Key storylines heading into the Saints-Falcons Thursday night game...
Who will play? Chances are a lot of the guys on the injury report will suit up this week, but there are some notable names on there like Marshon Lattimore and Mark Ingram. It will be a major hit if either of those guys is forced to sit this game out and would change how New Orleans operates.
MATT RYAN’S TRIGGER
Every year the Saints play the Falcons, they talk about how quickly Matt Ryan gets rid of the ball. He’s taking 2.54 seconds to throw this season, which ranks 17th in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, which is where he typically resides. But every situation is different, and getting him to quickly will be important.
Neither team is going to be able to get too complex with the things they will look to accomplish due to the short week. Typically, Thursday games feature a stripped down plan. That could be a good thing for the Saints. The running game and defense often play well on Thursday nights, and the Saints are strong in both areas.
It will be interesting to see how the Saints continue to operate without Coby Fleener. New Orleans used more four-receiver looks last week. What happens if the Saints get into a situation where they need to race points? Will the group be able to operate the same way? Say what you want about Fleener, but he was good in those situations.
It’s the matchup everyone wants to see.
The guy who might be the best receiver in the league against one of the NFL’s best up-and-coming cornerbacks. Nobody seems to like the product the NFL presents on Thursday nights, but the prospect of seeing Marshon Lattimore defend Julio Jones would make it worth tuning in.
Will we get to see it? There’s a possibility the Saints drop their best cornerback on Jones and tell him to go to work. But it’s also possible the Saints will go another direction. They could just play sides, or potentially put Ken Crawley, who did well against Jones last year, on the receiver with safety help.
And then there’s the possibility that Lattimore doesn’t even play because of his ankle injury.
Figuring out when the Saints will have Lattimore shadow a receiver isn’t an exact science. He followed Brandin Cooks in Week 2 and De’Vante Adams earlier this season, but other times he was locked on a specific side of the field against other top receivers, or he only followed them sparingly.
The Saints have said they make those decisions on a case-by-case basis. They have to believe that the combination of size and skills match up in a way that makes sense. And considering Atlanta has several other weapons; it will be interesting to see how the team decides to approach the situation.
If Lattimore does pair up with Jones, it will continue an odd tradition that has formed over the past few years of first-year cornerbacks matching with the star wide receiver. In 2015, Delvin Breaux broke onto the scene with a strong performance against Jones in a primetime game. And last year, Crawley held Jones in check.
The difference, of course, is that Lattimore enters this game with a pedigree, while he predecessors were somewhat unknown. If he gets the opportunity and succeeds, his standing as a lockdown corner could be cemented.
When the Saints pass
Atlanta is only allowing 208 passing yards per game, but are allowing a high percentage of passes to be completed.
When the Saints run
Not a good matchup for a defense that is allowing 118 yards rushing per game.
When the Falcons pass
The secondary could be back at full strength this week, which would be bad news for Matt Ryan.
When the Falcons run
Atlanta’s running attack isn’t as potent as last year, but the Saints are allowing 4.6 yards per carry.
The Saints looked better here last week, but it will take more than one performance to restore confidence.
G Andrus Peat (groin)
RB Mark Ingram (toe)
OT Terron Armstead (thigh/shoulder)
CB Marshon Lattimore (ankle)
DE Trey Hendrickson (knee)
It looks like Senio Kelemete will get the start at guard with Andrus Peat out.
Mark Ingram was present during the open portion of practice on Tuesday, which could be a good sign for his availability. Marshon Lattimore tried to play last week before being ruled out.
G Andy Levitre (tricep)
TE Eric Saubert (back)
Numbers to know
Interceptions by the Falcons this season.
Interceptions thrown by Drew Brees
Yards per punt return allowed by the Falcons.
Pressures allowed by the Falcons, fifth-best in the NFL, per PFF
Thursday games are ugly. Playing good defense and running well doesn’t require a great amount of scheming. These are accomplishable goals even when things are stripped down, and the Saints do both things well (assuming health).
Saints 27, Falcons 20
Joel A. Erickson
Feels like the NFL dealt New Orleans a raw deal when they scheduled a road trip on a Thursday night late in the season. On Thursdays, health often matters most, and Atlanta is a little less banged-up.
Falcons 26, Saints 24
It's been a while since I picked against the Saints. If there is ever a time to do so, it's with them having to travel on a short week. If Marshon Lattimore plays and is 100 percent, that obviously helps the Saints' chances dealing with Julio Jones.
Falcons 28, Saints 27
This is a mighty tough spot the NFL schedule makers have put the Saints in. New Orleans’ offense isn’t quite the same on the road, and it will leave the Saints just short in a game the Falcons must win.
Falcons 20, Saints 16