The Saints are strongest where the Falcons are weakest, in the trenches

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In Terry Fontenot’s first matchup against his former employer, the Falcons will face the Saints this Sunday in New Orleans. Fontenot worked for the Falcons division rivals in an official capacity for almost 20 years — nine years as a scout, six years as the director of pro scouting, and one year as the assistant general manager and vice president of pro personnel.

The Saints are coming off a massive divisional win over the Buccaneers but not without losing starting quarterback Jameis Winston for the year to a torn ACL. New Orleans currently sits at 5-2, and Sean Payton will have to decide whether he wants Taysom Hill or Trevor Siemian to lead his offense the rest of the season.

The good news for Payton and the Saints is that the supporting cast either quarterback will be surrounded by is playoff-caliber. No Michael Thomas? No problem. This Saints offense is propelled by their stout offensive line and genius play design; in fact, the strengths of this New Orleans roster lie where the Falcons are the weakest.

This Saints offensive line is anchored by one of the best tackle duos in the league — Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. Erik McCoy and Cesar Ruiz are both reliable interior offensive linemen, but with Andrus Peat on the IR, there is a weak link in Calvin Throckmorton. Falcons fans, please don’t get your hopes up, though, Throckmorton isn’t as much of a liability as Jalen Mayfield, and he might not even get the start.

Last week against the Buccaneers, the Saints rolled with James Hurst instead of Throckmorton, and it paid off as New Orleans put up 361 total yards of offense and gained 152 yards on the ground against one of the best run defenses in the league. I would be shocked if they went back to Throckmorton.

The Falcons’ defensive front has one matchup that plays into their favor — Grady Jarrett against any of the Saints’ interior linemen. Obviously, Sean Payton and the Saints offensive line coach can identify this, so I wouldn’t expect Jarrett to see any one-on-ones at all. Unlike in years past, this Saints offense is almost entirely reliant on moving the ball on the ground; New Orleans has the second-most rushing attempts in the league and is third to last in passing attempts. 

With the showing the Falcons defensive front had last week against the Panthers, I would expect Sean Payton to be deliberate in his approach to run the ball until Dean Pees’ unit can stop it. The advantage the Saints have in the trenches continues on the other side of the ball as well.

The Saints’ defensive front is stout with position-flexible defensive ends — Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport. Jordan seems to play his best against the Falcons and will surely command double teams all afternoon long, but the Saints are much more dangerous with Davenport back in the lineup. It isn’t a coincidence they have eight sacks in the past two games.

The Saints will also welcome David Onyemata back, who played in 44% of defensive snaps against Tampa after serving a six-game PED suspension. Shy Tuttle has filled in admirably with Onyemata out of the lineup and would easily start on the Falcons. The New Orleans front office is just exceptional at finding talent in the trenches.

Outside of Davenport and Jordan attacking Kaleb McGary, expect them to kick inside on obvious passing downs to take advantage of the Falcons’ weak interior offensive line. Jalen Mayfield and Matt Hennessy will have their hands full with Onyemata and Tuttle. The Falcons will have difficulty moving the ball on this defense, which is one of the best units in the league.

The Falcons are at a significant disadvantage in the trenches, where this game will be won and lost. Arthur Smith can scheme all he wants, but the offensive and defensive lines have to play with some fire and show their division rivals this is a new era in Falcons football.



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