AS HEALTH IMPROVES, EXPECT MORE SUCCESS

Safety Kenny Vaccaro is hoping for the day when the defense looks how he envisioned it.

Too often, when he has looked across the field, he’s seeing different faces. Jairus Byrd wasn’t at safety the first few weeks, and Keenan Lewis wasn’t at cornerback. Last week, when he looked over at the slot, Damian Swann wasn’t covering it.

Some of those guys are starting to come back, but it’s a process. Byrd is nearly back to taking on a full slate of snaps, and Lewis is easing his way back from surgery to repair a ligament in his hip. Swann did not practice this week due to a concussion. It’s still a process, but it’s getting closer.

Like many fans, Vaccaro can’t wait to see how it all fits together once all the elements of the picture come into full focus.

“We got to stay healthy. I’ve played with a lot of different guys out there,” Vaccaro said. “We got to get our guys that we brought here to make plays — everybody making our plays, us playing together, us becoming a unit, instead of us just pieced together. We just need to get to the point where everybody is healthy, everybody is good, everybody is in the game and we’re doing what we do. Just like in 2013, it was the same people. You weren’t going to look up and see anybody else.”

Depending on who is available this week, the Saints will have an interesting decision to make if Julio Jones plays through his hamstring injury. New Orleans could turn to cornerback Delvin Breaux to match up with him, which would provide an interesting barometer on where Breaux stands. The first-year player has been one of the bright spots on the defense and is considered internally to possess the talent to become a lock-down corner.

If Lewis is capable of playing a full slate of snaps, he could be an option. New Orleans also could place Brandon Browner and a safety on Jones.

But those decisions will be dictated in part by health. Soon, though, the Saints should have their full slate of players available, and Vaccaro will have the stabilized view he craves.

-- Nick Underhill

KNOW YOUR OPPONENT

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman

If the Saints keep having issues finishing tackles, Freeman is going to make them pay. The running back is averaging 2.23 yards per carry after initial contact and has induced 28 missed tackles on the ground and through the air. He’s going to be a problem. New Orleans needs to stay disciplined and play fundamental football. If not, Freeman is going to make life miserable.

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones

Matt Ryan has a 90.7 quarterback rating this season. When he throws to Jones, that number jumps to 118.8. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Saints match up with him. Keenan Lewis struggled against him last season, and the veteran is still fighting his way back from an injury. Whoever gets the nod will need to hold his own, or the defense is going to have issues.

Falcons defensive lineman Vic Beasley

Many in New Orleans were hopeful Beasley would end up with the Saints. Unfortunately for them, the Falcons took him before the Saints made their first pick in the draft. He has been decent for the Falcons. According to Pro Football Focus, Beasley has eight pressures, two quarterback hits and a pair of sacks. While he’s not lighting the world on fire, he has the speed and ability to cause some issues.

FOUR DOWNS: NICK UNDERHILL BREAKS THE GAME DOWN

1 Desperation time: There’s a good chance hope is already lost. To keep this thing from going to total darkness, the Saints can’t afford to lose this game. If New Orleans fails at that task, any wins the rest of the way will restore a little pride but will hurt the team’s draft position. That’s a weird spot to end up in.

2 Measuring stick: If Falcons receiver Julio Jones is able to play, this game could provide a good measuring stick for Delvin Breaux. The first-year Saints cornerback has been impressive the first few weeks, but he hasn’t faced a player the likes of Jones. If Breaux can hang with Jones, he can hang with anyone.

3 Keep it up: Drew Brees completed five passes that traveled 20 or more yards through the air last week against the Eagles. Those plays were hard to come by during the first four weeks. While some of those plays felt forced against Philly, it was important that they started flowing.

4 Spiller fit: The Saints have to figure out how C.J. Spiller is going to fit into this offense. For whatever reason, he’s still not seeing many snaps or a significant role. New Orleans didn’t sign him to sit on the bench and watch Mark Ingram catch passes. You have to believe he’ll eventually settle in and record some numbers.

THE ADVOCATE PREDICTIONS

Nick Underhill: Falcons 34, Saints 27

The familiarity between these teams could keep it close. Or maybe it won’t. It’s hard to know what to expect from the Saints after how they played against the Eagles on Sunday. That game was a meltdown and one of the low points of the past two seasons. The Falcons, meanwhile, keep finding ways to win. It’s impossible to bet on the team that hasn’t found that formula.

Joel A. Erickson: Falcons 31, Saints 21

Atlanta’s defense might not be as good as it seems. The Falcons have jumped to big leads on a couple of teams, allowing them to focus on stopping the run, but the pass rush has been largely ineffective, and the passing game lacks a tertiary weapon after Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman. That being said, it’s hard to pick against an undefeated team on a short turnaround.

Scott Rabalais: Falcons 31, Saints 17

Sean Payton’s place has become a Peyton place. I’m not picking New Orleans to win until it wins another game, which means there’s a chance I may not be picking the Saints again. Playing the unbeaten Falcons doesn’t help the outlook much, though this is as bitter as NFL rivalries get and thus gives the Saints an emotional boost. If only that boost could help the Saints line block better.

SAINTS SEASON

Sept. 13 — Arizona 31, Saints 19

Sept. 20 — Tampa Bay 26, Saints 19

Sept. 27 — Carolina 27, Saints 22

Oct. 4 — Saints 26, Cowboys 20, OT

Oct. 11 — Philadelphia 39, Saints 17 (1-4)

Thursday — Atlanta, 7:25 p.m., NFL

Oct. 25 — at Indianapolis, Noon, Fox

Nov. 1 — N.Y. Giants, Noon, Fox

Nov. 8 — Tennessee, Noon, CBS

Nov. 15 — at Washington, Noon, Fox

Off week

Nov. 29 — at Houston, Noon, Fox

Dec. 6 — Carolina, Noon, Fox

Dec. 13 — at Tampa Bay, Noon, Fox

Dec. 21 — Detroit, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Dec. 27, — Jacksonville, Noon, CBS

Jan. 3 — at Atlanta, Noon, Fox

FALCONS SEASON

Sept. 14 — Atlanta 26, Philadelphia 24

Sept. 20 — Atlanta 24, N.Y. Giants 20

Sept. 27 — Atlanta 39, Dallas 28

Oct. 4 — Atlanta 48, Houston 21

Oct. 11 — Atlanta 25, Washington 19, OT (5-0)

Thursday — at New Orleans, 7:25 p.m., NFL

Oct. 25 — at Tennessee, Noon, Fox

Nov. 1 — Tampa Bay, Noon, Fox

Nov. 8 — at San Francisco, 3:05 p.m., Fox

Off week

Nov. 22 — Indianapolis, Noon, CBS

Nov. 29 — Minnesota, Noon, Fox

Dec. 6 — at Tampa Bay, Noon , Fox

Dec. 13 — at Carolina, Noon, Fox

Dec. 20 — at Jacksonville, Noon, Fox

Dec. 27 — Carolina, Noon, Fox

Jan. 3 — New Orleans, Noon, Fox