Saints vs. Falcons: Thanksgiving's Primetime NFL Battle Preview

Aaron S. Miller

After a rousing, time-expiring Wil Lutz boot to polish off the Carolina Panthers in New Orleans on Sunday, the Saints are en route to the other (read: lesser) Mercedes-Benz namesake stadium to face the Falcons on Thanksgiving.  The second and final matchup between these two teams in Week 13 will be an unique affair.  At 3-8 and fresh off of a loss at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Falcons are ostensibly jockeying for draft positioning where, I can only assume, they will look to upgrade their 26th ranked defense. This is a rivalry game though, and the Saints ought to expect stiff resistance.

This time around, turkey won’t be the only bird being cooked in Atlanta.

A mere two weeks ago, the Falcons took a jaunt to New Orleans and laid waste to the Saints, 26-9.  It was a game that, while closer than the final score would suggest, was a bit of a head scratcher from whistle to whistle.  Despite lacking their best CB Desmond Trufant, the Falcons sacked QB Drew Brees an absurd six times. Brees had a pedestrian outing by his standards, and though he completed over 70% of his passes and threw for close to 300 yards, he could not find the end zone against what many had assumed to be one of the worse defenses in the league.

It did not help matters that the Saints would lose two starting players early in the game. Star CB Marshon Lattimore had been doing an admirable job sticking with All-Pro Falcons WR Julio Jones until straining his hamstring in the first half. Lattimore has been week-to-week since November 10th, having missed two straight games, though he has logged limited reps in recent practices.

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Nov 22, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) fumbles after a hit by New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The other player the Saints lost and who unfortunately will not be available for the rematch is starting left guard Andrus Peat.  Peat is rehabbing a broken arm, and Nick Easton, who has been ably filling in for Peat will continue to shore up the left side of the line.

If that was not enough injury-related news, starting stalwart LT Terron Armstead will miss some time after sustaining a high ankle injury against the Panthers.  Whether the Saints continue to rely on undrafted Michigan product Patrick Omameh on the left flank, or perhaps move RT Ryan Ramczyk over to Armstead’s spot, remains to be seen.  Indeed, losing Armstead for any amount of time is problematic, and it will make things interesting on a short week against a Falcons front looking for a repeat effort at the point of attack.

As for the Saints offense, expect Michael Thomas to continue his record-setting 2019 campaign and to present in absolute feast mode for the holiday.  "Can’t Guard Mike" hauled in 13 receptions (14 targets–93%) for a monstrous 152 yards and, like many who have tried sticking with him before are familiar, he simply could not be contained.  Pepper in a scarily ascending TE Jared Cook who’s amassed approximately 200 yards and a pair of scores through the past three weeks, and the enduring threat that is Alvin Kamara, and the Saints prospects are gravy.

For the Falcons, CB Desmond Trufant returned from injury this past weekend and snagged his fourth interception on the season (a personal best). The former Pro Bowler will take on the unenviable task of guarding a red hot Michael Thomas who is putting the league on notice in the process.  Stud Falcons TE Austin Hooper, who sustained an injury in the Saints game, could potentially return this week, as could starting RB Devonta Freeman.  WR Julio Jones appeared to injure his shoulder in the Buccaneers game this weekend, and so his status for Thursday is the subject of some speculation.

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Nov 10, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook (87) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons defensive back Kemal Ishmael (36) during the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Whatever criticisms you may have had about the Saints in the first game, the Falcons offense really ought to inspire little fear in the Saints defense. In Week 10, Matt Ryan completed 20/35 passes for a paltry 57% and a Marcus Williams interception against 2 touchdowns, and  Julio Jones rattled off some chunk yardage, accruing 79 yards on 3 receptions (***sans Marshon Lattimore).  Calvin Ridley did not contribute a whole lot this time, and the Falcons had little success on the ground.

In this 101st convening of divisional rivals, the Saints look to edge ever closer to achieving a .500 record against the Falcons.  While the “Dirty Birds” own 52 of the wins in this series, the Saints own an 18-9 (67%) W-L advantage during the Brees-Payton era.  Of course, as this is a divisional game, projections and predictions and the like skew toward the equivalent of shrugs and shenanigans.  The “known knowns”, that is the schemes and stats, have been enumerated above but ahead of Thanksgiving, one real true question remains for the Falcons offense…

Would they like a little turkey with that stuffing?

Prediction: Saints win. 21-10.

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