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Week 16 Game Recap: Atlanta Falcons 13, New Orleans Saints 23


What you need to know

Atlanta Falcons

Two offensive penalties for Atlanta during the first two drives of this game nullified pivotal plays that would have extended drives and led to punts. Atlanta used Jones in bunch sets frequently enough to keep Lattimore off the receiver. This worked last game and they went back to it early in this one. Atlanta then had four consecutive penalties during its third drive, leading to a 1st and 40 and eventually its third consecutive punt. Marvin Hall let a deep dig route go through his hands for an unlikely Lattimore interception that he pulled from his backside to control at the end of the half, leading to a deep crossing route to Ted Ginn for a long touchdown to pad the Saints’ lead to 13 points. Atlanta had a golden opportunity to score from inside the Saints’ two after Dion Jones intercepted a crossing route, but Devonta Freeman ran into the back of center Alex Mack and fumbled the ball away.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints were able to get revenge on an Atlanta team that beat them 15 days ago. It was a tight back and forth game that the Saints were able to pull out. The biggest difference this week was the performance of the Saints defense. With key 4th down stops, 5 sacks of Matt Ryan, and a candidate for interception of the year, the defense was the true story this week. The run game was held to under 100 total yards and Drew Brees threw an interception. This was a tough game against a division rival with playoff implications. There were a few blown calls and missed opportunities for the Falcons that let the Saints get the home victory and keep their seat atop the NFC South. Brees and company travel to Tampa Bay to close out the regular season next week and need to win to keep their division crown hopes alive.

Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan, 65 offensive snaps, Pass: 22 - 36 - 288 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 2 - 7 - 0
He targeted Julio Jones against Marshon Lattimore early in this game, generating two receptions on crossing routes and a defensed pass on an out. Atlanta used Jones in bunch sets frequently enough to keep Lattimore off the receiver. This worked last game and they went back to it early in this one. After multiple penalties during the third drive of the game, Ryan got sacked by Cameron Jordan on 3rd and 30 while climbing the pocket, leading to Atlanta’s third punt. He found Jones on a back-shoulder fade from the slot to begin Atlanta’s final drive of the half—once again, against Lattimore. However, Jordan hit Ryan during his throw two plays later, which led to a 3rd and 10 throw under pressure to Marvin Hall on the dig. Hall could not extend far enough to control the ball and it wound up landing on Lattimore’s backside, which he pulled off his butt to earn the drive-ending interception. The pass was catchable but the ball when through Hall’s hands. Jordan sacked Ryan a second time on a 3rd and 2 in the third quarter, beating the right tackle fast enough that Ryan barely finished his drop. Ryan connected with Jones late in the third quarter on an out-and-up against Lattimore for 44 yards.

RB Devonta Freeman, 43 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 36 - 0, Rec: 2 - 20 - 0 (3 targets)
He picked up a 2nd and 2 for a first down with a short gain and then took a misdirection pitch to the left up the sideline for a long gain across midfield but Jake Matthews held the inside pursuit unnecessarily and nullified the gain. New Orleans stopped Freeman on a 3rd and 2 after Taylor Gabriel gained 20 on a 2nd and 22 during the second drive. He picked up a 4th and 1 off left tackle on the next play, but the fullback Derrick Coleman moved before the ball was snapped and it nullified a second pivotal rushing play and forced Atlanta to end its second drive with a punt. Freeman delivered a face mask to Te’o on a toss right as the LB ran free to the backfield and forced the RB out of bounds on 1st and 15 and set up a 1st and 30 during the third drive. After Dion Jones intercepted a crossing route on the opening drive of the second half, Freeman fumbled a third-down run inside the Saints two after running into the back of center Alex Mack and Te’o recovered the ball. Freeman earned a strong gain up right tackle on a 3rd and 1 Wildcat play during the second drive of the third quarter with Sanu as the quarterback – Atlanta’s first third-down conversion of the game. He earned another five yards two plays later on a player around left tackle and he made a strong cut downhill.

RB Tevin Coleman, 23 offensive snaps, Rush: 6 - 12 - 0, Rec: 4 - 40 - 1 (4 targets)
Manti Te’o penetrated the A gap at the snap and met Coleman in the backfield after his exchange with Ryan to force a 3rd and 12 during Atlanta’s first drive. Te’o got outside the Falcons offensive line to stop Coleman off right end for a one-yard loss to begin the third series at the end of the first quarter. He worked around right end and cut downhill for a few yards but wrapped from behind byt the pursuit two plays later. Atlanta once again forced Coleman wider than he wanted to go for a short loss on a toss play to the left during the second drive of the second half. He found a crease for 15 yards from an I-formation run inside the left tackle in the middle of the third quarter. He was stuffed on the following play for no gain.

WR Julio Jones, 57 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 149 - 0 (11 targets)
Atlanta used Jones in bunch sets frequently enough to keep Lattimore off the receiver. This worked last game and they went back to it early in this one. He earned eight on an opening-drive play-action roll out. Jones worked free to the right sideline on the crossing route. He dropped a 3rd and 12 out route that was thrown late and Marshon Lattimore knocked the ball away as Jones waited on the ball. He earned 16 yards over the middle on the opening play of the second quarter on a crossing route against Lattimore. Jones earned yet another crossing route early in the third series and ran past a linebacker in the flat to earn the first down and a few more up the left sideline. They led off the final drive of the half with a back shoulder fade with Lattimore tight to the inside to reach midfield. Lattimore wrapped Jones too early on a 3rd and 5 early in the third quarter, but the officials didn’t call the penalty and it led to a Matt Bryant field goal to cut the lead to 10. ON the following series, the officials ruled there was incidental contact on an uncatchable ball on a go route up the right sideline. Jones beat Lattimore on an out and up and earned three yards of separation up the left sideline for a 44-yard gain.

