8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Saints -3, Over/Under: 54
If Monday Night’s Presidential Debate isn’t your flavor, there is likely to be just as much fireworks at the Louisiana Superdome as the New Orleans Saints host the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC South divisional matchup. After falling flat in their home opener against the Buccaneers, the Falcons (1-1, 2nd in NFC South) earned their first victory of the season in Oakland last weekend, outlasting the Raiders in a 35-28 affair. Aggressive from the outset, the visiting side attacked the host’s beleaguered Pass Defense with utter ruthlessness; Matt Ryan carved up the Raiders’ Secondary to the tune of 396 yards and a trifecta of touchdowns on an efficient 26-of-34 passing. Nine different Falcons caught a pass, with All-Pro Receiver Julio Jones reeling in all five of his targets for 106 yards and a score, while a pair of unheralded Tight Ends, Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper, registered seventy-five and eighty-four yards respectively, with the former finding the end zone. However, Dan Quinn’s charges didn’t just take care of business through the air, for their ground game proved to be almost as formidable; Tailbacks Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 139 yards and a touchdown on twenty-nine carries, bringing some sorely needed balance to the offense. Freeman, who burst onto the scene in 2015 with 1,634 yards from scrimmage and fourteen total touchdowns, accounted for ninety-three on seventeen carries last Sunday, though Coleman got the score. Despite the Pro Bowl campaign, Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan has been steadfast that both he and Coleman would be splitting carries far more evenly than they did a year ago. After all, Coleman who was selected in the Third Round of the 2015 NFL Draft, was intended to be the starter last season, but injuries allowed Freeman the opportunity to take his place. With that said, the diminutive Freeman really wore down towards the latter stages of the term, leaving Shanahan and Co. to believe that two Tailbacks are indeed better (and fresher) than one. What there is no disputing though is Ryan’s hold on the Quarterback position; through two weeks, the 31-year old has completed 72.6% of his attempts for a hefty average of 365.0 yards per game, with five touchdowns to one interception to his credit, all the while posting a league-best 9.23 net yards per attempt. And if his history playing at the Superdome is any indication, then don’t count on him slowing down this week. The three-time Pro Bowler has enjoyed a pretty successful career against the Saints, where despite going just 5-10 in fifteen starts has completed 64.5% of his passes for an average of 301.5 yards, twenty-four touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions. With New Orleans continuing to struggle mightily on the defensive side of the ball, look for this guy to carve them up once more. Ah, but the question remains if his teammates on defense can keep Drew Brees from doing the same to them; Quinn’s defense has yielded a dreadful 29.5 points per game (29th Overall) on 412.5 yards (27th Overall), including 122.5 via the run (25th Overall) on 4.6 yards per carry (27th Overall) and another 290.0 through the air (23rd Overall) on 7.4 net yards per attempt (25th Overall). Furthermore, the seven passing touchdowns that they’ve relinquished are the second-most conceded in the NFL thus far. Coming from Seattle where he served as the Seahawks’ Defensive Coordinator from 2013 to 2014, Quinn was expected to turn this wayward unit around, but despite using a wealth of early Draft Picks on this side of the ball, their collective performance has left a lot to be desired. Last year’s First Round Pick Vic Beasley is responsible for the team’s lone sack, while 2014’s first selection, Cornerback Desmond Trufant has snared their only interception.
Meanwhile, the Saints (0-2, 4th in NFC South) will once again look for some Superdome Magic to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole for the second time in two years. The Offseason was rife with change in New Orleans, who despite retaining the services of Head Coach Sean Payton, has taken the steps to rebuilding the their much-maligned defense, which has been historically bad over the past two seasons. They were also able to restructure the mammoth contract of the aforementioned Brees, ensuring that they will have the financial resources available to rebuild around the 37-year old over the course of his final years with the franchise. However, through two games it has become readily apparent that this team is still very much in the early stages of their rebuilding project, as they continue to struggle in the same areas that they have for so long now. Thus far, the defense has still been a sieve; Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen picked up the pieces after Rob Ryan’s long-overdue axing, so much so that he earned the permanent job, yet clearly has his work cut out for him with a unit that has allowed 25.5 points per game (22nd Overall) on a miserable 451.5 yards (31st Overall), including 115.5 via the run (22nd Overall) on 4.0 yards per carry (17th Overall) and another 336.0 through the air (30th Overall) on a whopping 8.3 net yards per attempt (30th Overall). However, in a cynical turn of events, they’ve permitted just one passing touchdown at this point, which is a stark contrast when you take into account the record-shattering forty-five relinquished a year ago. Injuries have played a heavy role in their lack of early progress, as a number of what were expected to be key contributors have landed on the Disabled List; Cornerbacks P.J. Williams (Concussion), Tony Carter (ACL), and Kyle Wilson (Shoulder) are all on Injured Reserve, while fellow Defensive Back Delvin Breaux is likely to miss another three weeks rehabbing from a broken leg suffered in the Offseason. Furthermore, this year’s First Round Pick, Defensive Tackle Sheldon Rankins, will miss the entirety of the campaign with a broken leg of his own, while last year’s Second Rounder, Edge-Rusher Hau’oli Kikaha (four sacks in 2015) joins him with a torn ACL. And if that’s not enough, starters such as Cameron Jordan (Knee), Kenny Vaccaro (Ankle), and Dannell Ellerbe (Quadriceps) are listed as Questionable for tonight’s matchup. Fortunately, Brees is healthy as an ox; the nine-time Pro Bowler looks as good as ever, completing 66.3% of his attempts for an average of 363.0 yards per game on 7.48 net yards per attempt, tossing five touchdowns compared to no interceptions. Like his counterpart in Atlanta, Brees has enjoyed a wealth of success against his opponent tonight, amassing a 15-6 record in twenty-one career starts, completing 68.1% of his passes for an average of 305.8 yards, and thirty-eight touchdowns opposed to twenty-two interceptions. This season he’s developed a stellar rapport with Wide Receivers Brandin Cooks (211 yards, 2 TD) and Willie Snead (226 yards, 2 TD), though the latter will in all likelihood miss tonight contest after missing a week’s worth of practice suffering from the ill-effects of a toe injury. Unfortunately, both Offensive Tackles, Terron Armstead (Knee) and Zach Strief (Chest) are in the same boat, with the former pronounced as out and the latter listed as Questionable. Don’t fret Saints’ fans, at least the Training Staff is getting a ton of work…
Prediction: Saints 31, Falcons 28