FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – If you like watching strong running back play, Thursday night's matchup between the Saints and Falcons is a must-see.
This game features two of the league's best running back duos in the Falcons' 1-2 punch of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and the Saints' tandem of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. Kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.
Freeman and Coleman turned a lot of heads in 2016 and have continued to be catalysts for Atlanta's offense. The duo has teamed up for at least 200 total yards eight times over the last two seasons and the Falcons are 7-1 when they have surpassed the 200-yard mark.
Kamara and Ingram have been the surprise of the 2017 season in many ways. Their production might be the biggest reason for New Orleans' turnaround this season. Through 12 games, they've combined for 1,528 yards on the ground and 20 touchdowns. They've also been an asset to Drew Brees in the passing game, combining for 869 receiving yards on 101 catches.
Thursday night will be the first time this Falcons defense will matchup against this running back duo. And they're up for the challenge.
"They complement each other really well," Falcons linebacker De'Vondre Campbell said. "They have Ingram who is really a complete back. Then you have Kamara who is just a gadget. You can line him up anywhere and he can make plays all over the field."
The Saints (9-3) have always been effective in the way they use their screen game, but adding Kamara in addition to Ingram, New Orleans has seen even more success this year in this area.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel both talked about how defending this part of New Orleans game will be crucial to success.
"For years, I've been impressed by their screen game, the different ways they will utilize the running backs, the tight ends, the wide receivers, into that package, and it just so happened they seemed like there's new guys that come in that they can put into spots. I can remember, you know, a few years back, defending and talking about it as we went into a playoff game, I believe, with the running backs over a hundred catches or targets," Quinn said.
"When I look at the running backs right now with the two of them together over 90 catches, and that's a factor, you know, to know they incorporate everybody, the run game, the screens, the pass game. They make you defend the whole thing."
It will take all 11 players to limit the production of Kamara and Ingram and fortunately for the Falcons, they have all the speed on defense necessary to do just that.
"One of the things that you have to understand when you are talking about the screen game, Manuel said. "It's not a one-man football game. The screen is a team defensive play. We have to do a good job tackling them. It comes down to reacting. 11 guys playing the screen."
"If you look at both teams, guys who can run, guys who can make plays, we've got a couple around here that make some plays and have some pretty good speed, as well," Quinn said.