Reboot, refresh, reset – call it whatever you like, the New Orleans Saints (5-5) have an opportunity to do it and make the most of it over the final seven games, beginning with this weekend's trip to Atlanta to play the Falcons (4-6) on Sunday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Saints lead the NFC South Division by a game, and can guarantee that the margin remains at least that much with a win. Here are a few ways in which that can happen:
1. STOP THE RUN: Atlanta wants to run the ball. The Falcons haven't done many things well offensively this season, but running the ball for 130.4 yards per game, seventh-most in the NFL – including a whopping 184 rushing yards in their last game – definitely registers as doing something very, very well. Bijan Robinson, the Falcons' outstanding rookie, only has had two games of more than 14 carries. His usage rate should be high Sunday, which means linebackers Demario Davis and Pete Werner need to get to Robinson before Robinson gets to the secondary. He's quick-twitch, shifty and fast and he's a home-run threat on every touch. New Orleans allowed 148 rushing yards per game over its previous three; the leaks have to be controlled.
2. CONTROL RIDDER: For New Orleans' defense, Priority 1 over the bye week had to have been figuring out how to control opponents' mobile quarterbacks, who have feasted this season. Easier said than done, of course, but here's another at-bat, against a quarterback (Desmond Ridder) who had been benched, but is back in the starting lineup due to injury. Ridder has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,740 yards and six touchdowns, with six interceptions, has been sacked 25 times and has fumbled seven times. But he's mobile, and he can buy time, and he can run when necessary. That combination has confounded the Saints' defense this season, and it's imperative to find a solution whether that be a spy or simply generating better pressure with the front four. It's a good spot for Cameron Jordan to have another "Cam" day against a Falcons quarterback, but just as much, when any defensive lineman manages to lay hands on Ridder, he must be brought to the ground.
3. BACK ON TRACK: The Saints basically had a monstrosity of an offensive game in their last showing. After back-to-back games where they totaled 62 points, they came up with 19 against Minnesota and needed a furious rally behind backup quarterback Jameis Winston to score 16 of those points in the final 21 minutes. Derek Carr (shoulder, concussion) remains the starter after being medically cleared, and Carr needs to drive this offense better even in the absence of receiver Michael Thomas (knee, injured reserve). Receivers Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed are no less dangerous, but Thomas' leadership, toughness and production (39 catches for 448 yards) will be missed. This could be the game where tight end Juwan Johnson sees a spike in production, or maybe running back Alvin Kamara catches eight to 12 passes. However it shakes out, Carr needs to be efficient and this offense needs to score early, to shift the pressure to Atlanta's offense to match it.
4. AK AND TAYSOM: And speaking of Kamara, it'd be beneficial if he and Taysom Hillhave success running the ball. That's when New Orleans has been most effective this season, and the Saints will be facing a defense that allowed 139 rushing yards per game the three games entering Atlanta's bye week. Kamara needs touches – he and the Saints' offense are best when his hands are on the ball – and Hill continues to be a problem on quarterback power runs. It's a formidable one-two punch that the Saints always should be mindful is formidable.
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