oppositions stand out players.
The side of the ball which hasn’t been all bad for the Falcons this year, they have put up some points. Whether that be with starting Quarterback Matt Ryan or with his recent injury, Matt Schaub. Both of the Matt’s like to throw, mainly because of the lack of a running game, the Falcons actually lead the NFL in pass yards per game (317). This will be no different on Sunday, whoever the QB. With the Saints standout rush defense, they will try and make the Falcons as one dimensional as possible, forcing the pass on most downs. With weapons at Wide Receiver, this could work well for the Falcons but the Saints will back their secondary and hope to force as many turnovers as possible.
Both Ryan and Schaub sit around a 2:1 TD to Interception ratio (15/8 and 2/1 respectively), takeaways from picks will be the aim of Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple and the safeties game. One very important aspect of the Falcons offensive will be protecting the man under centre.
21 Sacks allowed by the Falcons offensive line is a massive area to exploit by the Saints pass rush. With Cam Jordan playing as well as he ever has plus pressure from Sheldon Rankins, Trey Hendrickson and Marcus Davenport they will have their hands full. I’m expecting big sack games from the saints D-Line, say 6+. This way the pass happy Falcons will keep getting pushed further and further back forcing those “Hollywood pass” attempts to their big framed receivers and hopefully turnovers will ensue.
Speaking of receivers, let’s talk Julio Jones. For me, one of the most overrated receivers in the league. I’m not saying he is a bad player, because he is clearly very good but just not a top 3 guys as many people in the media seem to think. Give me Michael Thomas any day of the week, hell, give me Mike Evans or Chris Godwin too. One thing Jones has added to his game is Touchdowns, with 4 on the year, different to previous years where he seemed to be all yards and no scores. 712 yards so far with 89 per game he is the leading receiver for the heavily passing Falcons offense I do feel this should be even higher. Whether it is Marshon Lattimore or Eli Apple in coverage, we will find out but if it is Lattimore, I believe he can add Jones to his already long list of star players covered and shutdown.
One thing the Falcons offense does do well in the passing game is spread the ball around. With the next 3 leading receivers heavily out gaining the Saints 2nd receiver (Ted Ginn Jr.) in terms of yards, although Mo Sanu has since left the club. Across from Jones is Calvin Ridley. Ridley really broke out against the Saints last season which led to Lattimore switching into coverage of him. Stat line reads 443 yards on 33 receptions and 4 Touchdowns, notably the same as Julio Jones on a lot less yards.
The second highest Falcons receiver is actually a tight end, Austin Hooper. The highest scoring TD catcher with 5, Hooper is a big target and is definitely the type of player the Saints were hoping Jared Cook would be. The secondary will have to be aware of Hooper in both the passing and blocking game, especially in the RedZone. I have no doubt Sean Payton will have planned perfectly for this triple threat in the pass over the bye week.
In the run game, it’s well, all a bit meh. Devonta Freeman. 8 games, 333 yards, no touchdowns, 2 fumbles, 1 recovered by the opposition. Putting this into context, Alvin Kamara, in 6 games, has 373 yards and Latavius Murray has 359 across his 8. Putting that into more context, Murray has 221 in his last two games when Kamara was out. The Falcons have not and cannot establish the run. Now they come into New Orleans against one of the best run defences in the league, even better than the 4th rating they currently hold in the NFL (in terms of yards). Sure, they will try and get on the ground but I can’t see it being very productive once again.
Flipping the script to the defensive side, they love to give up points. Lower than 20th in the NFL across the board, they give up the 3rd highest points per game (31). With Drew Brees back as the starter, players coming back healthy off the bye and Michael Thomas being Michael Thomas the Falcons are going to struggle here. Alvin Kamara may or may not be playing (limited so far) but Latavius Murray has more than filled in for the run game. The Saints may have a full squad to choose from in this one, not good news for the Falcons.
Covering Michael Thomas is yet to be determined. With Desmond Trufant currently limited it may be Isaiah Oliver. Trufant certainly has experience on his side and would be the preferred option for the Falcons but if his isn’t healthy, he can’t cover Thomas. Oliver is young but has talent but still, not a guy the Falcons will want against Thomas.
In the pass rush, the Falcons only have 7 sacks on the season, last in the NFL. Cam Jordan has 8 on his own. The Saints have one of the best offensive lines in the league with the leading centre and one of the best tackle duos in Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead – top 5 in sacks allowed. They will be confident to protect Brees and hold the Falcons to a big fat 0 sacks. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is the top guy with 3 sacks on the year which is the same as both Marcus Davenport and Trey Hendrickson for the Saints. No joy here for the dirty birds.
Really that looks about it. They do have some good linemen and can stop the run. However, if the Saints have both Murray and Kamara available, I can’t see them stopping both of the varying styles of play as well as stopping Brees finding targets down the field.
In a typical Saints fashion this season I expect the box score to look a little closer than the game actually is with some garbage time yards and points put up by the Falcons. The dirty birds will score some points here but I expect the Saints to put up a lot more. Not allowing the Falcons into an early lead is important and keeping the dome as loud as possible will help, this is a rivalry game so will play a big part. The last key point is not to be complacent. It is expected by most people that the 7-1 Saints should beat the 1-7 Falcons but you can never take a game in the NFL lightly. At home, with the majority, if not all of the team healthy, Saints win.
Be loud. Beat the dirty birds.
Saints 38 – Falcons 24