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Why Saints clash means a little more to Kaden Elliss, David Onyemata, Ryan Nielsen

These three members of the Falcons defense will face their old team on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- In a one-on-one interview with FOX5 Atlanta's Luke Hetrick, Falcons inside linebacker Kaden Elliss was asked to describe what Sunday's matchup with the New Orlean Saints will feel like.

"Blood," Elliss said. "Blood in the water."

For the first time this season, the Falcons will face the Saints in this classic divisional clash between two rivals. However, there's more on the line than bragging rights and a first-place standing in the division. For Elliss, defensive lineman David Onyemata and defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, this matchup means a little bit more.

"There's going to be so much on the line," Elliss said. "Obviously, it's for first place in the division, but that's just adding to the rivalry that's already there. ... I can't wait to get out there and, obviously, that's my old team. So, it's a lot of people I know, a lot of people I've faced. Personally, I'm really excited to get to out there and get to play against you guys for real. It's not practice. It's real."

Elliss raises a good point. For years, he, Onyemata and Nielsen have been going up against this Saints offense in practice every single day. Despite changes in personnel, philosophy, schemes and coaches, too, the three current Falcons have quite a bit of institutional knowledge about this Saints team, how it's constructed and what makes it tick.

Four seasons for Elliss, six seasons for Nielsen and seven seasons for Onyemata in New Orleans means something.

So, yes, the Falcons defense knows a lot about the Saints offense even with the quarterback position somewhat up in the air even with Derek Carr officially out of the concussion protocol. The other side of the coin, though, is that the Saints know Onyemata, Nielsen and Elliss made the jump to red and black. So, Sunday's game could turn into a real they-don't-know-we-know-they-know situation.

That's always a possibility, too.

The thing is that, despite the fact that this is the first time these two teams will face each other in 2023, they play each other twice a year. They already know a heck of a lot about each other. So, how much of an asset is having Elliss, Onyemata and Nielsen? What type of feasible impact could that make? It really depends on how many changes the Saints have made from one year to the next offensively.

"This game is going to come down to who prepares. Ultimately, when the ball gets kicked off, it's not going to change. If you execute well, handle the situation, take care of the football, that's who's going to win," Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said. "(It's about) how you prepare, regardless of what kind of inside information you think you've got.

"Sometimes you can go chase ghosts, but (the Saints have) adapted, too. You forget they have a say. Sometimes people lose, I don't know if it's respect or delusion, about how good the other side is. They have a say, too. We have a healthy respect. It's a big rivalry game. We need to win this game, and I'm sure they feel the same way."

If interviews coming out of New Orleans are any indication, they do.

And there was no love lost in New Orleans this week when running back Alvin Kamara was asked what it'll be like going up against Nielsen's scheme in a true game scenario instead of practice.

"I don't give a damn," Kamara told reporters in response. "For me, it's more so about familiarity with kind of the same defensive scheme. He'll probably try to throw some different stuff in there but, you know, he's on the other side now."

So, yeah, there's the rivalry for ya.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the New Orleans Saints.

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