Fresh off a convincing 31-21 win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 13, the New Orleans Saints have to overcome a short turnaround this week. On Thursday night, New Orleans will go on the road to face the Atlanta Falcons in another important divisional matchup. The Saints currently hold a two-game advantage over Atlanta, and sit one game ahead of Carolina for first place in the NFC South.
Here are three keys to victory as the Saints attempt to build on their divisional lead.
Week 14 New Orleans Saints Keys to Victory
Get Running Backs Involved Early and Often
The combination of running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram has been crucial to the Saints offensive success this season. The versatile duo gained over 200 combined yards from scrimmage for the fifth game in a row against Carolina. Ingram and Kamara have combined for 1,872 total yards since week six and 20 touchdowns since Week 3. The Saints need to ride this wave of success as long as possible.
Aside from the advantage Kamara and Ingram seem to create against any opponent, Atlanta is more vulnerable against the run than the pass. The Falcons have the sixth-best pass defense in the league, but they’re giving up a 27th ranked 4.3 yards per carry on the ground. New Orleans has the third-ranked rushing offense, averaging 142.6 yards per game and a league-best 5.0 yards per carry. Atlanta has allowed at least 100 yards rushing in each of their five losses, including 201 rushing yards against Carolina in week nine.
Contain Atlanta’s Running Backs
The Falcons have their own dangerous duo at running back with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Together Freeman and Coleman average a combined 105.7 rushing yards, contributing to Atlanta’s 11th best rushing offense. Meanwhile, the Saints are surrendering 4.6 yards per carry on the season, the fourth-worst average in the NFL. Freeman and Coleman also do a great job of possessing the ball, and they have only one fumble between them this season. Atlanta doesn’t incorporate their backs in the passing game as heavily as New Orleans does, but Coleman is capable of making big runs after the catch.
Lockdown Atlanta’s Wide Receivers
2016 MVP Quarterback Matt Ryan gets much of the credit for Atlanta’s passing attack, but he has a great receiving corps to work with. That group is led by Julio Jones, who has already passed 1,000 receiving yards this season for the fifth time in his career. However, the Saints can’t get too distracted by Jones because wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is dangerous in his own right. Sanu has 495 receiving yards, and four touchdowns on the season. Tight end Austin Hooper has also emerged as a valuable target with 438 yards and three touchdowns.
The Saints success against the pass will depend largely on the health of their secondary. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams both missed the Panthers game after being ruled questionable on the Saints injury report. Without these starters, New Orleans held Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to just 183 passing yards, but Atlanta will present a greater challenge. There’s hope for Lattimore to play since he was present for warm-ups against Carolina before being ruled out just prior to kickoff. The severity of Williams injury remains unknown.