May 27, 2024

There isn’t another football rivalry that generates as much disgust and as many frequently humorous jabs between fanbases as the one between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately, Atlanta fans have suffered as a result of that rivalry becoming a bit too one-sided in recent years.

This Sunday presents the Falcons with a crucial chance to begin making those corrections. Should they win, they will take back control of the NFC South; should they lose, their chances of winning the division will diminish and become nonexistent.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons

To get there, they’ll need to get by the Saints at home, leaning on their strengths, improving their weaknesses, and hoping to get the inconsistent, kinda crappy version of New Orleans that has shown up several times this season. I’d really like to bask in the glory of a win over the team I hate the most in the world, personally.

Here’s what you should know about Sunday’s game.

Without knowing the teams or records, you would probably conclude that these two teams were separated by more than just one game if you were to compare these rankings side by side. The fact that the Saints have managed to turn an offense that is decent enough and a defense that ranks in the top ten in terms of yards and points allowed into just a 5-5 record in the worst football division is a testament to how strange and dysfunctional the team is.

The Falcons, on the other hand, have had their moments but, as their record indicates, they are still a passable football team. They are inferior at practically everything else, but they are superior at rushing and stopping the run than the Saints, which should start to matter on Sunday. Specifically, the turnovers are a worry for a team that hasn’t had many and areas.

The Saints’ transformation
As is often the case, New Orleans conducted its traditional bloodletting and then managed to find sufficient funding to make significant additions. They added Derek Carr, Nathan Shepherd, Jamaal Williams, Khalen Saunders, and Shy Tuttle in free agency but lost Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, Kaden Elliss, and Shy Tuttle.

In terms of money and the potential impact on the Saints’ offense, Carr was the biggest addition, but he hasn’t performed up to expectations. Carr, who enjoys yelling at his teammates, has been a decent, if not exceptional, quarterback. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns, but he has also turned the ball over eight times—four interceptions and four fumbles. Fortunately, Carr hasn’t consistently improved that passing game despite having a wealth of weapons at his disposal in Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, and Rashid Shaheed.

Williams has been an occasionally useful running back for a Saints team, while Shepherd has been fairly good and Saunders has been passable as the team attempted to shore up their losses on the interior of the line.

Still, the Saints did add some valuable talent in the draft. While Isaiah Foskey might develop into a strong pass rusher and first-round pick Bryan Bresee seems like a player, my favorite rookie wide receiver is still A.T. Perry. But nobody in their class, save for Bresee, is having a significant immediate impact.

Though, in typical Saints fashion, they are competitive this year despite all that. The Saints still appear to be a team that needs some home run draft picks and mid-tier signings to really pan out to remain relevant in the coming years. They should be concerned about the future, and we should be happy about it.

What to know about the match on Sunday
You must first be aware that Michael Thomas and Marshon Lattimore are no longer with the Falcons. That sidelines one of the team’s better receivers (though Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed are still available), as well as a cornerback who has caused Atlanta a great deal of frustration over the years. The Saints are already not a very good team, so both of those absences will be felt. It’s also important to remember that Derek Carr, who is recuperating from a concussion, might not play in this important game.

The Falcons will meet a few new players and one very familiar one if that’s the case. I’m surprised the Falcons weren’t interested in 6’5″ receiver A.T. Perry toward the end of the draft; maybe he just left before they had a chance to draft him? With Thomas out, Perry will probably see some playing time. With career-best Pro Football Focus ratings in coverage, Isaac Yiadom is having an excellent year at cornerback and is expected to play a lot of snaps in relief of Lattimore. In addition, Carr’s old rival Jameis Winston would take over, which is not comforting considering that Winston, despite being an inconsistent passer prone to turnovers, has had games where he absolutely destroyed the Falcons.

They make an otherwise complicated matchup for Atlanta much simpler. The Falcons have suffered their worst losing streak since 2010–2013 with six straight losses to the Saints, and they have struggled mightily to stop players like Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill. Atlanta has only once scored 27 points against a formidable New Orleans defense, and in five of their previous seven games, they have scored fewer than 20 points. Against Atlanta, New Orleans consistently arrives prepared to play, and the opposite has not been the case.

In terms of offense, the Falcons should take every precaution to keep Paulson Adebo off the field. He is having an excellent season and is the type of player who can capitalize on a mistake made by Desmond Ridder, as evidenced by his four interceptions and thirteen pass deflections. Teams seem to be better off going after Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye, Pete Werner, and other players via Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith. In coverage, teams seem to be more successful going after New Orleans’ tight ends and linebackers. The only real concern I have with Lattimore out of the picture is Adebo, but the Falcons don’t really have many good receiver options to test Isaac Yiadom and Alontae Taylor. Oh, and the greater fear, which is probably the Falcons making mistakes.

Running well allows them to assist themselves in this way. Although the Saints rank near the bottom of the league in yards per attempt and yards per game, their run defense is still quite strong, so the Falcons shouldn’t be afraid to use Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier. Allgeier did decimate New Orleans a year ago, with 17 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown in Desmond Ridder’s first start, even though Robinson should be the center of attention for the offense. With one of the lowest grades in the league this year after finishing with one of the lowest grades the previous year, the Saints also quietly have a serious vulnerability to stumbling quarterbacks. Ridder will have the chance to test them with.

Atlanta is well-aware of the defensive challenge at hand. Considering that Hill’s deep passes and frustrating runs have been ruining the Falcons defense for years, keeping him in check is probably very close to priority #1. They will need to exert pressure on Derek Carr, who is not agile or astute enough to consistently elude sacks and has the 25th-best Pro Football Focus grade against pressure in the NFL. Carr’s tendency to fumble under duress, similar to Ridder’s, highlights how crucial it is for Atlanta to be able to get home—something they haven’t done frequently enough in recent weeks. The arsenal of weapons here may present issues—Taysom Hill and Joshua Johnson versus Richie Grant and Atlanta.

It should also be possible for them to hold Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Williams in check. Even with his stellar career, Kamara has only had a few standout games against Atlanta, and none of them occurred in 2022. I do believe the Saints will need to win this game through the air and with some Hill-related sleuthing, as Kamara’s numbers have been modest this season and the Falcons’ run defense has remained formidable—aside from containing scrambling quarterbacks, which is not a major concern this week unless Hill is under center.

So what is the recipe? Really, it’s an all too familiar one. The Falcons can win this game, even though it will probably be a nail-biter and a frustrating Sunday, if they can cut down on their big errors, play fundamentally sound football, and capitalize on their offensive strengths by running well and making a few big plays through the air. They are likely to lose and the season is all but over if they perform like they have much of the season left, with all the major and minor issues that entails. We’re going to find out if the Falcons can overcome their bye week and start over with answers to those issues, or if even in the most important game against their most formidable opponents.

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