At this point, the Falcons have become one of football’s hardest teams to evaluate. They’ve won three of their last four games, with the exception being a stinker against the Saints. They utterly routed the Raiders last week 43-6, and gave up a ridiculous 40 yards rushing.
All of this to say: The Saints run offense will have to be consistent against a Falcons run defense that has had spurts of brilliance under Raheem Morris, who is making a serious run for the head coaching job in Atlanta right now.
Indeed, between a stellar game against the Raiders and a good game against the Broncos, Morris has the Falcons run defense looking significantly more stout. It will be hard for the Saints to replicate their 166-yard performance from two weeks ago against the Falcons, and they don’t have to — they have to be better.
The Saints rushed for 229 yards against the Broncos in a game that could have easily taken place on a college field. Latavius Murray rushed for 124 yards, while Taysom Hill ran for 44 and Alvin Kamara had 54. Kamara hasn’t seen the uptick in touches you would expect with a quarterback like Hill, and this may be the game to change that.
On the offensive line, Terron Armstead looks like he’s likely to miss this week’s game, but James Hurst looked very capable at left tackle last week. Andrus Peat has been practicing. Cesar Ruiz is the player to look out for, as teams have attacked him with success this year.
The Saints still beat the Falcons in the trenches. They don’t have many run stoppers down there, but Foyesake Oluokun and Deion Jones almost make up for it on the next level. Both linebackers are excellent with gap control. Grady Jarrett has been limited in practice.
All things told, the Saints will undoubtedly try to have another big game on the ground. Hill has been less than threatening in the passing game to this point, and the game against the Broncos looked like a step back from his first start against the Falcons. Until he starts playing with some consistency, the Falcons will almost certainly be stacking the box against him.
With that being said, the Saints have the edge in personnel and momentum. The Falcons tried everything two weeks ago to slow down the ground game to no avail. Murray had his breakout game last week after a good game a few weeks ago against the Falcons, so expect to see him get more touches.
But the person the Saints need to get going on the ground will be Kamara. He has negative two yards in the receiving game on just one catch in the last two games, so that connection with Hill clearly just isn’t there right now. He’s not as effective split out for the moment, so it’s time to try something new.
Don’t expect another 200-plus-yard game on the ground this week — the Saints had a lot of factors go into that performance, not least of which is Sean Payton wanting to show the Broncos he could play the ground game too. But still look for a heavy reliance on the run, especially now that Hurst has earned his keep. The Falcons are coming off a big win, so they will feed off of that. But ultimately, the Saints should be the better rushing team in this matchup.