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Week 12 Game Recap: Atlanta Falcons 17, New Orleans Saints 31


What you need to know

Atlanta Falcons

: The Saints double-teamed Julio Jones with a safety over top and Eli Apple tight and used Marshon Lattimore, its best corner, to address Calvin Ridley one-on-one all night. Ridley earned big plays during the second half, including fourth-and-goal touchdown where he worked free along the end line off a Matt Ryan pump fake and a long catch and run up the left flat off a Ryan scramble to set up the score. However, Ridley also dropped two deeper routes and a sideline route against tight coverage – all going through his hands. Ridley’s greatest mistake came on a 4th and 10 with 4:00 left in the game. He ran a dig route to beat Lattimore across the field and as he reached the Saints’ five with hopes of cutting Saints’ 21-point lead to 14, he let Lattimore strip the all free and New Orleans recovered inside its 1 to seal the game. Overall, it was a rough night for Atlanta. Matt Ryan was sacked six times. He also fumbled twice in the red zone and lost one of three total fumbles. He later threw a fourth-quarter interception off a tipped pass. Ryan led the Falcons in rushing with 16 yards and the Saints defense perpetually confused Atlanta’s line with disguised looks while New Orleans’ offense used multiple looks to confuse Atlanta’s defense. By the end of the first quarter, Atlanta was out of this game and only had a chance to get back into it between the time Ridley caught the dig route and fumbled it inside the Saints’ five.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints continue to take the NFL by storm after reeling off their 10th straight win. This week they dismantled a divisional rival in the Atlanta Falcons and the defense continues to return to form from last season. Drew Brees threw another 4 touchdowns, each to undrafted receivers. He has now thrown a touchdown to 13 different receivers this season, tying Matt Ryan for the NFL record. Brees also threw only his second interception of the season. The rushing attack was less of a focal point than in recent weeks, but the committee was headed by Alvin Kamara this week. The Saints continue to show that they can win in just about any way imaginable and are looking like the best all-around team in the NFL. Drew Brees continues to throw touchdowns to any warm body that lines up at receiver and he still has Brandon Marshall getting up to speed on the play book. This is going to be a very scary team heading into the playoffs. The Saints get a full week of rest before taking on the Cowboys next Thursday night in Dallas.

Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan, 70 offensive snaps, Pass: 35 - 47 - 377 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 2 - 16 - 0
The veteran quarterback had a strong yardage night, finding receivers open on dig routes, shallow routes, slants, and over routes for solid gains. Unfortunately, Ryan fumbled the ball in consecutive possessions inside the Saints’ two. The first was a well-defended quick-slant where the New Orleans edge defender leaped into the passing lane and forced Ryan to hold the ball on the short drop, which gave P.J. Williams time to reach the quarterback an create the turnover on a blitz. On the next series, Ryan did not correctly read the coverage position of the flat defender on Calvin Ridley and missed the opportunity for an easy touchdown. This forced Ryan to look elsewhere, drift into pressure reaching the pocket and fumble the ball trying to escape the defense. Ryan recovered the ball but this forced Atlanta to kick a field goal while already down 14-0. The Saints sacked Ryan six times in the game and repeatedly shut down the offense once it crossed midfield. Although Ryan got Atlanta within 14 points late in the third quarter – thanks to some play-action passing and smart throws on the move from pressure – Ryan had a pass tipped at the line by Tyler Davidson that linebacker A.J. Klein rebounded for the interception and it allowed New Orleans to re-establish a 21-point lead late in the game and put it out of reach. Much of Ryan’s production came in garbage time.

RB Tevin Coleman, 35 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 6 - 0, Rec: 3 - 17 - 1 (4 targets)
The Saints repeatedly tested Coleman’s patience with penetration that forced Coleman to do one of two things: cut his stride length to run more patiently and set up a cutback or move one gap over, or attempt a dramatic bounce-out. Coleman, who lacks great footwork, chose the bounce-outs repeatedly and was shut down for most of the game with short gains and losses. His best gain of the night came late in the fourth quarter on receiver throw-out on a drive where he scored on another short pass of four yards. Matt Ryan outgained Coleman on the ground by 10 yards in this game (16 to 6).

