Tonight’s Thursday night game is a matchup of the “this looked a lot better in the preseason” variety as the Saints go on the road to take on the Falcons. While the Saints have met or even exceeded expectations up to this point, the Falcons have been one of the bigger disappointments throughout the league this season.
This week, the Saints offense should continue to roll going against a reeling Falcons defense allowing almost 400 yards per game. Drew Brees is having yet another season that we have become accustomed to over the years. At this point it’s not a question of “if” but “when” for his Hall of Fame chances. Jimmy Graham has become far and away his top option through the year and despite playing through nagging injuries still physically dominates defenders. Along with the consistent play of Marques Colston, Brees has found another weapon in rookie Kenny Stills. Up to this point, Stills has filled the old Devery Henderson/Robert Meachem role in the Saints offense. Against a beatable Falcons secondary, don’t be surprised if he is good for at least a big play or two tonight. The Saints should also have an easy time establishing the run as the Falcons have really struggled defending it this year. While it is a messy situation for those who play fantasy football to get into, Pierre Thomas and a more involved Mark Ingram should both be able to find rushing lanes this week.
In the preseason, the Falcons offense had all the makings of an explosive unit but was never on the same page health wise. The first few weeks, Roddy White was playing on an ankle sprain that was probably much more severe than let on. At that point, White was a decoy in the offense and had other nagging injuries but is now healthy and should be a focal point moving forward. The addition of Steven Jackson was also supposed to be huge but between injuries and the wear and tear adding up, he only has 192 yards for the year averaging 3.3 yards a carry.
Of all the injuries the one that really decimated the Falcons offense was Julio Jones’ season ending injury in week five. Jones looked like he was on pace for a career year before going down with a broken foot and Matt Ryan’s numbers have taken a huge hit since. One bright spot for the Falcons offense has been Harry Douglas. He has produced since filling in for Jones in the starting lineup and with 51 catches for 754 yards is on pace for his first career 1,000 yard season. With the chance of playing from behind very early on in play, Ryan should be targeting White, Jones and Tony Gonzalez early and often tonight.
While I would love to see a showdown between two of the leagues best quarterbacks in Brees and Ryan, it seems highly unlikely to happen. The Saints defense has made drastic improvements this year while the Falcons have had trouble stopping nearly anyone up to this point. My prediction is Saints 36 Falcons (+9.5) 23.