– Bill Annechino
Falcons 45 Saints 32
I don’t think I’ve ever watched a high-scoring game that was this boring. Drew Brees had a good game by traditional metrics: 376 yards for a 3:1 TD:INT ratio. Digging a little deeper, ESPN only credited him with a QBR of 46.9. Matt Ryan, on the other hand, had a more pedestrian 240 yards with a 2:0 TD:INT, but he earned a 92.4 QBR for his efforts. Both quarterbacks completed exactly 66.6% of their passes. Matt Ryan averaged a full yard more per attempt than Brees, which shows how efficient he was in this game. New Orleans continues to have difficulties on defense, where it was absolutely shredded by Devonta Freeman. Freeman racked up 207 all purpose yards, including a whopping 152 on the ground. Tevin Coleman chipped in with 3 rushing touchdowns on 12 carries. What makes this game crazy from a statistical standpoint is that Freeman only out-carried Coleman 14-12. I would assume that, after tonight’s game, Freeman has re-established himself as the top back in Atlanta. With Freeman seemingly picking up 10 yards every time he touched the ball, there was little need for an air-it-out approach from the Falcons. I predicted more than a hundred yards from Julio Jones, with 200 yards being in play. Of course, he finished with 1 catch for 16 yards. Besides that I can’t be trusted, this tells me that Julio is still far from 100%. He has appeared to be nothing more than a decoy on most of the routes he’s run this year. The Falcons, at 2-1 and first place in the NFC South, can’t complain as long as they keep winning. If they want their success to continue, they will need to hope that their best playmaker gets right in a hurry.
The Saints are the best 0-3 team in football, seeing as they are one of the league’s elite offenses. That should put how bad they are on defense into even more perspective. In 3 games, the Saints have given up 474, 417 and 486 yards, for an average of 459 yards per game. The Falcons were 1st in the NFL in terms of total offensive yardage per game heading into this game, averaging 451 yards per game (that number will be going up by a few yards after tonight). That means that, through the young season, when you play the Saints, your offense becomes the best in the NFL. By virtue of playing in a bad division, they are somehow only 2 games back, but they need to start winning in a hurry to find themselves contending this year. Playoffstatus.com gives the Saints a 90% chance of missing the playoffs, which means that this is probably going to be a lost season for the Saints.
So, if you were the Saints, what’s the first step towards contending again? Drew Brees is under contract through the end of next year and has expressed his desire to finish his career in New Orleans, and to also play more than 2 years. So, assuming that they will have above-average quarterback play for the immediate future, the defense absolutely has to be addressed. From my point of view, there are two kinds of player who can become a defensive cornerstone: a dominating pass rusher or a do-it-all linebacker. Teams like the Broncos and Texans have built above-average defenses around pass rushers Von Miller and J.J. Watt, respectively. On the other side of the spectrum, the Panthers and Vikings chose linebackers Luke Kuechly and Anthony Barr to lead their defenses (I’ve excluded the Seattle model because I don’t think you can reasonably expect to draft a hall of fame cornerback in the 5th round, although they owe a large deal of their success to dominant linebacker Bobby Wagner). Since the Saints are so bad, they have their pick of how to tackle this problem. Looking way ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft, 2 prospects make the most sense to me. If the Saints really do contend for the first overall pick and land within the top 3, they will have their pick of the draft. I expect the two worst teams in football to be the Bears and the Browns, who will both need quarterbacks. The no-brainer pick for the Saints is Myles Garrett, out of Texas A&M. If you haven’t seen this kid play, I encourage you to do so, because he reminds more than a few people of another Aggie who was drafted high and held the Super Bowl MVP trophy last season. It’s going to be a long road back for the Saints, but the process of rebuilding a defense can be jump-started with a prospect like Garrett.
So that’s what I saw on Monday night. I’ll be back later in the week with my Week 4 preview.
– Bill Annechino (Twitter)