RB Ito Smith, 26 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 0 - 0, Rec: 2 - 7 - 0 (2 targets)
Coleman’s reserve didn’t make an impact until 30 seconds left in the half with a crossing route for a first-down conversion. When he earned touches during the second half, he didn’t gain much against the run-blitzing Saints but he showed more patience and control of his footwork, despite not earning a first down on a short-yardage run that forced an Atlanta punt.

WR Julio Jones, 62 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 1 - 0, Rec: 11 - 147 - 0 (14 targets)
Jones earned most of his gains over the middle on crossing routes and slants. He made a tough catch between three defenders to begin the game for a gain of 12. He got open on a back-shoulder throw between Eli Apple and the safety but Ryan did not place the ball well enough for Jones to turn away from Apple. The target forced Jones to attempt a catch with Apple reaching to knock the ball away easily. Jones caught a crossing route and earned another 10 yards after the catch with less than 20 seconds in the half but as he was working towards the boundary, the Saints’ defense helicoptered the receiver and forced a turnover inside the 15, ending Atlanta’s drive. Ryan found Jones with pressure in his face and hit the receiver on a crossing route from an off-balanced throw but Jones could only make one defender miss before slipping to the ground at the sideline two yards shy of the marker during the first drive of the second half. Jones earned a short gain on and out against Apple and couldn’t earn yards after the six-yard catch. Ryan found Jones for a first down on a crossing route off play-action for the receiver’s seventh catch of the night to reach the Atlanta 39. Jones earn a quick slant past midfield on a drive after the Saints went up again by 21. Jones found an open space on a fourth-down dig route with 6:00 left and down by 21 but after Calvin Ridley fumbled away a shot to cut the lead to 14, the rest of Jones’ plays were meaningless for all but fantasy owners collecting on thise 11 receptions and 147 yards.

WR Calvin Ridley, 52 offensive snaps, Rec: 8 - 93 - 1 (13 targets)
Ridley’s output was not a good indication of his up-and-down performance against the Saints’ top corner Marshon Lattimore, who faced Ridley all night. The rookie earned his first target on third and nine from the Saints’ 22 during the second drive, running an out and catching the ball thrown to his back shoulder for a first down and a gain of 11. Ridley leaned to the ground on a 3rd and 14 deep go route up the right sideline during the third series and let the ball go through his hands against tight coverage. After a couple of shorter targets, Ryan followed up with a deep go route to Ridley up the left sideline against Lattimore, but Ridley could not shake Lattimore with a double move near the line of scrimmage and the pass fell incomplete. On 3rd and 13 late in the third quarter, Ryan looked right, escaped pressure to his left, and made an off-balance toss to Ridley in the left flat for a long gain to the Saints’ two. He tried to squeeze it into Ridley on 2nd and goal but Ridley dropped the ball before taking a hit by the safety coming over the top form the inside of the route – a tough target but one he should catch. Two plays later, Ryan found Ridley in the back of the end zone after a pump fake to help the receiver work clean on a 4th and goal at the end of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 14. Ridley dropped a fourth-quarter out route against Lattimore on the next drive but Ryan found Ridley on a dig route across the middle inside the Saints’ 20 with 4:01 left on 4th and 10. As Ridley worked form the 10 to the 5, Lattimore stripped the ball from Ridley’s loose carriage and the Saints recovered inside its 1.

WR Mohamed Sanu, 57 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 3 - 0, Rec: 4 - 74 - 0 (4 targets)
Ryan found Sanu on an over route near the left hash on 3rd and 10 for a first down during Atlanta’s first series. Sanu followed up with a deep cross from Ryan from midfield on a play-action pass to the Saints’ 12 yard-line. Ryan found Sanu to begin the second drive with a crossing route against a linebacker’s tight coverage for a first down. Sanu earned the first down on a wildcat keeper early in the fourth quarter. He had some meaningful plays and solid production for a third receiver.

