The nuts and bolts
Saints at Falcons
Noon Sunday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3; WDGL-FM, 98.1; KMDL-FM, 97.3
Favorite: Falcons by 6
Top storyline: Can Delvin Breaux silence Julio Jones again?
The last time the Saints saw these guys, Delvin Breaux stepped up and forced people to start taking him legitimately as a potential force at cornerback.
It would be inaccurate to say New Orleans shut down Atlanta receiver Julio Jones. One of the better receivers in the NFL, Jones caught six passes for 93 yards. But during the 34 snaps Breaux lined up on him in primary coverage, Jones caught only two passes for 9 yards. Those plays: a curl for 5 yards and a slant for another 4.
That was it.
“I think I did a pretty decent job,” Breaux said. “I didn’t give up no touchdowns, no explosive plays.”
He did more than a decent job and has a chance to end his season a high note if given the opportunity to match up with Jones again. But it’s questionable if things will play out like that.
Under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Breaux often moved around the field and matched up with the best receiver on the opposing team. New coordinator Dennis Allen has taken a different approach. He often has Breaux and Brandon Browner play sides or move about the field to get in position to make plays. In some games, he has had Browner match up with the best receiver and then used safety Jairus Byrd in support.
There have been few hints in how New Orleans plans to approach this game, but to end the season on a high note, which many players said is important, they Saints will have to find a way to erase Jones again.
Breaux has already proved capable once.
If given the chance, can he do it again?
1. Sneadin’ more
Willie Snead hasn’t been shy when discussing his desire to reach 1,000 receiving yards. It would serve as validation for a player who, just a few months ago, was largely unknown, fighting for a roster spot. Now he heads into the season finale against the Falcons needing 51 yards to reach the mark. He should be able to get there.
2. Hightower’s march
The Saints have two stories playing out this season that could serve as Disney scripts. Delvin Breaux gained the headlines early in the season, and now Tim Hightower is doing it late. It’s unbelievable to think he was out of the game for four years. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, he should have no issues staying in the league.
3. Get him fast
To finish the season on a winning note, the Saints are going to need to get after Matt Ryan, who likes to throw the ball quickly, and find a way to take away his release valves over the middle. New Orleans did a good job of that in the first game and walked away with a victory. But considering those have been issues all year, it’s no given.
4. One last time?
Enjoy this game. The offseason is certain to change the fabric of the franchise, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if at least one member of the quartet of Drew Brees, Jahri Evans, Marques Colston and Zach Strief is not back. The super 2009 season is getting farther away, and another step likely will be taken this offseason.
Know your opponent
Falcons RB Devonta Freeman While covering tight ends, or the inability to do so, has been one of the major talking points of the season, New Orleans has had just as much trouble defending the run and running backs catching passes out of the backfield.
It’s probably not a good thing, then, that this team is coming up against Freeman, who has 980 rushing yards and another 560 on 71 receptions. Discipline will be key.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan This season hasn’t gone as Ryan would have hoped. He’s still on par with his career marks in yards (4,257) and completion percentage (66.3), but he’s at risk of failing to reach 20 touchdown passes for the first time since his rookie season; he currently has 19. He’s two interceptions from tying his career high of 17.
Ryan is still good, but he has underachieved at times this season.
Falcons DE Vic Beasley A player many wanted the Saints to select in last year’s draft, Beasley’s rookie season got off to a slow start and appeared headed for disappointment. But in the past three weeks, he has turned things on and is playing better.
He has eight hurries, one quarterback hit and a pair of sacks in his past three games, according to Pro Football Focus. Things appear to be heading in the right direction.
OUT: WR Marques Colston (chest), LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip), T Andrus Peat (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: T Terron Armstead (knee)
PROBABLE: QB Drew Brees (foot), S Jairus Byrd (knee), DE Cameron Jordan (back), TE Josh Hill (concussion), T Zach Strief (elbow)
There’s uncertainty surrounding Colston’s future with the Saints. The veteran could choose to walk away from the game, and there’s also the possibility New Orleans chooses to walk away from him. If so, that could mean his time with the team has come to an end.
With Peat out, that means Strief will take back over at right tackle, assuming Armstead can play on the left side.
Coach Sean Payton said this week he has no concerns about Brees’ foot.
OUT: RB Tevin Coleman (concussion)
PROBABLE: WR Roddy White (Ankle), WR Eric Weems (concussion), G Chris Chester (shoulder), CB Phillip Adams (hamstring), LB Justin Durant (hip), WR Devin Hester (toe), DT Grady Jarrett (shoulder), QB Matt Ryan (hip), CB Robert Alford (ankle), LB Paul Worrilow (knee), RB Devonta Freeman (knee)
Nick Underhill: Saints 24, Falcons 23
Neither of these teams has anything to play for but pride. That might not mean much, but the Saints appear to be legitimately motivated by that fact — not that anything extra is ever needed when the Saints and Falcons meet. Overall, my picks this season have been abysmal, so I’m changing things up in Week 17 and making guesses off hunches. My hunch says New Orleans.
Joel A. Erickson: Saints 27, Falcons 19
My picks have been about as bad — or worse — than Nick’s this season, so in the final week, I’m going in the opposite way that things seem headed. Atlanta’s coming off a big win against Carolina and is playing at home. New Orleans, on the other hand, has the kind of passing game that can carve up the Falcons secondary. The Saints finish off the 2015 season by winning three of four.
Scott Rabalais: Falcons 28, Saints 24
For a team like the Saints simply playing out the string, this is a game rife with subplots. The main question is whether the firm of Payton, Brees and Loomis is going to return intact next season. The outcome of this one should have little to do with that, though. The Saints can win, but New Orleans has been so inconsistent that it’s hard to predict a sweep of the hated Falcons.