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 results tied 26-26 when these teams play in New Orleans.
The Saints have taken over the rivalry since Sean Payton arrived as head coach in 2006. During Payton's time with the franchise, New Orleans has a 20-8 record against Atlanta, including 10-4 at home. The Saints have won six of the last seven meetings in the series.
New Orleans comes into the game with a 5-2 record. Their offense has taken on a different look with the offseason retirement of QB Drew Brees and season-ending injury to WR Michael Thomas. The Saints have relied on a strong defense, field position, and offensive balance more than ever before.
Balance will be even more crucial after last week's season-ending injury to QB Jameis Winston. The Saints come into this matchup ranked 29th in total offense, averaging just under 306 yards per outing. Their 31st ranked passing attack (180 yards/game) will turn the reins over to QB Trevor Siemian this Sunday.
New Orleans is expected to rely more heavily on their ground game. A physical superiority has often been the difference in recent games against a 3-4 Atlanta team. The Falcons defense ranks 16th in the NFL, allowing an average of 358 yards/game. They rank 12th against the pass, but the 27.9 points per game against them ranks just 25th.
Atlanta has been pushed around defensively in 2021, a problem that goes back a few years. They'll try to reverse that trend against a New Orleans that looks to bully teams to overcome a short-handed passing attack.
SAINTS RUSHING ATTACK VS. FALCONS RUN DEFENSE
New Orleans Running Game
The Saints ground game ranks 10th in the NFL, averaging 125 yards per contest. New Orleans has had to be patient with their running game against defenses crowding the line of scrimmage. They average just four yards per attempt, 21st in the league, but have the second most rushing attempts.
Dynamic RB Alvin Kamara leads the team with 480 rushing yards and has two scores, but has averaged only 3.6 yards per carry.
The Saints have had a difficult time getting their best weapon in space, but Kamara has effectively shouldered the offensive load. He’s on pace to shatter his career-high totals in carries and rushing yardage.
New Orleans brought back a familiar face when they traded for 31-year-old RB Mark Ingram last week. Ingram, already the team's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, is just 63 yards away from the franchise all-time rushing yardage record.
The Kamara/Ingram combination picked up right where they left off when they terrorized defenses in 2017 and 2018. Both are good receivers out of the backfield and each are effective runners inside or outside. Ingram's presence allows the team to move Kamara around the formation to take better advantage of athletic mismatches.
New Orleans should get utility weapon Taysom Hill back in the lineup this week. Hill has missed the last two games with a concussion. He adds another power element to the rushing attack, especially in short yardage and goal-line situations.
Hill should also see some snaps at quarterback. However, with the announcement that Trevor Siemian will get Sunday's start, the Saints will attack with a three-headed punch of Kamara, Ingram, and Hill.
New Orleans can again bully opponents in the trenches with nearly their entire offensive line back intact.
Pro Bowl LT Terron Armstead and C Erik McCoy returned from injury two weeks ago. Starting LG Andrus Peat will miss the rest of the year with a pectoral injury. James Hurst and Calvin Throckmorton have proven to be effective replacements.
The Saints usually have most of their rushing success over the right side, behind RG Cesar Ruiz and Pro Bowl RT Ryan Ramczyk. They attacked Tampa Bay's left side last week, with Kamara and Ingram both breaking plays led by Armstead and Hurst.
Atlanta Run Defense
The Falcons allow an average of 125 yards per game on the ground and 4.4/carry, ranking 25th in the NFL. They haven't allowed an individual 100-yard rusher, but surrendered a season-high 203 yards against Carolina last week.
Atlanta has a stud up front in DE Grady Jarrett. Other defensive linemen, Mike Pennel, Marlon Davidson, and former Saint Tyeler Davison haven't been able to consistently control the point of attack.
The Falcons inability to push blockers back up front has allowed opposing linemen to get on top of their linebackers. Inside linebackers Foyesade Oloukun and Deion Jones have elite athleticism and incredible sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability.
Oloukun and Jones are the team's top two tacklers, with 37 stops more than the third leading defender. Jones has a team-high 7 of the Falcons 27 tackles for loss. They have the skills to change the momentum of a game in open space.
Atlanta's secondary has had poor positioning when a runner gets onto the second level, leading to big plays. Safeties Erik Harris and Duron Harmon are both physical hitters, but must have better discipline to prevent broken containment.
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 meetings against them, Kamara has 40 catches but an average of just 37 receiving yards and no scores.
The Saints star back has had more success on the ground against his team's bitter rival. Kamara has averaged over 4.7/carry and 58 yards rushing in his career against Atlanta, including 133 on the ground and both score in two meetings last year.
New Orleans stayed committed to the running attack last week against Tampa Bay, picking up 152 yards against a top-ranked Buccaneer run defense. Look for them to maintain that philosophy on Sunday.
The Saints ran for 166 and 207 yards in two victories over the Falcons last season, averaging over five yards per carry. Brees missed both those games with injury. Taysom Hill replaced him as starter.
Trevor Siemian will be the starting quarterback for this game, but Hill is expected to play a role in the game plan. He and Ingram add a key power element to Kamara's explosiveness. Siemian must make plays through the air, but the effectiveness of the Saints offense will run through Kamara, Ingram, and Hill.