The Falcons have the opportunity to halt the Saints winning streak on Sunday. If they’re going to do it, the offense needs to be firing on all cylinders, because New Orleans has a good defense this year despite some players taking a step back. Let’s take a look at how these units match up.
In the trenches
Right now, the Falcons offensive line is playing pretty well. Matt Ryan’s improved performances of late have partly been because of this unit doing better in pass protection. No one has improved more than Chris Lindstrom, who is living up to the draft hype at this point. Tackles Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary are doing ok on the outside, though they need to improve this week given the competition. It’s the combo of Alex Mack and James Carpenter that gives some pause. Mack has improved as of late, but Carpenter is in the bottom third of the league in PFF scores. On whole, it’s a good overall unit but one that is still prone to being beat up by a good pass rush.
No Saints player is doing more damage to QBs than Trey Hendrickson, who has 7.5 sacks on the year and leads the team. Cameron Jordan normally plays well against Atlanta, but his game status is something to watch. Likewise, Malcom Brown is stout against the run in the middle while David Onyemata is a good all-round interior defender, with 3 sacks to his name. Former first round pick Marcus Davenport only has 1.5 sacks, but he’s a player that has improved every year in the league and has been quite good against the run.
Right now, much will depend on the status of Jordan. He didn’t practice Wednesday and if he misses the game that will be a big blow to this defensive front. Even still, the Saints have several quality guys up front and that’s going to give them the slight edge here.
The skill positions
Matt Ryan has been playing much better in recent weeks and having a healthy Julio Jones is certainly a big reason why. Potentially getting Calvin Ridley back will only bolster this unit. The improved play of depth players like Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheus only makes them more dangerous. Hayden Hurst has shown glimpses of his potential, but it has been hit or miss. Todd Gurley has also been all over the place, sometimes looking amazing and then looking completely pedestrian. Of course, much of this up and down sporadic play is a result of Dirk Koetter, who finds unique ways of strangling this unit and limiting their potential.
Right now, the Saints corners are a mixed bag. Janoris Jenkins is playing ok but Marshon Lattimore has taken a big step back this year. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson had a strong rookie year but has been pretty bad this year as well. At linebacker, Demario Davis is decent but struggles in coverage while Kwon Alexander played well in his first game for the Saints but has been pretty dreadful the past few years. Veteran safety Malcom Jenkins is still a quality player, though not the guy he used to be and Marcus Williams is a force against the run and a good player overall.
The Saints have some talent in the back half of the offense, but enough gaps that the Falcons depth can take advantage of. Atlanta gets the nod here.
This matchup will boil down to two things. First, keep Matt Ryan clean. Second, Dirk Koetter needs to be less stupid than normal. Those things are possible but I’m not sure how much money I’d put on both of them happening concurrently. Given that, this feels like a toss-up, though the Falcons could gain a slight edge if everything goes their way.