The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons renew hostilities when they meet at the Ceasars Superdome this Sunday. It’s the 105th meeting between one of the NFL’s most underrated rivalries. The Falcons lead the series, 53-51, with a tie 26-26 when those teams play in New Orleans.
The Saints have resumed the rivalry since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006. During Payton’s time with the franchise, New Orleans is 20-8 against Atlanta, including 10-4 at home. The Saints have won six of the last seven games in the series.
New Orleans enter the game with a 5-2 record. Their offense took on a whole new aspect with the offseason retirement of QB Drew Brees and the end of season injury to WR Michael Thomas. The Saints relied more than ever on solid defense, field position and attacking balance.
The balance will be even more crucial after last week’s season-ending injury to QB Jameis Winston. The Saints enter the game 29th in overall offense, averaging just under 306 yards per outing. Their 31st ranked passing attack (180 yards / game) will cede the reins to QB Trevor Siemian this Sunday.
New Orleans should rely more on their ground game. Physical superiority has often made the difference in the last few games against an Atlanta 3-4 team. The Falcons’ defense ranks 16th in the NFL, allowing an average of 358 yards per game. They rank 12th against the pass, but the 27.9 points per game against them only rank 25th.
Atlanta was pushed around defensively in 2021, a problem that dates back a few years. They’ll try to reverse that trend against a New Orleans looking to intimidate teams to overcome a shorthanded pass attack.
THE ATTACK OF THE SAINTS RUSHING VS. THE FALCONS RUN THE DEFENSE
New Orleans Running Game
The Saints’ rushing game ranks 10th in the NFL, averaging 125 yards per game. New Orleans had to be patient with their running game against defenses encumbering the line of scrimmage. They average just four yards per attempt, 21st in the league, but have the most rushed second attempts.
Dynamic RB Alvin Kamara leads the team with 480 rushing yards and has two scores, but averages just 3.6 yards per carry.
The Saints struggled to get their best weapon in space, but Kamara did indeed take the offensive charge. He is on the verge of breaking his career record in races and ground distance.
New Orleans brought back a familiar face when they traded to RB Mark Ingram, 31, last week. Ingram, already the team’s all-time rushing touchdown leader, is just 63 yards from the franchise’s all-time distance record.
The Kamara / Ingram combination picked up where it left off when it terrorized defenses in 2017 and 2018. Both are good receivers out of the backfield and each are effective runners inside or out. outside. Ingram’s presence allows the team to move Kamara into the lineup to better take advantage of sporting lags.
New Orleans is expected to return to the Taysom Hill utility weapon this week. Hill has missed the last two games with a concussion. It adds another element of power to the rushed attack, especially in short distance and goal line situations.
Hill should also see a few shots at the quarterback. However, with the announcement that Trevor Siemian will secure Sunday’s start, the Saints will attack with a three-headed punch from Kamara, Ingram and Hill.
New Orleans can once again intimidate their opponents in the trenches with almost all of their offensive line intact.
Pro Bowl LT Terron Armstead and C Erik McCoy returned from injury two weeks ago. LG departure Andrus Peat will be missed the rest of the year with a chest injury. James Hurst and Calvin Throckmorton have proven to be effective substitutes.
The Saints typically have most of their successes rushed to the right side, behind RG Cesar Ruiz and Pro Bowl RT Ryan Ramczyk. They attacked the left side of Tampa Bay last week, with Kamara and Ingram both smashing games led by Armstead and Hurst.
Atlanta Race Defense
The Falcons are averaging 125 yards per rushing and 4.4 / carry, ranking 25th in the NFL. They did not allow a 100-yard individual rusher, but gave up a high of 203 yards against Carolina last week.
Atlanta has a forward stud in DE Grady Jarrett. Other defensive linemen Mike Pennel, Marlon Davidson and former Saint Tyeler Davison were unable to consistently control the point of attack.
The Falcons’ inability to push blockers up front allowed opposing linemen to gain the upper hand over their linebackers. Inside linebackers Foyesade Oloukun and Deion Jones have elite athleticism and incredible side-to-side playing ability.
Oloukun and Jones are the team’s two best tacklers, with 37 more saves than the third best defenseman. Jones is a team-high with 7 of the Falcons’ 27 tackles for loss. They have the skills to change the momentum of a game in an open space.
The Atlanta high school got bad positioning when a runner reached second level, which led to some big plays. Safeties Erik Harris and Duron Harmon are both physical hitters, but need to have better discipline to avoid a broken lockdown.
What to watch
Despite defensive struggles in recent years, the Falcons have been one of the few teams to contain Alvin Kamara as a receiver. In eight games against them, Kamara has 40 catches but an average of only 37 receiving yards and no scoring.
The Saints star has had more success on the pitch against his team’s bitter rival. Kamara has averaged over 4.7 / carries and 58 yards rushing over his career against Atlanta, including 133 rushing and both scored in two games last year.
New Orleans remained engaged in last week’s ongoing offense against Tampa Bay, recording 152 yards against a top-notch Buccaneer defense. Seek them to maintain this philosophy on Sunday.
The Saints ran for 166 and 207 yards in two wins over the Falcons last season, averaging over five yards per carry. Brees missed both of those games due to injury. Taysom Hill replaced him as a starter.
Trevor Siemian will be the starting quarterback for this game, but Hill is expected to play a part in the game plan. He and Ingram add a key element of power to Kamara’s explosiveness. Siemian must play in the air, but the effectiveness of the Saints’ offense will come through Kamara, Ingram and Hill.