WR Justin Hardy, 10 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 6 - 0 (2 targets)
Earned a gain up the right sideline on a route to the flat late in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.

TE Austin Hooper, 48 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 31 - 0 (5 targets)
He earned his first catch with under a minute in the half as the second read over the middle for a six-yard gain into field goal range. Ryan hit Hooper on a shallow out for about six yards to begin Atlanta’s second drive of the third quarter while down by 21. Ryan found Hooper just past midfield on a fourth-down shallow route against the safety in tight coverage for the first down. Demario Davis drew a defensive pass interference foul on an arrow route to Austin Hooper on 2nd and 17 in the middle of the fourth quarter. Two plays later, he caught a shallow route with Davis stuffing him for a minimal gain to set up a third down. He was not a factor until the Saints were well ahead.


New Orleans Saints

QB Drew Brees, 57 offensive snaps, Pass: 15 - 22 - 171 - 4 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 4 - -4 - 0
The normal yards were not there for Brees this week, but the touchdowns were. Brees has 15 touchdowns in the last 4 games despite throwing for under 200 yards this week. Normally the lack of passing yards coordinates with the running game exceling, but it was about even this week. The success was setup for Brees by the takeaways from the defense and the return game. Brees first touchdown was a 28-yard bomb to Lewis. The route was right up the seam and Brees put the ball where only Lewis could make a play. He laid it right above his head where he had to turn and leap to make the touchdown while falling into the end zone. The second touchdown came to Carr on an easy out route into the end zone. He chipped off the defensive end and leaked out into the flat. There was no defender within 10 yards of him and Brees hit him right in the chest. The third touchdown was an amazing diving catch from Arnold into the end zone. Brees led him just a little too far on the 25-yard go route, but Arnold was able to go full extension into the end zone for the touchdown. The fourth and final touchdown was a 5-yard out route to Lewis. Brees put the ball low and hard where only Lewis could make a sliding catch. The defender had no chance to stop the pass. Brees also threw his second interception of the season. He still leads the NFL in touchdown to interception ratio. The ball was intended for Kirkwood and drifted too far after he got his feet tangled with the defender. The safety came across for the easy interception and it was the only real mistake that Brees made. There is a chance that Kirkwood could have made the catch or at least broken up the pass had he not fallen, but the pass did sail on him a little. Brees has another good test against a surprisingly good Cowboys defense next Thursday.

RB Alvin Kamara, 37 offensive snaps, Rush: 14 - 89 - 0, Rec: 1 - 9 - 0 (1 targets)
The Saints have the luxury of 2 running backs who can lead the way on any given week. This week it was Kamara who had 15 touches to Ingram's 11. He was able to find more room to run through the line and cut through even the smallest hole with authority this week. Kamara averaged 6.4 yards per carry this week and was the most effective back for the Saints. The passing game took an unusual route as Brees targeted his second and third options at receiver rather than his stars. There were weeks when Kamara would have 10+ targets in the passing game and this week he only had 1. His longest rush of the night was 18 yards off tackle for a first down. The team as a whole rushed for 150 total yards and Kamara made up for about 2/3 of that total. Expect the Saints to continue to rotate their backs and keep everyone as fresh and healthy as possible going into the playoffs.

RB Mark Ingram, 27 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 52 - 0, Rec: 2 - 14 - 0 (2 targets)
There is not much to write home about with Ingram's performance this week. He had 3 fewer carries than Kamara this week and caught both of his targets in the passing game. Ingram's 4.7 yards per carry would be more than enough to make any team happy, but the Saints elected to attack the Falcons through the air this week. Even in the red zone and in goal to go situations the Saints leaned on the pass more than the run this week. Look for the Saints to continue to ride the hot hand out of the back field and it is a true flip of the coin as to which running back is going to see more carries. Ingram's longest run of the night was 12 yards down the sideline. Brees fumbled the snap but was still able to pitch the ball to Ingram as he fell to the ground. Ingram followed his blockers up the sideline for his biggest gain of the day.

