3TFO: Falcons @ Saints, Week 10
The Atlanta Falcons take their undefeated 8-0 record to the Superdome this week in an exciting NFC South matchup. This game looks much different than it did before the season, with the Saints floundering at 3-5, though the Falcons won’t be any less motivated after getting swept last season by their division rivals. There are plenty of other storylines too, including Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton playing against his former team.
Coming off a short week, will the Saints play with the same intensity they showed in their win on Monday, or will they lay an egg at home, as they’ve done earlier this season? The Falcons should be able to score against a defense that’s been historically bad through eight games. We’ll see whether Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense can keep up.
The Saints are coming off their best game of the season in terms of pressuring the quarterback, albeit against a porous and injury-riddled Eagles offensive line. Replicating that performance against Matt Ryan is unlikely, though they should be able to get some pressure. The Falcons line ranks 24th in Pass Blocking Efficiency with 94 pressures allowed and can be susceptible on the right side, where Tyson Clabo and rookie Peter Konz have both graded negatively this season. That’s good news for Saints end Cameron Jordan, who had his best game of the season on Monday with nine QB disruptions. He’ll look to exploit Clabo similarly to how players such as Charles Johnson have done so this season, but don’t necessarily expect that to happen — despite their success against the Eagles, Jordan and right end Will Smith still rank among the worst 4-3 ends in Pass Rush Productivity.
New Orleans should have some opportunities to get to Ryan, as his average time in the pocket before attempting a pass is 2.56 seconds, just below the league-average of 2.57. And the Falcons will have a lot of designed quick throws, where the ball comes out on the first read, but they also like to take shots downfield with their talented receivers. To give their front-four a chance, the Saints’ defensive backs will need to have good initial coverage (something they might be incapable of doing) and make Ryan stand in the pocket and go to his secondary reads. Steve Spagnuolo should be wary of blitzing, though, as Ryan is one of the league’s best with a 102.1 QB rating against the blitz.
Saints’ Ground Game
Even with Darren Sproles out, the Saints had their best rushing game of the season against the Eagles, with the trio of Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram, and Pierre Thomas all finishing above 4.5 YPC. Getting his first carries of the season, Ivory was the spark and his 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter helped set the tone for the rest of the game. He’s not as elusive as Sproles or Thomas, but brings a combination of size, toughness, and burst that the Saints have been lacking in the run game. And although he didn’t cough up the ball, he’s had fumble issues and flashed some careless ball-handling against the Eagles. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons can exploit this when Ivory runs the ball.
The Saints have been best running to the left, behind tackle Jermon Bushrod, where they’re averaging 6.0 ypc to the left-side C-gap and 8.8 to the left edge. They’ve been weak in the interior, though, averaging less than 3 yards per carry in the A- and B-gaps. Conversely, the Falcons haven’t been great in run defense this season and have countered by playing more three-defensive-tackle looks, with a combination of Jonathan Babineaux, Vance Walker, Peria Jerry, and Corey Peters. Walker is the stoutest of the group and has seen more snaps in recent weeks. The Falcons will likely be in nickel for much of the game, so we’ll see how their front, along with linebackers Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas hold up against the run.
Atlanta’s been much more flexible defensively this season under Mike Nolan, with Kroy Biermann and John Abraham excelling in their transitions to hybrid end-outside linebacker roles. The Saints will need to maintain balance, especially with Charles Brown potentially starting at right tackle as it will be tough if the Falcons can go all out in rushing Brees.
Julio Jones vs. Patrick Robinson
Though he’ll face a few different Saint defenders throughout the game, expect to see Julio Jones lined up across from Patrick Robinson on most plays. Going by the numbers, this matchup looks like one of the biggest mismatches in favor of Atlanta. Jones, targeted eight times per game, has caught 40 passes for 628 yards and scored five touchdowns on the year making his 2.14 yards per route run one of the best marks in the league. Robinson on the other hand is giving up 2.19 yards per snap in coverage which is the third-highest among all CB’s. Also take in the fact that quarterbacks have a rating of 101.5 when throwing at him. While he’s made some big plays this season, such as the 99-yard pick-six against the Eagles, he’s giving opposing quarterbacks too many reasons to look his way. They are doing just that as the CB is being targeted close to eight times per game and just about once every five snaps in coverage.
Robinson will have to be especially careful in defending the deep ball, as a quarter of Jones’ targets come 20 or more yards downfield. However, the focus can’t be only on the deep ball, as the Falcons try to get the ball to their second-year receiver in a variety of ways. This includes screens and quick passes to take advantage of his skills after the catch. If he’s not on his game, Robinson will almost certainly add to his total of eight missed tackles on the season.