Atlanta Falcons Opponent Analysis: New Orleans Saints Offense

Atlanta Falcons Opponent Analysis
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The players are running routes in shorts, and there are no pads yet as OTAs are in full swing. So what is there to do for fans while rosters are still forming? Analyze the opponents of the 2022 Atlanta Falcons, of course! We continue this opponent analysis for the Atlanta Falcons series with the offense of the New Orleans Saints. For this exercise, we will analyze the strengths, weaknesses, and points of attack of the Falcons defense.

Atlanta Falcons Opponent Analysis: New Orleans Saints Offense

Strengths

Playmakers Throughout the Offense

The Saints have paid as much attention to their offense as their defense. Having Marques Calloway and Deonte Harris as your leading receivers does not spell good tidings for your prospects as an offense. No disrespect to either of those receivers, but they lack the big-play ability and separation ability that top receivers have. This off-season, they took care of all of those aspects. 

For separation, there is Michael Thomas, one of the leading yard-eaters. It’s noteworthy that the last time that Thomas played an entire season (2019), he posted 1,725 yards on 149 receptions and nine touchdowns. To pair with him, Loomis and Allen brought in Jarvis Landry, the route-running savant who is also looking to repeat his 2019 production with the Cleveland Browns down in the bayou. Both receivers can create separation using their route-running abilities and have strong hands at the point of attack.

As for the big-play ability, they brought in the speedy Chris Olave from the Ohio State University. Olave was looked at on many draft boards as a potential WR1 but the Saints were swooned at the prospect to bring in the California-borne receiver. Olave’s ability to stretch the defense vertically with his 4.39 speed and explosiveness will add yet another wrinkle to this offense.

We’d be remiss not to speak on the leader in yards from scrimmage for New Orleans last season: Alvin Kamara. Due to his legal troubles, he may not be available for the first matchup between these two rivals. However, Kamara is the archetype for the modern-day running back as his pass-catching abilities and ability to read holes through the tackles make him a constant matchup nightmare.

Play-Calling

The Saints did lose their main play-caller on the offensive end with the departure of Sean Payton. That is true. However, the offensive coordinator position has not changed for the Saints. They have trusted long-time offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael with play-calling duties for the 2022 season and beyond. While Carmichael may not be the mind that Sean Payton is, he does know how to put his offenses in a position to make plays. 

The last play-calling stint he had before 2021 was in 2016. Sean Payton gave Carmichael play-calling duties starting with week one and ending in week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams. The offense ended up having four games where the EPA (Expected Points Added) exceeded 10 points. Three of those instances exceeded 20, including a whopping 29.46 against the San Francisco 49ers in Week nine. They ended up posting 571 yards, including 248 on the ground.

Yes, this is a blast from the past and does not instantly mean that Carmichael will have similar success in 2022. However, it does prove that play-calling will not be the problem. Another notable aspect of that San Francisco game was that out of the 323 yards that Drew Brees threw, not one receiver amassed 100 yards. Heck, none of the receivers hit 75 yards. But the targets and receptions were spread out over the offense to the point where everyone was a threat. With Brees not under center, expect Carmichael to do the same with Jameis Winston. Winston is best when he gets into a rhythm early before taking his shots down the field. When Winston feels he needs to force the issue, that is when the inexplicable throws happen.

Weaknesses

Jameis Winston

To say that the former number one pick has underachieved so far is an understatement. Not to say Winston has not shown signs that he can be a competent quarterback, just not a franchise one. Saints fans seem to have hitched their wagon to the former Heisman winner hoping for a resurgence. Or maybe just enough production from the quarterback position so that the defense can lead them to a deep playoff run. However, Jameis Winston is no game manager. Winston is a bona fide gunslinger that will take chances that make even the most understanding fan scratch their head in confusion.

Before his season-ending injury against his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Week 8 of the season, Winston seemed to be playing well. The team was 4-2, while the offense seemed to be working well enough to win ball games. However, when you look at Winston’s performance in these games, he was pedestrian at best. 

We saw him put up his second-worst Bad Throw % in his career with 21.7%. For reference, the median for that statistic is around 17.7%. His worst game was against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, where he put up a BT% of 33.3%. That’s one in every three passes.  

Winston is still the same quarterback that the Saints will have to reign in so that he doesn’t make a mistake that can hinder the offense’s progress. However, if a team can make him uncomfortable as the Panthers did, Winston will force the issue again, which will open up opportunities for turnovers for the defense.

Offensive Line

PFF graded the 2021 New Orleans offensive line as the 19th-best in the league. Not bad, but not great either. However, when you look at the grades given to each of those in the interior, It gets even worse. Both guard positions saw PFF grades under 60, with Cesar Ruiz at 57.9 and Calvin Throckmorton at an abysmal 43.4. Erik McCoy stayed as steady as he could, with his immediate support being futile at a 64.2. 

While PFF is not the end-all-be-all for performance on the offensive line, it is one of the few indicators that outlines how well an offensive line has performed. And, as a whole, the Saints were a line susceptible mainly on the interior. There were many times you could see defensive tackles and edge rushers find their way to the interior and have little resistance getting to the ball carrier. Making this a perfect point of exploitation as we continue on with this opponent analysis for the Atlanta Falcons. 

With the departure of Terron Armstead, the Saints now leave Winston’s blind side in the hands of rookie Trevor Penning. One of the more NFL-ready tackles in this draft, as far as size and demeanor, but a rookie nonetheless. Outside of Ryan Ramcyzk, there are a lot of questions on this line as they look to keep Winston upright long enough to allow this team to stretch the field vertically.

Points of Attack

Single-Coverage Ability

Last year, teams started their offensive attacks against the Falcons using the run game and establishing it early. Forcing Dean Pees to either stack the box while not having the personnel to match up one on one behind it or get abused in the trenches play after play. 

That should not be as much of a problem this year. Dean Pees might be more willing to play more single-coverages on the backend. Having a top-three cornerback in A.J. Terrell and a solidified second option in Casey Hayward helps to make that decision easier. 

Due to Winston’s erratic play, it will be necessary to establish the run game to open up the passing lanes. There will be times when players like Landry and Thomas will separate and find the soft spots in the zone because that’s what they bring to the table in the intermediate passing game. But if Terrell and Hayward can hold their own in single coverage without bracketing help from the safeties, that leaves Grant and Hawkins to support the linebackers in the run game. That could mean the difference between a run breaking for five to six yards and it only gaining two to three.

Configuring Pressure

To round out this opponent analysis for the Atlanta Falcons, we are going to discuss getting more pressure on the quarterback. Dean Pees and his unique blitzes from different angles on the field make his defense dangerous, especially in obvious passing downs. Pees is on record saying he wants guys who win their one-on-one matchups and get to the quarterback. Last year, only one player on that front line did that consistently: Grady Jarrett. 

This year, they brought in Lorenzo Carter and rookie Arnold Ebiketie to help take some of the pressure off Grady Jarrett and other interior defenders. There are plenty of question marks surrounding this defensive line group. Players like TaQuon Graham, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, and Marlon Davidson have to show they can contribute and cause chaos in that front seven. 

But with a questionable interior offensive line, something the Falcons know about all too well, there is an opening to get to Winston and force some mistakes. Pees and his patented safety/nickel A-gap blitzes are something to watch out for in these two games as they will look to attack both Ruiz and Throckmorton to force Winston to make decisions quicker than he would otherwise like to.