To say the New Orleans Saints have found ways to win in 2021 would be inaccurate.
The Saints, 5-2 entering Sunday's game against Atlanta (3-4) in the Caesars Superdome, have created ways to win. And the formulas have been successful despite who has been sidelined, for whatever reasons, for however long.
Their NFC South Division rival will present another chance for the Saints to see if the plan they've meticulously crafted, combined with some timely execution, is the correct one. Here are a few items that could be on the list:
1. KEEP TREVOR COMFORTABLE: Quarterback Trevor Siemian will make his first NFL start since the second week of the 2019 season. However, it'll probably feel a lot like a second straight start, because Siemian played almost three quarters in the Saints' 36-27 victory over Tampa Bay, and attempted 29 passes (completing 16, for 159 yards). The Falcons have been a much more accommodating run defense (125 yards per game, 4.4 yards per carry) than Tampa Bay was, so there'll be less of a necessity for Siemian and the offense to be pass-heavy. But when the Saints do want to throw, Atlanta allows 233 passing yards per game on 69 percent completions, and opponents have 15 touchdowns, vs. three interceptions. Add that to the fact that the Saints are playing at home, and it could be an ideal scenario for Siemian.
2. BALANCE THE SHEET: Still, New Orleans can't – and won't – forget the run. Alvin Kamara (19 carries, 61 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay) and Mark Ingram II (six carries, 27 yards) were back at it like old times, and it's a combination that New Orleans will continue to ride. Ingram's presence helps keep Kamara fresh, and that will benefit both backs in the long run. The Saints average 125 rushing yards per game and, somewhat surprisingly, Jameis Winston was gaining 24 yards on 5.2 yards per carry on scrambles. Siemian won't be the scrambling threat Winston was, but Taysom Hill is back and when he's in the shotgun taking snaps, he smoothly could replace Winston's production.
3. MATTY ON ICE: Time and again, the Saints have shown that – arguably – the best defense against a good offense is to keep possession of the ball and keep the opposing offense on the sideline. But, of course, the Falcons are going to get possessions, and quarterback Matt Ryan will have his chances. The Saints historically have defended him pretty well – defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had a four-sack game against Atlanta a few seasons ago, is 3.5 sacks shy of 100 in his career – and this season, Ryan has six interceptions (with 13 touchdowns) and has been sacked 12 times. He doesn't have his best receiver, Calvin Ridley, so if the Saints' pass defense is anywhere near as effective as it was against Tampa Bay – interceptions by P.J. Williams (a pick-6) and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, sacks by Jordan, Kwon Alexander and Tanoh Kpassagnon and a forced fumble by Jordan – it could have another good day.
4. DO WHAT YOU DO: Of course, in order to maximize pressure in the passing game, the Saints need to make Atlanta one-dimensional. The Falcons only run for 87 yards per game, and 3.7 yards per carry. That's right in New Orleans' run-game wheelhouse – 79.4 rushing yards per game allowed, on 3.5 yards per carry. If the Saints do what they normally have done, they'll make the Falcons a passing team and they'll have their best chance to disrupt Ryan.
5. WHERE'S CORDARRELLE? Cordarrelle Patterson simply has to be kept in check. Easier said than done, of course. Patterson, a running back/receiver/returner, can hurt a team from any of the three areas. This season he has run for a career-high 268 yards and two touchdowns on 64 carries, caught 32 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns, and returned 11 kickoffs for a 24.3-yard average (FYI: In 2019, he returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Saints as a Chicago Bear). He'll be a point of emphasis for the Saints whenever he's on the field.
ZATARAIN'S KEY INGREDIENTS RECIPE OF THE WEEK:
CHICKEN & SAUSAGE GUMBO
A Louisiana favorite gumbo recipe, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo gets its flavor from the "holy trinity" of Cajun cuisine – green onions, celery and bell peppers. Start with Zatarain's Gumbo Mix with Rice and add chicken and Zatarain's Sausage. Ready to eat in under an hour.