Tale of the tape: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
Time is running out on the Saints, as they travel to Atlanta to face the rival Falcons Thursday night. Find out how this matchup breaks down in all three facets of the game with our tale of the tape.
New Orleans was held under 28 points for the first time in four games against San Francisco last Sunday. Drew Brees threw for only 267 yards in the loss, but did find the end zone three times to go along with two interceptions. Brees has thrown 11 picks already this season after tossing only 14 all of last year. Perhaps he's trying to do too much, with the Saints ground game stuck in neutral. They ran for just 59 yards on 21 attempts last Sunday, and are averaging 91.5 rush yards per game on the season.
Atlanta has been the picture of consistency on offense this season, scoring at least 23 points in all but one of its 11 games. Matt Ryan has thrown for over 300 yards in four consecutive games, while Jacquizz Rodgers appears to be slowly overtaking Michael Turner as the team's feature running back. With Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez enjoying tremendous success, the Falcons’ ground game has become a bit of an afterthought this season.
Not surprisingly, we've seen the Saints defense take a step back in the post-Gregg Williams era. They did appear to be gaining some traction, having held their last three opponents to a combined 57 points before giving up 31 against the 49ers. Their defense - or lack thereof - is a big reason why the Saints have been outgained in terms of total yardage in each of their last seven contests. Note that New Orleans has held its own defensively in this series, giving up 24 points or less in regulation time in five of its last six meetings with Atlanta.
The Falcons haven't been healthy on the defensive side of the football for much of the season, but have still put up some solid numbers. They've been gashed by the run at times, allowing 4.8 yards per rush on the year, but have made up for it with a secondary that allows just seven yards per pass play. Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson, and Peria Jerry have all missed practice time this week, but at least two of the three are expected to play Thursday night.
The Saints have been atrocious on punt returns this season, averaging a paltry 5.8 yards per return. It's unlikely we'll see them break through in that department against a Falcons special teams unit that allows only 7.6 ypr. The good news is, the Saints’ kick return game has been much better, gaining a whopping 27.9 ypr. Specialist Courtney Roby has been a big contributor. Kicker Garrett Hartley hasn't been busy, converting on only nine of 12 field goal attempts.
Like the Saints, the Falcons have struggled returning punts, but have performed above the league average on kickoffs. They'll go against a New Orleans special teams unit that allows close to nine yards per punt return, and 22 yards on kickoffs. Few kickers have been as reliable as Matt Bryant this season. He's had a heavy workload, and has made the most of it, converting 26-of-31 field goal attempts.
Word on the street
"It makes it more juicy. It makes the rivalry better. And I like competing against these guys. We always know we're gonna get a good game." -- Saints safety Roman Harper referring to the trash talk leading up to this week's game.
"Ten and one is great, but I'll tell you what I've said since the beginning of the season: We're just jockeying for position. We just want to put ourselves in the best position, playing the best football." -- Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez speaking about his team's NFC-best record.