In a matchup featuring two high-flying offenses, the defensive side of the ball could determine who comes out on top Monday night. So, do the Falcons or Saints have the better defense?
When you think of the Atlanta Falcons or the New Orleans Saints, defense usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, the team that makes the most defensive stops in these arena football style encounters almost always has their hand raised in victory when the dust settles. With that said which team is equipped with the better defense: Falcons or Saints?
Both teams have invested heavily into their defenses through the draft, spending first-round picks on defensive players in three of the last four drafts. Unfortunately, this commitment to the defensive side of the ball has yielded little in the way of results.
Atlanta was in the bottom five of total defense in 2013 and 2014, while New Orleans shared the same statistic during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Entering their Monday night showdown in the Big Easy, the Falcons own the league’s 29th ranked unit. The Saints meanwhile boast an even worse defense from a statistical standpoint, ranking next to last in yards per game.
At face value, one might conclude that the Falcons possess the superior defense by the slightest of margins. But statistics don’t always tell the full story. Examining each layer of the two defenses is the only way to truly know who has the better unit.
Starting with the defensive line, both teams have struggled in the early going to generate any sort of significant pass rush. The Saints front four is anchored by Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan, who holds one of the two New Orleans’ sacks on the season. He is joined on the other side by Paul Kruger, who is just two years removed from a double-digit sack campaign with the Browns. The Falcons, on the other hand, have not had an established pass rusher since the days of John Abraham. Edge: Saints
Patrolling the middle of the field for the Saints defense is the trio of Stephone Anthony, James Laurinaitis, and Craig Robertson, with the latter leading the team in tackles while filling in for the injured Dannell Ellerbe.
Speaking of injuries, the Falcons’ linebacking corps has been bitten by the injury bug as well. Rookie starter De’Vondre Campbell will miss his second game in a row with an ankle injury. Fellow rookie Deion Jones starts in the middle and is flanked by fill-in Sean Weatherspoon on the weak side and 2015 first round pick Vic Beasley on the strong side in the base set.
This game, however, will be played primarily in the nickel so as far as linebacker play is concerned the most experienced tandem has the advantage. Edge: Saints
The back end of the Falcons defense is where this unit shines brightest. Pro Bowl corner Desmond Trufant has shown the ability to both shadow the opponent’s top target and eliminate half of the field from his left cornerback post. Look for Trufant to be asked to do more of the latter in Monday’s game, given the Saints multitude of offensive weapons.
The real surprise of this deep position group has been undrafted rookie nickelback Brian Poole. Poole has only surrendered three catches in the six times he’s been targeted for a total of 38 yards, and he’s failed to miss a tackle his way.
No position group of the Saints has been ravaged by injuries more than their secondary. Starting corners Delvin Breaux and PJ Williams are both out with injuries, so expect Matt Ryan and company to have a field day targeting the Saints inexperienced backups. Edge: Falcons
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Atlanta’s front seven got edged out in this breakdown. Most of the players starting on Quinn’s front two lines are first and second year players that are still learning the system.
Given the high-octane nature of this matchup, the secondary play will have a starring role in determining the outcome of the game. Falcon fans should be comforted by the fact that they have the edge in that department.
Nevertheless, this game should be a high-scoring affair and could very well come down to who has the ball last. For our sake, let’s just hope it’s the Falcons offense.