WR Mohamed Sanu, 59 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 31 - 0 (6 targets)
He committed a pass interference penalty on a 1st and 30 screen pass to Julio Jones during the third drive to set up a 1st and 40. Sanu earned a fade route up the right sideline, but Ken Crawley covered Sanu step-for-step and the throw was way too low. He high-pointed the ball on a route breaking back to the QB as Lattimore hit him in the chest to earn eight yards. He earned 10 up the middle on an outlet route backside of a designed play-action rollout late in the third quarter.

WR Taylor Gabriel, 32 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 12 - 0, Rec: 1 - 20 - 0 (4 targets)
He found a seam inside Mohamed Sanu and then outside Austin Hooper on a screen pass for 20 yards on 2nd and 22 early in the Falcons’ second drive. He took an end-around to set up a 1st and goal late in the third quarter.

WR Andre Roberts
Typically a good decision maker in the return game, Roberts took the second kickoff and wound up stuffed at the 15 when he fielded the ball deep in the end zone.

WR Marvin Hall, 7 offensive snaps (1 targets)
Ryan made a 3rd and 10 throw under pressure to Marvin Hall on the dig with less than a minute in the half. Hall could not extend far enough to control the ball and it wound up landing on Lattimore’s backside, which he pulled off his butt to earn the drive-ending interception. The pass was catchable but the ball when through Hall’s hands.

TE Austin Hooper, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 18 - 0 (4 targets)
He caught a 2nd and 36 pass for 6 yards in the right flat during the Falcons’ third drive of the game. Hooper earned 10 up the left seam on 2nd and 11 during the second drive of the second half.


New Orleans Saints

QB Drew Brees, 65 offensive snaps, Pass: 21 - 28 - 239 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 4 - -4 - 0
Brees capped off yet another 4,000-yard passing season and added his 22nd touchdown pass on the season. However, the Saints offense appeared to struggle most of the game. Brees was not pushing the ball down the field and was content on short crossing routes and finding his check downs. The big play was a 54-yard bomb to Ted Ginn for a touchdown. Brees hit him 30 yards downfield on a crossing route and Ginn outran the rest of the defense for the other 24 yards into the end zone. Brees was harassed in the pocket and made a few poor throws that could have been intercepted. There was one play around the Saints own goal line that Beasley tipped the ball up in the air but could not find it on its way down for what would have been an easy pick 6. Brees will have one more game against a very poor Tampa secondary to get things back on track heading into the playoffs.

RB Alvin Kamara, 37 offensive snaps, Rush: 12 - 32 - 0, Rec: 7 - 58 - 0 (9 targets)
This was not a great rushing game for anyone, but Kamara struggled immensely. Ingram was able to break one big play and get into the end zone, while Kamara could not get free and was beat up all night. Almost half of his rushing yards came on a single play and he barely surpassed 30 rushing yards on the day. Kamara did lead the team in targets with 9 and broke a big play for 25 yards and accounted for almost half of his receiving yards. It is rare to see a running back lead a team in targets, especially one that has Michael Thomas. Kamara is just short of 700 yards on the season with 7 rushing touchdowns and will have one more week against Tampa Bay to cement his offensive rookie of the year candidacy.

RB Mark Ingram, 32 offensive snaps, Rush: 13 - 44 - 1, Rec: 3 - 22 - 0 (3 targets)
The two-headed rushing monster was held in check this week, especially in Ingram as he was held to under 50 yards rushing. The only saving grace this week for Ingram was with his 26-yard rushing touchdown. The 26-yard scamper accounted for more than half of his yards on the ground and helped put the Saints ahead in a tight contest. Ingram weaved his way through the defense and was barely touched on his way to the end zone. It was his only impressive run of the night as he was constantly stopped in the backfield or right around the line of scrimmage. Ingram had 13 carries to Kamara’s 12, but only had 3 targets compared to 9 for Kamara. The two running backs have gotten closer and closer in their total touches down the stretch, but Ingram still manages more of the rushing attempts. This game solidified another 1000-yard season and he added his 12th rushing touchdown.

WR Ted Ginn, 48 offensive snaps, Rush: 2 - 14 - 0, Rec: 4 - 76 - 1 (5 targets)
In his first game back from injury, Ginn showed he is still explosive as he broke a 54-yard reception for the Saints first touchdown. He lead the team in receiving yards this week and had the same number of targets as Michael Thomas. With Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead struggling, it has been Ginn who stepped up to fill that second receiver spot. On his touchdown reception, Ginn ran a deep crossing route and caught the ball 30 yards downfield. He then made one move and outran his defender and safety to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. It was the big play in the passing game that the Saints have been lacking in recent weeks. Ginn has one more week against a Tampa secondary to prove he is healthy and get his timing back with Drew Brees.

WR Michael Thomas, 40 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 66 - 0 (5 targets)
Thomas snapped his string of 3 straight games with a touchdown reception this week and only put up 66 yards. This was a very marginal game for Thomas who has emerged as a top receiving option in the NFL but has suffered a bit with the emergence of the New Orleans running game. Thomas ran his normal quick slants and deep out routes and caught 4 of his 5 targets. His biggest catch of the game was a 27-yard catch and run down the sideline that he could have broken for a touchdown if he could have passed one more defender. Thomas has been the best pure receiving option for the Saints who will need him to continue to add balance for their playoff run.