WR Michael Thomas, 52 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 38 - 0 (6 targets)
It is very rare that you see Thomas' name second on a box score in receiving yards. It is also unusual to see 4 passing touchdowns and not a single 1 with his name on it. The passing game went through lesser known receivers this week as the Falcons keyed in on Thomas the entire game. He was constantly double covered or given safety help over the top. He still managed to finish the game tied for the team lead in targets with 6. Thomas' longest play of the game was a 13-yard catch across the middle, but he was never able to break free. The added coverage to Thomas in the red zone opened things up for the likes of Lewis, Carr, and Arnold. Do not expect this to be the norm for Thomas going forward. He was outpaced by Smith last week and Arnold this week, but he will take his rightful place back atop the receiving stat sheet in the coming weeks.

WR Keith Kirkwood, 30 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 5 - 1 (3 targets)
After being called up from the practice squad recently, Kirkwood is seeing more work in the Saints offense. He was third on the team with 3 targets this week, but only managed to catch a single ball. There is a clear disconnect with Brees as the pair missed on passes that would normally easily be caught by a receiver and quarterback who have worked together extensively. Kirkwood added his first career touchdown on a 5-yard bullet from Brees in a goal to go situation. Kirkwood ran a shallow out route and Brees put it low enough for Kirkwood to make a sliding catch and the defender unable to make a play. The area was cleared out by Carr on the outside and Kirkwood ended up with the score. Brandon Marshall is expected to cut into the playing time of Kirkwood and there is even the potential that he ends up back on the practice squad.

WR Austin Carr, 18 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 12 - 1 (1 targets)
After scoring his first career touchdown last week, Carr added another score this week on a 12-yard reception. He chipped off the defensive end and leaked out into the flat. There was no defender within 10 yards of him as the defense had keyed in on Thomas and the run fake on the inside. This will be one of the easiest touchdowns Carr will score in his career. He did not have any other targets in the game but made the most of the one he had. Carr has been used in primarily blocking situations for most of the season and now he is leaking out into the pass game on play fakes. There is no telling if he will continue to see an increase in usage as the Saints seem to change their game plan every week.

WR TommyLee Lewis, 28 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 28 - 1 (1 targets)
Another receiver that was one and done in the game this week. Lewis made his presence felt on the first drive of the game and then did not register another target. He went up and hauled in a 28-yard pass from Brees and fell back into the end zone for the first score. Lewis ran up the seam and was untouched by his defender. Brees put the pass just up and over his head to where Lewis could go up and make a play at the highest point. Lewis has not made much of an impact this season, even for the receiver thin Saints offense.

WR TreQuan Smith
After putting up a monster game last week to prove that he belongs, Smith was ruled inactive with a toe injury this week. He got a single limited practice in during the week and was not healthy to play this weekend. The ball went through several of the Saints backups this week but there was no clear player who stepped into the role left by Smith.

TE Dan Arnold, 12 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 45 - 1 (6 targets)
The theme of backup players scoring for the Saints all started with Arnold. He led all receivers in yardage this week and hauled in the third touchdown of the game. For Arnold, it was the first touchdown of his career. He ran directly up the seam and made a diving catch on a beautifully thrown ball by Brees. Arnold went full extension into the end zone to make the catch. This one catch accounted for more than half of his yardage in the game and he still led all receivers. Arnold, Carr, and Hill have been getting more looks than Watson in recent weeks and shows how dangerous the Saints offense can be despite not having big names behind Thomas.

TE Ben Watson, 18 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 20 - 0 (2 targets)
It was another quiet game for the big tight end this week. After finally showing some signs of life in the recent weeks, Watson fell behind again this week. He had 1 great 20-yard grab for a first down and dropped his only other target. The Saints offense went through its backups this week and Watson did not have to do very much. Watson is still a weapon for the saints despite the down season.