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Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints: What we’re watching

The conclusion of Week 3 pits the Saints and Falcons in an NFC South clash, and here’s what we’re looking for.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

As weird as it sounds, the New Orleans Saints have a golden opportunity to hit the reset button on the 2016 season against the Atlanta Falcons. Although the Saints are winless in the young season, a victory over their NFC South rivals would put them into a tie in for the division lead with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, the Saints have to take care of their own business first.

Here’s what we’re looking for out of this matchup.

Can this be the week things get put together?

We’ve witnessed the first week where the offense was great, but the defense wasn’t. Then the second week brought us the polar opposite. This has to be the game where both sides click, and it wouldn’t hurt for the special teams to help out either. This has been a rather frustrating narrative for the Saints over the past several seasons, and while the optimism remains in the locker room, it’s time for it all to come together when it’s needed the most.

Will the Saints bring back the prime time magic?

Against the Falcons, the Saints have a 5-0 record on Monday Night Football in the Sean Payton Era. In the all-time series history, the Saints are 8-2 in prime time settings against the Falcons (losses coming in 2005 and 2012). The Saints have won four out of their last five games at home against the Falcons, and are 8-2 at home against them since 2006.

Overall, the Saints have won 19 out of their last 22 prime time games at home. However, they’ve dropped their past two Monday night contests (Detroit Lions - 2015, Baltimore Ravens - 2014). This is one of their two games on the big stage this season, and the Dome crowd should be completely pumped for this one with the 10-year anniversary of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome reopening.

The fast start

Let’s be honest, you can’t afford to sleep on Matt Ryan and company. One thing that will help put the pressure on him is getting off to a strong start. Unfortunately, that’s a tall task for Sean Payton’s squad, as that’s been absent in the first two contests. When the Saints were most lethal over the past decade, it was largely due to the fact that the team struck quickly and kept the foot on the gas. That’s something that’s been dearly missed. However, last year’s game saw the Saints get out to an early lead, and they ended up winning 31-21.

Matching up to the Falcons receivers

Sterling Moore, Ken Crawley, De’Vante Harris, and B.W. Webb will have their hands full with the likes of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Jacob Tamme. Throw in Justin Hardy, Levine Toilolo, Austin Hooper, and Aldrick Robinson, and there’s plenty of weapons Matt Ryan will have at his disposal. No doubt the big focus will be on who matches up against Julio Jones, and he’s proven to be a Saints killer during his career.

Craig Robertson (and perhaps Dannell Ellerbe) will have a key role in coverage during this game. If the Saints can get him to put on a repeat performance of the first two weeks, then it should help get the defense off the field more often than not.

The pass protection

No Terron Armstead means that Andrus Peat could shift to left tackle, but that also means that left guard duties could fall to Senio Kelemete or Tim Lelito. No matter who goes where, there’s going to be some uncertainty for the Saints offense without their blind side staple. If I’m Dan Quinn, I’m going to overload that side of the offensive line to disrupt Drew Brees.

The Saints offense struggled heavily against the Giants last week, particularly in third down attempts. Blitzing wasn’t picked up properly, and the play calls were a bit too predictable. In order for Brees to be successful, you have to give him the time of day.