Falcons Offense vs Saints Defense
With all the talent they have, you’d expect the Falcons to rank higher than 18th in yards/play.
However, it is worth noting that their receivers have dealt with injuries this season, but both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley will play. With improved receiver play, this offense looks ready to take off.
After all, quarterback Matt Ryan ranks fourth in expected points added (EPA), per Player Profiler, but his supporting cast efficiency ranks just 20th. Thus, it is safe to say that he has been let down by the players around him, and you wouldn’t expect that to continue to be the case.
The Saints have performed better recently in pass coverage, but they have also benefitted greatly from turnovers, and cornerback Marshon Lattimore will likely play hurt with an abdominal injury. With Atlanta ranking 4th in passing yards/attempt over their past three games, that injury comes at a bad time.
Most likely, if he plays, he’ll shadow Ridley while they double Jones, but New Orleans also hasn’t ever faced the Falcons with a No. 2 cornerback like Janoris Jenkins, so maybe they change their tendencies.
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Ryan hasn’t been sacked an extraordinary amount this season, but his 2.89 time to throw is one of the longest in league, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Thus, there will be opportunities for the Saints’ revamped pass rush to pressure him, with a few key matchups sticking out: Cameron Jordan versus second-year right tackle Kaleb McGary and David Onyemata versus a weak interior offensive line.
What can save New Orleans in this game is Atlanta’s play-calling. Despite having one of the top-performing quarterbacks in the NFL, they rank just 13th in early-down pass frequency (excluding 4th quarter), per Sharp Football Statistics.
Not only are they depriving their passing attack of more opportunities, but it’s not as though they are running the ball effectively. They rank just 30th in rushing yards/attempt, with a regressed Todd Gurley receiving most of the carries.
Between Jones, Ridley, and tight end Hayden Hurst, the Saints will have their hands full slowing down a Falcons offense that is heating up.
On the bright side, there are some individual matchups that favor New Orleans in terms of pressuring Ryan, while the Falcons’ reliance on their rushing attack may continue to prevent them from maximizing on their potential.
I think we’ll see the Saints allow some points in this game, but how much they do depends greatly on Atlanta’s early-down play-calling; more passing = uglier results for New Orleans.
Saints Offense vs Falcons Defense
The Falcons rank last in yards/play allowed, so the Saints should dominate, right?
Not so fast. Not only have they had a brutal schedule of opposing offenses, but they have gotten out to early leads, which has forced said offenses to pass the ball and find more success.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that they rank 31st in second-half points allowed/game, as compared to 7th in the first half. In other words, they are a much better defense than the statistics would indicate.
We have no idea to know what to expect with New Orleans’ offense. Taysom Hill has a total of 18 pass attempts for his career, is a former undrafted free agent, and is also 30-years-old. Yet, Payton has continued to show faith in him as a future starting quarterback, which is fascinating considering how smart of an offensive mind he is.
I am guessing this offense looks nothing like we’ve seen from offenses led by Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater. The Saints will likely look to win with an explosive rushing attack led by Hill, Alvin Kamara, and Latavius Murray.
However, not only is that not a stable approach to scoring points, but it doesn’t fit with the Falcons at all.
Atlanta’s pass defense ranks 30th, while their run defense ranks 12th. Meanwhile, the weakness of New Orleans’ offense has been inconsistent play from their interior offensive line, so I’d expect interior defender Grady Jarrett to throw a massive wrench in their plans.
Perhaps Hill will take some shots down the field? Similarly to an offense led by Winston, this would help combat the offense’s decrease efficiency.
Hill’s intended air yard per attempt is in the double digits. Unfortunately, I trust Winston far more on those plays than Hill, given the former Buccaneer quarterback’s far greater track record of success.
With Hill, Payton needs to not have this be all about replicating the Ravens with a power rushing attack.
The Saints are not built to win this way, as they have invested in playmakers and pass protecting tackles, rather than their interior offensive line, or a tight end (Jared Cook) known for blocking well.
The only way I see this working is if Payton leverages the threat of Hill in the running game to open up opportunities for receivers Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, so for that reason, expect the team’s play-action pass frequency numbers to increase dramatically.
The Saints could catch the Falcons by complete surprise, but they also could get shutout. There is a lot of variance with how the offense will perform, but that’s generally going to be the case with so much uncertainty at the game’s most critical position.