The best TNF game yet! Okay, we may be biased as anyone who has read TSO probably knows we are big homers for our Dirty Birds! All the same though, we’ve got two offensive juggernauts, never mind last week’s 9 point stinker by the Falcons, facing off in the new Mercedes Benz Dome. Before we get to the excitement, we must touch on what we’ll have to dig into deeper in our full preview out later this week.
The NFL has a big problem on its hands. With our newfound awareness of the problems that contact football can lead to, specifically head trauma caused by repeated and big blows to the head and neck areas, week 13 highlighted the lack of progress that has been made. The Monday Night Football game alone was enough to show that players aren’t taking this seriously enough, and based on the meek suspensions and fines handed down thus far, neither is the league office. One of the NFL’s biggest stars, Rob Gronkowski laid his elbow to the back of a defenseless Tre-Davious White following an interception. We’ll spare you the difficulty of the image here *note – it is likely to be included in the full preview – but it is the epitome of what the NFL claims to have been legislating against for the past five to ten years since the CTE awakening.
*Confession – Since CTE became so prevalent, it’s been more difficult for us to remain as avid fans of a sport that has such grave consequences. Granted, many men and women have used the good fame and fortune the sport generates to help others. Developing discipline, teamwork, and fortitude are all useful skills that can be learned from organized football; however, there is a dark side to the physicality and violence of the game and week 13 did no favors to a league that wishes to continually grow and expand its fan and consumer base.
Okay, back to the game for now, more on the former topic later.
Thursday Night Football
New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
So many storylines and so little time! The matchup between the Saints and the Falcons has intrigue across the board. Atlanta is favored, but we expect they’d have been more highly favored were it not for their 9 point offensive stinker last week against the Vikings. As a Falcons fan I share in the frustration. I witnessed Julio Jones do this same thing last season. One week Julio blows up, the next he’s smothered by opposing defenses and nowhere to be found. This inconsistency has characterized his and the Falcons past few seasons offensively. One week the Dirty Birds look like they are going to light the NFL world on fire and the next they go quiet.
The Saints on the other hand are the yin to Atlanta’s yang. New Orleans is nothing if not consistently dominant offensively. It’s rare to see the Saints not put up 20 points or more, but what’s so unique about this season is that they are doing it with more balance. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have combined to rush for over 2,000 yards and more than 711 more yards than the next closest running back duo. Quite the slap in the face to my Birds who boasted one of the most dominant backfield duos in Coleman and Freeman in 2016. Ingram is a little banged up, but he is expected to play so it will be interesting to see which backfield creates the biggest highlight on Thursday night.
This game, like most in football, will come down to the play of the quarterback and defense. New Orleans D had quite a run during the middle of the season where they looked dominant. That dominance has since waned *as TSO predicted it inevitably would – and the Saints have settled back to the middle of the road D the underlying numbers suggest they are. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore returns this week for the Saints and not to be outdone, Atlanta’s all-pro cornerback Desmond Truuuuuuuu-fant will take the field as well for the Falcons. Look for Lattimore to attempt to cover Julio on the outside while Trufant spends the majority of his time on Michael Thomas.
The big names on these teams are in the backfield, under center, and on the outside, but this game will be won on the front lines and in the trenches. If the Saints up their defensive efforts and keep the Falcons off the field and out of sustained drives, they will expand their opportunity to make plays in the running game and find holes in the secondary. Let’s not forget that Drew Brees is a bad man. Give him time and chances and he’ll light up any defense in the league, even a fast and swarming Dan Quinn coached one. We think this goes slightly different than many expect. The Falcons are looking to build their strength in the secondary, but at the moment it’s with the dogs, linebackers and linemen up front. With the speed of players like Deion Jones, Takkarist McKinley, and Vic Beasley, the Falcons D swarms Brees and the Saints and forces them into uncomfortable third and longs and three and outs.
Similar to their fellow coached brethren in Seattle, the Falcons are one of the best in the NFL at breaking up short screen passes and misdirection throw back plays. While NOLA will look to get the ball to Kamara on such plays we think the Birds break those up before they get going, preventing the big Kamara gainer that has lead to so many game changing plays out of the Saints backfield. Limiting Kamara is half the battle as Atlanta will need to generate pressure on Brees with their pass rush. Bringing an extra man isn’t a good idea as Brees is one of the best in the business at diagnosing the blitz and taking advantage of the mismatches created by it. Instead, Atlanta will rely on Claiborne, McKinley, and Beasley to get to Brees on their own. New Orleans wasn’t as bad last season as their record indicated, but they also aren’t as good this season as their record indicates. Saints are brought back down to earth by the Falcons. Dirty Birds win a close one and keep the NFC South as tight as any division in the NFL as the playoff hunt and wild card chase heats up! (Falcons cover -1)
PS – These Color Rush uniforms are gonna be fire! (Image Credit: Atlanta Falcons & NFL)
Thank you for reading and please look out for our full preview later this week. As always please continue liking, loving, sharing and supporting. Your support and feedback is greatly appreciated! Go Dirty Birds!