- With Kamara, New Orleans has mastered motioning the RB out into empty backfield formations, which should be a crucial tactic against Atlanta.
Three things to know ahead of the Saints-Falcons Week 14 matchup on Thursday Night Football...
1. The Saints are mastering what the Falcons mastered last season: motioning their running back out into spread, empty backfield formations. Not only does this dictate matchups, but it also tells QB Drew Brees if the defense is in man coverage or zone.
Alvin Kamara is The Guy here. In an empty formation, he often aligns on the weak side with top receiver Michael Thomas (New Orleans isn’t the only offense that puts its dynamic back and top wide receiver together on the weak side in empty; the Steelers often do this with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.) Kamara’s route running proficiency makes for an expansive passing game here, and Thomas is tremendous on slant patterns, especially when he’s afforded space. This will be a big tactic against Atlanta on Thursday night.
2. New Orleans has one of the three or four best offensive lines in football this year, right up there with Philadelphia, Washington (when everyone is healthy), Pittsburgh and Dallas. But this week, it’s shorthanded with Andrus Peat out. Peat has blossomed into the best pulling left guard in football, which would have been a leg up on Thursday given that Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones weighs only 220 pounds—you can bet Sean Peyton was eager to exploit that matchup. The Saints can still run their system with Senio Kelemete filling in, but their ground game won’t be as dynamic.
3. Another injured Saint to keep an eye on is Marshon Lattimore. The stud rookie corner, who returns this week after missing the last two weeks with an ankle injury, will likely travel outside with Julio Jones. Lattimore’s man-to-man ability affords Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen the freedom to be aggressive and deceitful in his coverage and pressure tactics. Encouragingly, the Saints showed last week against the Panthers that they can just line up and play straightforward man and zone, no gimmicks. The Falcons, however, have a much crisper passing game, and one of the league’s savviest QBs. Allen may feel the need to be schematically complex.
Bold Prediction: Drew Brees will look to go deep (really deep) at least five times. With the Falcons, you know what coverage you’re getting (either man-to-man or Cover 3). That makes it easier to dial up designer deep shots. Those five deep shots will decide the outcome.
Score Prediction: Falcons 27, Saints 23