Two games ago, with Taysom Hill making his first NFL start at quarterback, the New Orleans Saints posted a 24-9 victory over Atlanta in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and the Saints pretty much had their way.
Hill completed 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards and no interceptions, ran for 51 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries (the team gained 168 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries), and the defense sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan eight times en route to holding the Falcons to 248 yards and 2 of 14 on third down.
Repeating that performance won't be easy for the Saints (9-2), who are seeking their ninth straight victory on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. But the Saints have shown a resiliency and ability to find ways to win. Here are a few points that could help Sunday:
- GROUND AND POUND: One of the best weapons for a quarterback in a road game is a potent ground attack, and New Orleans' has been as potent as anyone's has during its eight-game winning streak. The Saints have averaged 33 carries for 146 yards and two touchdowns over the eight games, and the numbers jump to 40 carries for 199 yards and 3.5 touchdowns in the two games Hill has started at quarterback. He's like having an extra back when New Orleans goes to its designed quarterback runs, and he can tuck it and gain positive yards if the pocket collapses. That makes the Saints a very dangerous running team. And if a little too much attention is given to Hill, there's always Alvin Kamara, one of the most valuable players in the league, and Latavius Murray.
- GET SOME AIR: Atlanta, of course, will want to take away the running game and force Hill to win through the air. He was accurate in the first meeting, and the Falcons couldn't stop Michael Thomas (nine catches, 104 yards). He'll need to be as effective in the rematch, because Atlanta probably will opt to crowd the box against the run. New Orleans didn't do much in the passing game against Denver (Hill was nine of 16 for 78 yards, with an interception, and was sacked three times), and it didn't need to. But Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Tre'Quan Smith and the rest should see some favorable matchups along the way Sunday.
- RATTLE RYAN: When the Saints' defense gets after Ryan, it usually bodes well for New Orleans. And, man, did it get after Ryan in the first game. The eight sacks were the highlight, but New Orleans also had two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and 11 quarterback hits. It was one of the defense's most impressive displays in what has been an increasingly impressive season. Defensive end Cam Jordan is heating up; four of his 6.5 sacks have been in the last two games, including three against Atlanta. He won't see much single blocking, so that could help free up Trey Hendrickson (9.5 sacks) and David Onyemata (five sacks). And, if needed, the Saints can always send linebacker Demario Davis (four sacks). Rattle Ryan, and life will be easier.
- COVER: No need to make this cute. The Saints have to cover Falcons receivers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. Jones (hamstring) may be a no-go, and that always makes life simpler for a defense. Regardless, New Orleans was spectacular in coverage the first game; several sacks were "cover" sacks, because Ryan had nowhere to throw the ball. And that was the Saints minus cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who was out with an injury. Lattimore is in for the rematch, but Jackrabbit Jenkins (knee) is out. Patrick Robinson filled in nicely for Lattimore in the first game, and he has proven extremely valuable this season while the Saints' secondary has rounded into form. Every week presents a new challenge, and this one – against these receivers – is a big one.
- EARLY BLITZ: Expect an early flood of emotion from the Falcons. The Saints pushed them around in New Orleans, and they'll want revenge. If New Orleans weathers the early storm and settles in, or perhaps even takes an early lead, it could affect Atlanta's psyche.
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