FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons (1-1) renew their rivalry against the New Orleans Saints (1-1) on Sunday in a big division matchup at home.
The Falcons-Saints rivalry has been extremely competitive in recent years, and this game looks like it should shape up to be another good one with plenty of enticing matchups across the board. For those who understand the type of matchup problems Saints running back Alvin Kamara can present and want to read more about that specific challenge, check out this week's After Further Review.
Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. vs. Falcons secondary
A lot of attention has been paid to Kamara, and rightfully so, but when the Saints aren't getting their dynamic running back involved they're going up top to two talented wide receivers.
Michael Thomas is currently second in the NFL with 269 receiving yards through two games, and he leads the NFL with 28 receptions, eight more than Christian McCaffrey who is second on that list. Thomas is a big part of the Saints' offense. Ted Ginn isn't as heavily used – he has just nine receptions this year – but he's the Saint's home-run threat. With his tremendous speed, the Falcons can't let him get behind them.
Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant are a very capable pair of starting cornerbacks, and going against Julio Jones every day in practice helps them prepare for a matchup such as this. But they aren't the only players who will have to keep tabs on Thomas and Ginn, meaning every player in the Falcons' secondary will have to be on alert in this tough matchup.
Julio Jones vs. Marshon Lattimore
Julio Jones has yet to practice this week, but he's a tough player who has played through injuries before and the Falcons will need him in this one. If he is on the field, he will be involved in one of the game's premier matchups going up against second-year corner Marshon Lattimore.
In his two games against the Saints last season, Jones was primarily matched up against Lattimore and caught a total of 12 passes for 247 yards and no touchdowns.
"Saints are always a great matchup for us," Jones said. "A great rival game. Great divisional game. It's going to be fun. Lattimore, he's a great competitor, he comes to play every snap. It's going to be fun."
Falcons pass rush vs. Saints offensive line
Certainly a key matchup in this game will be the Falcons' offensive line's ability to protect Matt Ryan, but given the losses at the second level of the defense, Atlanta can't afford to give Drew Brees time to make easy throws. Therefore, the Falcons' ability to generate a pass rush will be very important in this one.
Atlanta has been creative in generating pressure thus far, and cornerback Brian Poole has two sacks off of blitzes in two games. Takkarist McKinley and Derrick Shelby are banged up, so the Falcons may need to be creative once again to get Brees off his spot. Brees has been sacked four times this season and just five percent of his total dropbacks.
"I think every time you go against a quarterback of his caliber your pass-rush has to affect him," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Some games affecting may be moving a quarterback off the spot where he doesn't have the same completion percentages. He's a difficult guy to sack due to his quickness [of knowing] where to deliver the ball, based on the routes and based on the coverages."