By Stephen Dolan
The NFC South is the focus of Thursday Night Football this week as the New Orleans Saints take on the undefeated Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons survived a scare on Sunday as the Washington Redskins took them to overtime, only to watch the Atlanta defense step up with an interception returned for a touchdown to win it. The Saints were blown out in Philadelphia in a game where the offensive line couldn’t protect the quarterback or open up holes for the running backs.
Play: Drew Brees (vs. ATL)
Brees’ numbers look good through four games this season. He’s thrown for 1,304 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, while throwing for 335 or more yards in three of his four games. Despite some sacks against the Eagles, Brees managed to put up some big numbers, completing 60.5% of his passes after completing 80.5% of his passes last week against the Cowboys. The Saints have been playing from behind a lot through the early part of the season, so Brees has had the chance to put up gaudy numbers. Look for the trend to continue on Thursday.
Pass: Matt Ryan (vs. NO)
Ryan is off to a great start this season as he is third in the NFL in passing with 1,456 yards for the undefeated Falcons, but he is coming off a rough start against the Redskins where he threw for just 254 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Despite finding a way to win games, Ryan has just one touchdown over the last two games. He will be facing a New Orleans defense that is 23rd in the NFL against the pass, but Julio Jones’ health has been a question for two weeks now.
Play: Devonta Freeman (vs. NO)
Freeman is coming off a monster game on Sunday against Washington when he rushed 27 times for 153 yards and a touchdown. He has rushed for 141 or more yards in two of his last three games and has seven rushing touchdowns over that span, stepping up for Atlanta with the injury to Tevin Coleman. Freeman, now second in the NFL in rushing with 405 yards on the season, is facing a Saints rush defense that ranks 31st in the NFL allowing 679 rushing yards this season. Play Freeman.
Pass: Mark Ingram (vs. ATL)
The Saints were looking to establish the run this season, but Ingram hasn’t exactly blown the doors off with his play. He has yet to post a game with more than 77 rushing yards and is coming off of a 57-yard effort against the Eagles on Sunday. Ingram has put up just one touchdown this season and is facing a Falcons defense that leads the league, allowing an average of just 78.4 rushing yards per game. Pass on Ingram.
Play: Brandin Cooks (vs. ATL)
Cooks had a strong effort on Sunday against Philadelphia, catching five of his nine targets for 107 yards and a touchdown – his first of the season. Cooks leads the Saints in receptions (25) and targets (40), so he figures to get his share of looks on Thursday. Like Brees, Cooks will likely continue to be the beneficiary of the Saints’ necessity to throw the ball if they have to play from behind. The Falcons rank 25th in the NFL, allowing an average of 292.2 receiving yards per game, so there will likely be room for Cooks to work.
Pass: Roddy White (vs. NO)
White hasn’t been very effective over his last two outings as he posted just two catches for 23 yards on Sunday against Washington and just two catches for eight yards two weeks ago against the Texans. He is still looking for his first touchdown catch of the year, and his struggles will not be helped by Ryan’s recent touchdown drought. Pass on White.
Play: Jacob Tamme (vs. NO)
Tamme put up big numbers on Sunday against Washington, catching eight of his 10 targets for 94 yards. On the year, he has 16 receptions for 198 yards, good for fourth on the team in receiving. White’s lack of production could open things up against the Saints pass defense, which has struggled of late.
Pass: Benjamin Watson (vs. ATL)
Watson hasn’t been a key member of the Saints passing attack as he has not had a game with more than four receptions or more than 42 yards. He caught three passes for 36 yards on Sunday against the Eagles, including a touchdown on a defensive breakdown. Watson has not sufficiently filled in for the departure of tight end Jimmy Graham.
Play: Matt Bryant (vs. NO)
Pass: Zach Hocker (vs. ATL)
Steve Dolan is an MBA student at Villanova University and a graduate of the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University. Steve co-founded Whiz Wit Sports, a Philadelphia-centric sports blog, in March 2011 growing the site to win PHL 17’s Best Local Blogger on the Philly Hot List in 2013.