Saints Seek Season Sweep of Falcons

Kwon Alexander
Since landing linebacker Kwon Alexander, the Saints defense has become the NFL's best. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, Cooper Neill)

 

New Orleans Saints (9-2) at Atlanta Falcons (4-7)

Sunday, Dec. 6, Noon

TV: FOX WVUE 8

Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM

 

Win gives Saints three game lead in NFC South

After playing one of the strangest games in franchise history, the New Orleans Saints are focusing on a season sweep of the divisional and arch rival Atlanta Falcons, as they look to strengthen their grip on the 2020 NFC South crown.

The Saints’ scored their eighth win in a row with a 31-3 victory over the quarterback-depleted Broncos. On Saturday, the NFL ruled none of the four QBs on Denver’s roster could play due to one testing positive for Covid-19 and the other three breaching safety protocols. The Broncos turned to undrafted rookie receiver Kendall Hinton, who had not played a down in the NFL nor thrown a pass in a game since 2018 when he was in college at Wake Forest.

Predictably the Saints defense dominated as it held the Broncos to 112 total yards (12 passing, 100 rushing) and 1-of-10 third-down conversions and forced two interceptions and recovered a fumble. Not enough can be said about how the defense has improved since linebacker Kwon Alexander was added to the team. They are currently ranked in the top five in the NFL in the four major defensive statistical categories. After a shaky start to the season, the growth on that side of the ball has been truly impressive.

The Saints neutralized Denver’s D with 292 yards (63 passing, 229 rushing), led by running back Latavius Murray’s 19 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Taysom Hill ran 10 times for 44 yards and two scores, but completed 9-of-16 passes (56.3%) for 78 yards with an interception and three sacks for minus-15 yards. On the bright side, Hill led five scoring drives resulting in four touchdowns and one field goal by kicker Wil Lutz, but going forward he’ll have to play more like he did against Atlanta two weeks ago when the was 18-0f-23 (78.3%) for 233 yards for the Saints to hold their lead in the NFC Playoff race.

After an 0-5 start to the season, Atlanta has gone 4-2. They started their turnaround with a 40-23 win against the surging Minnesota Vikings in Week 6 and had their best game of the season last week, a 43-6 whipping of the Las Vegas Raiders in which they forced five turnovers and five sacks.

While New Orleans beat Atlanta, 24-9, two weeks ago, the Falcons have a potent offense. They can be a dangerous team – and they’d love to win this rivalry game and keep moving in a positive direction.

The Saints’ roster has enough talent that one player doesn’t have to carry the team for it to win. The defense will need to shut down Atlanta’s attack. New Orleans holds a 2.5 game lead in the division on the 7-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have a bye this week. New Orleans has won two in a row at Atlanta. A Saints win this week would give them a three game lead in the division and tighten their grip on the 2020 NFC South crown.

 

At the Line of Scrimmage

Here’s a snapshot of how the teams match up based on their average points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards per game and where they rank in the NFL.

 

When the Saints have the ball

PPG           TYPG        PYPG         RYPG

Saints Offense     29.6 (5)      366.0 (13) 231.3 (20)   134.7 (7)

Falcons Defense 25.5 (17)    391.7 (27)  291.5 (31)    100.3 (6)

 

When the Falcons have the ball

PPG           TYPG        PYPG         RYPG

Falcons Offense  26.8 (11)    374.8 (10) 271.4 (5)      103.5 (23)

Saints Defense    20.5 (5)      284.9 (1)    208.3 (5)     76.6 (2)

 

Goal to Geaux

The game plan will likely be very similar to what it was two weeks ago: hold the ball and own time of possession to keep the Falcons’ offense on the sideline.  The offense likely won’t be as conservative as it was in Denver. On defense, they’ll look to pressure Atlanta QB Matt Ryan with the pass rush to keep him off balance and limit their scoring threat. Look for the defense, which ranks best in the NFL in total yards surrendered and second best in rushing yards per game, to “level up” its pursuit of the Falcons.

 

Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 10

  1. The Saints defense held Denver to 13 passing yards, its second lowest total allowed in franchise history.
  2. Sunday’s victory gave head coach Sean Payton a win against all 31 other NFL teams. It was also his 140th career regular season win, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy for sole possession of 24th all-time in NFL records.
  3. The Saints have recorded four consecutive winning seasons for the first time in team history. That brings a grin to fans who endured 20 years of faith before the Saints had their first winning season in 1987.

