Falcons brace for 98th meeting with Saints

Falcons running back Tevin Coleman scores the Falcons' only touchdown against the Saints during the second half in a NFL football game on Sunday, December 24, 2017, in New Orleans.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Falcons running back Tevin Coleman scores the Falcons' only touchdown against the Saints during the second half in a NFL football game on Sunday, December 24, 2017, in New Orleans. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

The Falcons made major progress from the season opener Sept. 6 to the victory over the Panthers on Sunday.

They decreased their penalties from a league-high 15 to 2, improved red-zone scoring from 1-of-5 to 4-of-4 and found their rushing attack.

The Falcons (1-1) will be challenged to take another leap forward in Week 3, when they host the New Orleans Saints (1-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Where’s Vic Beasley? 

The Falcons haven’t mounted much of a pass rush this season, and defensive end Takk McKinley, who’s tied for the team lead with two sacks, will not play.

Also, reserve Derrick Shelby has a groin injury and will not play. Brooks Reed and Steven Means will play more in the defensive end rotation.

Vic Beasley, who’s been dropping into coverage and standing at the line of scrimmage and had spy duties last week against running Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, doesn’t have a sack this season. He has one tackle and two assists and no quarterback hits.

» More: Falcons seek better pass rush


The Falcons were standing up Beasley and McKinley on some plays against the Panthers. McKinley got his sack while rushing from a stand-up position.

The Falcons also bounced between four- and five-man fronts. They even jumbled the players.

They had McKinley at left end, Beasley left tackle, Grady Jarrett at right tackle and Jack Crawford at right end on third-and-15 from Carolina’s 31 at the 2:00 mark of the second quarter.

"You're constantly trying to give different looks, and anytime you can create a level of confusion or even just slow down the process, a good quarterback has to see what you are doing and how you are protecting," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Those are things that come up a lot of times on third down. We got hit with a couple pressures last week against Cleveland where we were one man short. It's part of the deal I guess." 

Stopping Kamara-Thomas

With running back Mark Ingram out on suspension (performance-enhancing drugs), Saints running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Mike Thomas are putting up computer game-type numbers.

Kamara has rushed 21 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns while catching 15 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown.

Thomas has been targeted a whopping 30 times and has caught 28 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns.

Thomas is on pace to catch 224 passes. The single-season mark is 143 by Marvin Harrison.

» Also: Rash of injuries tests Falcons' depth

“Some of those numbers in Week 1, based on what we were seeing, the type of game that unfolded, it became a little high,” Payton said. “It’s hard to plan sometimes where the ball is going.”

The Saints want to get their run game moving. They rank last in the NFL while averaging just 52.5 yards per game.

“Certainly, Alvin and Mike are guys that we want to get the football to and yet we recognize the importance of having that balance,” Payton said. “So, we didn’t run the ball as much as we would have liked in the first game.”

The Falcons will try to contain Thomas with a safety staying over the top. The Saints will try to get Kamara in space, and middle linebacker Duke Riley will need to have a good game flowing to the ball.

Three key matchups

Saints LDE Cam Jordan vs. Falcons RT Ryan Schraeder: In the last meeting, a Saints 23-13 victory on Dec. 24, Jordan moved around the line and had two sacks, two tackles for losses and four quarterback hits. He has two sacks on the season after posting a career-high 13 sacks in 2017. Schraeder has started the season strong. "I've liked (Jordan) because he's not just really a big guy," Falcons coach coach Dan Quinn said. "He's got speed…. Usually you don't see those kind of big guys play outside with that much quickness."

Saints TE Benjamin Watson vs. Falcons LB DeVondre Campbell: It's not good when the head coach calls out the entire tight end position group. Payton voiced his displeasure with the play of Watson and Josh Hill. They need to improve their blocking in the run game. With Keanu Neal out, Campbell is the Falcons' best candidate to handle Watson. Backup strong safety Jordan Richards is more of a box safety to support the run. In nine games against the Falcons, Watson has 29 catches for 321 yards and four touchdowns. In 2015, he tied a career-high with 10 catches against the Falcons.

Saints WR Ted Ginn vs. Falcons CB Desmond Trufant: It was the speedster Ginn, who broke open the game in the last meeting with a 54-yard touchdown catch. He got away from Trufant on the Saints' trademark slant-and-go route up the seam. The score put the Saints up 13-0, and the Falcons were fighting up hill the rest of the way.

QB Corner with Matt Ryan

Here are three questions with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on the Saints:

On which team is he preparing to see – a team playing man or zone: "I mean we'll be prepared for a lot of different things. One of the things that their scheme has is multiple looks whether it's in the front seven or in the backend. They do a lot of different things, they give you a lot of different looks. We'll have to be prepared for all of it. We'll have to have a good game plan and be ready to go for that."

On Marshon Lattimore: "Yeah, he's a good player. Had a great year last year. Is solid in man-to-man coverage, solid in playing off in zone coverages, too. Has good ball skills. Certainly, (we) have been impressed by him so far."

On Saints rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport: "I think their front seven in general. They've got some new backers, some new guys in the front four. But they give you so many different looks, they put guys in different positions and stress you across the board. As a whole, their entire front seven looks good."

» More: What Drew Brees said about the Falcons

About the Saints 

» Payton, who’s been with the Saints since 2006, is the dean of NFC South coaches.

» Only New England’s Bill Belichick (2000), Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis (2003) and Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (hired a week before Payton in 2006) have been with their teams longer.

» The Falcons lead the series 51-46, but the Saints hold a 16-8 advantage since 2006.

» The Saints have split the first two games. They lost 48-40 to Tampa Bay and defeated Cleveland 21-8. The defending NFC South champs are off to their best start in five seasons.

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