The New Orleans Saints pay their annual visit to Atlanta this week, with a lot of season implications on the line. The Saints are threatened to sink to 0-2 in division play, and the Falcons are looking to advance to 2-0 in the same category. If the Falcons take a 2-0 lead in the division to start the season, it will be very difficult for the Saints to bounce back later in the season to gain back this valuable tie breaker.
Atlanta isn’t an easy stadium to play in. The southeastern section of the United States is a very passionate section, one full of rabid fans that eat up game days, especially when their teams are good. Atlanta is one of the better fan bases in America.
This preview will probably be a little bit different then what you are accustomed to seeing. We will be running five key team match-ups, and compiling a final score based on projections from those match-ups.
What are we waiting for? Shall we begin?
Saints Passing Offense against Falcons Passing Defense
Drew Brees has still appeared to be one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. For the majority of his throws, he has been on the money with his shots down the field, into the flat, and putting people into position to make plays. Brees is completing a ridiculous 81.3% of his passes right now.
Brees’ top receiver, Michael Thomas, is catching 93% of his targets, securing 28 of the 30 attempts his way. He has 269 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns, and has so far been borderline unstoppable. Ted Ginn has been Brees’ deep threat, averaging 13.7 yards per catch. Alvin Kamara out of the backfield has been extremely effective, he’s caught 15 of his 18 targets.
The Falcons secondary has been stiffer then most this season. In the first two games, they have disrupted 19% of the opposing teams passes. Opposing offenses have gone after Ricardo Allen, with Desmond Trufant covering one side of the field himself. Allen has held his ground well, deflecting three passes and intercepting another. Brian Poole is holding up well in the slot, and was featured in my film study on Thursday.
The Falcons safeties are in a little trouble with Keanu Neal out for the season. They gave up three touchdown passes last week to Cam Newton, including a 51 yard bomb to rookie receiver DJ Moore. This could be a problematic match-up on the back end for this team.
Projection – Saints 21 Falcons 0
Falcons Passing Offense against Saints Passing Defense
Matt Ryan didn’t look like himself week one against the Eagles. He was late on so many throws, just played off, and didn’t deliver the way we are accustomed to seeing him deliver. Week two, however, was a different story, as Ryan accounted for 4 touchdowns, 2 through his arm and 2 more with his legs.
Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and rookie Calvin Ridley is one of the scariest wide receiver lineups in the league. Ridley caught his first score last week, an 11 yard strike from Matty Ice. Tight end Austin Hooper and running back Tevin Coleman provide reliable dump options for Ryan to put the ball when the play starts to break down.
The Saints defense here is a little vulnerable. Marcus Lattimore hasn’t at all looked like himself, and this secondary has allowed four long touchdown passes (58, 50, 36, 47 respectively) already this season. Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson scored two of those, and Browns rookie Antonio Callaway scored another. The equation here is simple, speed is killing this defense.
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Sanu and Ridley could potentially have big games here. They both posses sub 4.4 speed, and might be able to torch this secondary deep over cornerbacks Ken Crawley and Patrick Robinson. Matt Ryan is a completely different quarterback at home, and guess what? He’s playing at home this week.
Projection: Saints 0, Falcons 28
Saints Rushing Offense against Falcons Rushing Defense
The Saints are struggling mightily from the loss of Mark Ingram, who currently is sitting a four game suspension for PED use. Alvin Kamara is a very good running back, but the Saints haven’t really schemed him into the role of the star running back. They have been content to lean on Drew Brees and the passing game, and continue to use Kamara as a Darren Sproles type of player.
The real mistake they have made is that they still try to use Mike Gillislee as a Mark Ingram type running back. Gillislee has not delivered, running for just 27 yards the first two games and averaging a measly 2.5 yards per carry. Kamara hasn’t been schemed to run, as the Saints haven’t tried to get him too involved in the run game. He’s carried the ball 21 times for 75 yards.
This is the week they need to try to get Kamara more involved. The Falcons are giving up 5.2 yards per carry so far this season, as the Falcons are missing one of their defensive captains in Deion Jones. I think the Saints realize this, they will open the run game with their passing attack, and get it going with Kamara.
Projection – Saints 14 Falcons 0
Falcons Rushing Offense against Saints Rushing Defense
The Falcons are in very much the same spot that the Saints are. The Falcons are missing their bell cow running back in Devonta Freeman, who was hurt in week ones game against the Eagles. He is out with a knee injury. Tevin Coleman is now the back in Atlanta.
The only difference between the situations is that the Falcons found ways to run the football. Coleman had a huge game last week, carrying the ball 16 times for 107 yards. He busted several long runs in that game with his freaky athleticism and ability to read the hole. Rookie fourth round pick Ito Smith, out of Southern Mississippi, saw ample playing time as well and had good explosiveness.
The Saints are giving up 3.4 yards per carry this season, and it’s taken opponents 61 carries to get to 205 yards. They are playing well against the run, with AJ Klein and Demario Davis stepping up to the challenges. They handled a tough Eagles team, who saw about four different running backs, and a good Browns running game. There is no reason to doubt that the Saints won’t be able to do the same in this game.
The last fact that needs to be pointed out: Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith both fumbled so far this season.
Projection – Saints 0 Falcons 7
This is where the game comes down to the wire. The first key is the field position game.
Saints punter Thomas Moorstead has been great this season, as usual. He is currently averaging 47.9 yards per punt. Four of his punts have been returned, averaging 4.9 yards per return. Saints opponents average starting on their own 27 yard line.
Falcons punter Matt Bosher is close to Moorstead, averaging 46.5 yards per punt. He’s seen six punts be returned for an average of 6.3 yards per return. Falcons opponents average starting at their own 21 yard line.
Falcons kicker Matt Bosher hasn’t missed a field goal try yet. He missed an extra point against the Eagles, but Bosher nailed a 52 yarder against the Eagles. He still looks good.
The Saints kicker is a little bit more of a question mark. Will Lutz missed a 44 yard try against the Browns, and hasn’t attempted from 50 or more yet this season. His career long is a 57 yard try, but has gone 7 of 12 from that range.
Projection – Falcons 6 Saints 3
The Saints and Falcons will be a shootout, and it will be judged by who ever makes the first mistake. I think in this case, the Saints special teams unit will fall short, and the Falcons will squeeze by.
Projection – Saints 38 Falcons 41
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