Tale of the Tape: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
The New Orleans Saints look to add to the misery of a division rival as they face the host Atlanta Falcons in the Week 12 Thursday nighter.
New Orleans has reeled off back-to-back victories to remain one game ahead of the hard-charging Carolina Panthers in the NFC South. The Falcons are immersed in their own position battle - specifically, looking to stay out of the division basement as they bring a six-game losing streak into this one.
Read the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
The Saints continue rolling along on the offensive side of the football, sitting third in total yards (4,191) on the strength of a passing game that ranks behind only the Denver Broncos in terms of efficiency. Quarterback Drew Brees is on pace for his fourth career 5,000-yard passing campaign, with 26 touchdown throws against just eight interceptions. The rushing game hasn't been nearly as effective, ranked 23rd in the NFL at 97.2 yards per game with just seven TDs.
Atlanta was built to compete offensively with a team like the Saints, but injuries have limited its ability to do that in 2013. Quarterback Matt Ryan has had to do without top receivers Julio Jones (foot, out for season) and Roddy White (hamstring) for major chunks of the season, resulting in the Atlanta passing offense ranking eighth in total yards after going into the year as a consensus top-3 unit. The running game is dreadful, recording the second-fewest yards in the NFL.
Edge: New Orleans
New Orleans hasn't traditionally been equated with shut-down defense, but times have changed. New Orleans comes into Thursday's game having allowed the second-fewest passing yards in football (1,914) - behind only the Houston Texans - and its 11 passing touchdowns against is tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. New Orleans is allowing 4.9 yards per carry, but has faced just 234 attempts - third-fewest in the NFL - as teams try to keep up with its pass offense.
The Falcons' punchless offense isn't doing its defensive unit any favors. Atlanta ranks 21st in passing yards against (2,492) with 21 touchdowns against - third-most in football - and just six interceptions. Teams have also run at will against the Falcons, racking up the third most opponent yards in the league (1,327) while scoring eight touchdowns; the Falcons are the only team in football ranked 30th or lower in both offensive and defensive rushing yardage per game.
Edge: New Orleans
The Saints have fared well on kick returns so far in 2013, averaging the ninth-best rate in the league (24.5 yards); things haven't been as good on punt returns, where they're just 30th (6.4). New Orleans is allowing the sixth-highest kick-return average (25.2) but has limited opponents to 6.7 yards per punt-return attempt. Kicker Garrett Hartley had made just two of his previous six field-goal attempts entering Week 11, but went 3-for-3 in the win over San Francisco.
Atlanta's kick-return game has been solid, as it's averaging 24.3 yards per attempt - one spot behind New Orleans in the rankings. It sits 24th in punt-return average (7.3). Opponents have had virtually identical numbers against the Falcons, averaging 24.1 yards per kick-return attempt and 7.6 yards per punt-return try. Kicker Matt Bryant has been as good as they come this season, connecting on 13-of-14 field goal attempts - including two in last week's loss to Tampa Bay.
"We're equal-opportunity. Whoever's getting open, whoever's got the matchup, whoever's got the hot hand. We kind of feel that and see that as the game is going on. Guys kind of know that if it's not this week or next week, it might be the following week." - Brees
"There's times when it's going to be humbling. You learn from everything, the good the bad - and sometimes more from the bad than the good. I think everybody's trying to learn from it, apply it to themselves, find ways to get better, find ways to use it as motivation and just keep going forward." - Ryan