After last Sunday’s ugly loss in Tampa Bay, we have far surpassed the point of discussing a return to “competitiveness” this season, and as a result, our focus turns to game-by-game evaluation with an eye on the future. With that in mind, it’s time to prepare for Atlanta’s chief rival, the New Orleans Saints, as they arrive in the Georgia Dome for a special Thursday night kick-off. Let’s get to it.
Opponent - New Orleans Saints (8-2, 2-2 on road)
Time/TV - 8:25 PM ET, NFL Network
Falcons Offense vs. Saints Defense
The positives aren’t great in number for the Falcons on either side of the ball, but at the very least, it appears that the offense will be (mostly) in tact. With the exception of Sam Baker and Julio Jones (both gone for the season), Matt Ryan will have his full compliment of support, with Steven Jackson and Roddy White gaining strength plus indications that Tony Gonzalez will be full-go despite limited practice.
New Orleans has really excelled against the pass this season, allowing just 191.4 yards per game, which is good for 3rd in the NFL. However, they lost one of their top corners in Jabari Greer for the season last week, and on a short week, that will be an interesting gap to fill. Also, Roddy White looked much better physically against Tampa Bay, and without Darrelle Revis to shut him down, he could become a focal point again.
If there’s a spot to beat the Saints on this side of the ball, it’s on the ground, and that doesn’t bode well from a match-up perspective. The Falcons improved to 29th (!!!) in the league on the ground after the Antone Smith break-out late last Sunday, but the running game has been miserable for the most part. Fortunately, the Saints are just 17th in the league against the run (114 yards per game), and Steven Jackson (much like Roddy White) had a bit more spring in his step last week.
Falcons Defense vs. Saints Offense
Drew Brees is good at football, and the Saints offense is abjectly terrifying.
I could really just stop there with the “analysis”, but in the interest of fairness, we’ll keep going. Brees and the Saints are averaging 322 yards per game through the air (2nd in the NFL), and that is a dreadful match against a struggling Falcons secondary that is 22nd in the same category. Jimmy Graham is the X-factor to everything New Orleans does on offense, but on the positive, the All-Pro tight end was bottled up for just 45 yards in the Week 1 meeting between the two teams.
On the ground, the Saints are a bit banged-up, and that should help the 30th-ranked Falcons run defense. Darren Sproles (who is more of a receiver, anyway) is questionable for the game with a leg injury, and if he can’t go, that match-up problem will evaporate. Pierre Thomas is a solid player, but the Saints seem intent on giving former 1st-round pick Mark Ingram touches, and every Falcons fan should be thankful of that.
In the end, the result doesn’t matter much (read: at all) in the standings for the Falcons, but it’s always a big game when the Saints come to town. It’s been a long team since this team was playing the “spoiler” role, but I do think Atlanta will give their best effort to knock off their #1 rival in a national TV spot at home, and that could keep the game close. The “Falcons should be tanking!” crowd is out in full force, and their ideal scenario would certainly be a close-fought loss, so we’ll see how things transpire.
Stay tuned for a game thread on Thursday, and be sure to join us in the comments throughout the day!
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