The Saints (7-1) are cruising along, perhaps on their way to a third consecutive NFC South title, but don’t expect them to take it easy on the beleaguered Falcons (1-7).
The Falcons, who are double-digit underdogs, face their rivals at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“It’s like national Hate Week this week,” Saints defensive end Cam Jordan told the New Orleans media Monday. “Ain’t no ‘don’t eat the cheese.’ At the end of the day, they have extremely talented players.”
While the Falcons’ defense ranks near the bottom of the NFL in most key statistical categories, the Saints are aware of the team’s offensive weaponry.
“You’ve got your tight end (Austin Hooper) who’s playing at an extremely high level,” Jordan said. “You talk about what Julio (Jones) has been able to do year-in and year-out. What he’s able to do this season. Just the catches that he’s made. You talk about (Calvin) Ridley as he’s progressing as a receiver being able to run all of the routes.
“When you have (center) Alex Mack, you can do a lot of things.”
Jordan, who leads the Saints with eight sacks, didn’t stop there as he gave Mack, a “Go Cal Bears” shout out.
The Saints posted five consecutive wins behind backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The ageless Drew Brees returned from a broken thumb to lead them to a 31-9 win over the Arizona Cardinals before the bye week.
Brees completed 34 of 43 passes for 373 yards, three touchdowns and one interception against the Cardinals. He finished with a passer rating of 116.4.
“He was sharp,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I thought he located the ball well. He had a good week of practice. He really threw it well in practice, and I thought in the game the same way. The one interception was a play he’d want back, but overall I thought not having played in five weeks, six weeks coming in, I thought he did a good job.”
Most thought Brees should not have rushed back. With the bye week looming he could have two extra weeks to let the thumb heal.
“He understands exactly where we’re at as a team and we just communicated, paid close attention to it, and shoot, it looked good,” Payton said. “He felt good, and I don't think there was a hiccup relative to the decision to start him.”
Also, running back Alvin Kamara missed the Cardinals game with knee and ankle injuries. Running back Latavius Murray rushed 21 times for 102 yards and a touchdown. He also caught nine of 12 targets out of the backfield for 55 yards in the passing game.
The Saints’ offense is built around getting the ball to dynamic wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has caught 73 passes for 874 yards and four touchdowns.
Multi-purpose player Taysom Hill has rushed the ball and caught and thrown a pass for the Saints.
Right tackle Ryan Ramcyzk and left tackle Terron Armstead kept Brees clean against Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones.
The Saints’ defense ranks fifth in the league in yards allowed, at 316.5 per game.
“They’ve got good players, and they are well-coached to start off with,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “They are playing with a lot of confidence right now. They are playing as good as anybody as a team.”
While Jordan heads up the front line, Demario Davis controls the linebackers and cornerback Marshon Lattimore is a rising start in the secondary.
“They play really fast and hard on defense,” Koetter said. “You can see that they feed off of each other’s energy. They are a good tackling defense. They are able to get pressure with a four-man rush. Then they also have an extensive blitz package.”
The Saints are not sure why the Falcons’ performance has fallen off over the first half of this season.
“I think it’s most important not to pay attention to the record,” Armstead said. “Understand that it’s a team that we play twice a year and have great battles against. Talented. An extremely talented team. … We can not look at the record at all. Our record either.”
Jordan will go against Falcons rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary.
“It’s going to be on us to try to make them one dimensional as possible,” Jordan said.
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