Saints Eyeing Up the Enemy: Atlanta Falcons
The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons renew one of the NFL's most underrated but perhaps most bitter rivalry in Week 11 of the season. In a quick turnaround, renew hostilities against each other in Week 13. They will fight their Week Eleven clash in the Superdome, with the Saints traveling to Atlanta two weeks later in their second of three straight road games.
New Orleans and Atlanta have met 102 times throughout each franchise's history, including one postseason clash. The Falcons hold a 53-49 edge in the rivalry, including a 27-20 victory in the playoff game between the two on a 12/28/91 Wild Card meeting in New Orleans. The Falcons also hold a 26-25 edge in this series when the game is played in New Orleans, site of the Week 11 showdown, and a 27-24 advantage when they host the Saints in Atlanta. New Orleans was upset at home by their hated rival 26-9 on November 10th last season. The Saints exacted a measure of revenge just eighteen days later when they defeated the Falcons on the road 26-18 on Thanksgiving night, the second straight year they beat their rival on Thanksgiving.
The Falcons have been in a steady decline since blowing a 28-3 second-half lead and losing to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI and have had losing records in each of the last two years. A four-game winning streak to end the season saved the job of head coach Dan Quinn, but Quinn's squad will need a powerful push for the playoffs for him to last another year. Atlanta will have a much different look around Matt Ryan, their twelve-year starter at quarterback, surrounding him with several former number one draft picks on the offensive and defensive side. Let's have a closer look at the Saints' bitter NFC South rival.
2019 Record: 7-9 (2nd; NFC South)
Head Coach: Dan Quinn (6th season; 43-37 record, 2 playoff appearances, 1 NFC championship)
2019 Offensive Statistics
- 23.8 points/game (13th in the NFL)
- Total Yards = 5th
- Passing Yards = 3rd
- Rushing Yards = 30th
2019 Defensive Statistics
- 24.9 points/game (23rd)
- Total Yards = 20th
- Passing Yards = 22nd
- Rushing Yards = 15th
Offseason Losses: Devonta Freeman (RB), Austin Hooper (TE), Vic Beasley (DE/LB), Adrian Clayborn (DE), Bruce Irvin (DE), Desmond Trufant (CB)
Offseason Additions: Todd Gurley (RB), Laquon Treadwell (WR), Hayden Hurst (TE), Dante Fowler (DE), Charles Harris (DE), A.J. Terrell (CB-Rookie), Marlon Davidson (DT-Rookie), Matt Hennessy (C-Rookie), Mykal Walker (LB-Rookie), Jaylinn Hawkins (S-Rookie)
Ryan had his ninth consecutive season of over 4,000 passing yards and led the league in completions but threw just 26 touchdown passes and made critical mistakes in crucial moments. Ryan has one of the league's better receivers to target in Julio Jones, who is coming off his sixth straight season of at least 1,300 yards receiving and a dangerous compliment in third-year WR Calvin Ridley. The Falcons have little depth behind the Jones/Ridley combo at WR; however, an offseason trade for former Ravens 1st round draft pick TE Hayden Hurst will offset the free-agent loss of the productive Austin Hooper at tight end.
Atlanta needs a rapid maturation from a young offensive line. They allowed an NFC-worst 48 sacks of Ryan in 2019, contributing to the offensive shortcomings in big moments. A putrid running game also contributed to the Falcons offensive struggles, partially accounting for a red zone offense that ranked just 25th in the league. Atlanta inked former Rams 1st round RB Todd Gurley to replace Devonta Freeman and hope for promising 3rd year RB Ito Smith to stay healthy to give the offense balance.
Dan Quinn's job security most likely depends on sudden improvement from an abysmal defense with several new starters this season. A pass rush that produced only 28 sacks last season and lost their leading sacker in Vic Beasley and Clayborn and Irvin expects increased production from former 1st round picks Dante Fowler and Charles Harris to go along with the inconsistent Takkarist McKinley. Atlanta has a star in DT Grady Jarrett inside and potentially an immediate starter inside with 2nd round pick Marlon Davidson. Deion Jones is one of the game’s most athletic linebackers.
Atlanta must show that they can find competent players to go around him at the position, especially after losing De'Vondre Campbell. The Falcons used the 16th overall pick of the 1st round to select CB A.J. Terrell to upgrade a secondary torched over the last two years. They have some talent on the back end with CB Isaiah Oliver, CB Kendall Sheffield, and S Damontae Kazee but need a return to form from S Keanu Neal, who has missed most of the last two seasons with major injuries.
Saints QB Drew Brees is 19-10 against Atlanta as the New Orleans Orleans quarterback, including a 10-4 record against them in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Brees has averaged 300 yards/game over his career against the Falcons, throwing for 54 touchdowns and 27 interceptions while eclipsing the 275 yards through the air 21 times. New Orleans WR Michael Thomas has made the Atlanta secondary his playground, averaging eight receptions per outing against them and has had over 100 yards receiving in three out of four road contests in Atlanta.
The Saints offensive line has done a fantastic job protecting their signal-caller but faltered in the home upset to their rival last season, allowing Brees to be sacked a season-high six times. New Orleans must also control the line of scrimmage to establish its rushing attack. Deion Jones is one of the few linebackers in the league who can match Saints RB Alvin Kamara athletically, but New Orleans will look to use their other offensive weapons to create more room for their dynamic back.
Saints DE Cameron Jordan has been a one-man wrecking crew for Atlanta offenses during his nine-year career. In 18 games against the Falcons, Jordan has 18 sacks, 33 QB hits, 20 tackles for loss, and 2 fumbles forced or recovered. The Saints will need to pressure Ryan with their deep and talented defensive line to force mistakes and hold Gurley in check to make Atlanta Atlanta one-dimensional. New Orleans CB Marshon Lattimore has had some epic showdowns with Julio Jones, and he and fellow CB Janoris Jenkins must be able to contain Jones and Ridley for defensive success. At the same time, Saints FS Marcus Williams, DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and SS Malcolm Jenkins prevent the big play over the top.
Most consider the Saints to be among the league's top Super Bowl favorites in 2020, but the Falcons are expected to push them in the NFC South standings. New Orleans vs. Atlanta is a bitter feud that transcends beyond records and standings. Their showdowns in Weeks 11 and 13 are also expected to have major playoff ramifications for both teams.