 

Quotes of the Week

“The game plan changed in the last 24 hours so my mindset changed as well. I really became a game manager at that point and certainly the way (head coach) Sean (Payton) called the game reflected that.” – Saints quarterback Taysom Hill on how the game plan changed in light of the NFL ruling the Broncos starting QBs ineligible on Saturday.

 

“They did a heck of a job. And it’s a statement. It’s a mentality that they have, we have as an offense. And we’re very capable of doing that. And so we obviously want to continue to build on that going forward. But to be able to line up and run the ball consistently like that. It starts up front. Obviously we have to give them a lot of credit.” – Saints running back Latavius Murray on the offensive line clearing the way for the team’s 229 rushing yards

 

“It’s very unfortunate for a team to have to, to kind of go through that. You’d never expect to be playing an NFL game and a team doesn’t have a quarterback active in the game. That’s different.” – Saints linebacker Demario Davis on facing the quarterback-less Broncos

 

Inside the NFC South

                                                W   L   T   Win %   PF       PA     DIV

New Orleans Saints               9    2    0    0.818      326     225    4-0

Tampa Bay Buccaneers         7    5    0    0.583      344     280    2-2

Atlanta Falcons                      4    7    0    0.364      295     281    1-2

Carolina Panthers                  4    8    0    0.333      280     300    1-4

 

Carolina Panthers (4-8) – Bye

The Panthers are off this week. They play Denver, currently 4-7, on Dec. 13.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5) – Bye

The Buccaneers are off this week. They play Minnesota, currently 5-6, on Dec. 13.

 

NFC Playoff Picture

Below are the NFC standings through Week 12. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams–four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.

 

Seed  Team             Division       W L   T

1          Saints           South            9   2   0

2          Packers          North             8    3    0

3          Seahawks       West               8    3    0

4          Giants            East                4    7    0

5          Rams              West               7    4    0

6          Buccaneers    South              7    5    0

7          Cardinals       West               6    5    0

8          Vikings            North              5    6    0

9          Bears              North             5    6    0

10        49ers               West                5    6    0

11         Lions              North             4    7    0

12        Washington   East                4    7    0

13        Falcons          South              4    7    0

14        Eagles             East                3    7    1

15        Panthers         South              4    8    0

16        Cowboys        East                3    8    0

 

The Extra Point: No cause for concern

Except for a handful of plays, last week’s game against the Broncos was Ditka-era boring. Thank goodness that’s the way Saints head coach Sean Payton drew it up.

Old school football – generally the antithesis of Payton’s offense – was on display. The Saints pulverized the Broncos with 229 rushing yards and added 63 through the air.

Some are questioning quarterback Taysom Hill’s passing performance – he completed 9-of-16 passes (56.3%) for 78 yards with an interception and three sacks for minus-15 yards – and expected more from him after he completed 78.3% of his passes for 233 yards against Atlanta the week before.

Payton said securing the win, not stats or big plays, was the most important outcome.

“I thought Taysom played well. He played an entirely different type of game and that had a lot to do with me, relative to how we wanted to play this game,” Payton said in the postgame press conference. “So no, there wasn’t anything challenging. I was in his ear 24/7 just about being smart with the football.”

Denver has a better defense than Atlanta. And it can’t be forgotten that the Saints were without the two starters on the offensive line responsible for guarding Hill’s blind side, left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Andrus Peat. The Saints changed their game plan to suit the situation and left with a win.

This week’s game will be a big reveal for Hill’s development. The Falcons have played against him once this season and have last week’s game film to study his tendencies. They’ll surely try to disguise coverages and pressure Hill to try to force him into mistakes. He’ll need to show he is comfortable stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure as he scans for targets downfield.

There’s no word on when Drew Brees will be able to return to the field after suffering 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung. But Payton will put his players in the best possible position to win. The Saints are an amazing 7-0 under backup QBs over the last two seasons. They’ve won eight games in a row, the last two with Hill under center. If the offense stalls the Saints have Jameis Winston, the NFL’s 2015 top overall draft pick, as an option under center.

For now, New Orleans will likely look like the Mora-era Saints. They’ll have to rely on the defense, currently ranked the best in the NFL, to stuff the run, pressure the quarterback, and create turnovers, while the offense runs over the opposition and picks its opportunities in the passing game. It may not be the flashy Payton-era ball we’ve grown accustomed to, but grinding out wins, securing the division, and holding on to first place in the NFC in order to secure the only available bye and “Domefield” advantage through the playoffs is the name of the game right now.

Categories: Pre-Snap Read