Drew Brees' 4 TD Passes Lift Saints to Easy NFC South Win vs. Matt Ryan, Falcons

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2018

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 22:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints reacts against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 22, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints became the second NFL team to hit 10 wins this season, defeating the Atlanta Falcons 31-17 on Thanksgiving Day at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Drew Brees continued to set the pace in the MVP race after throwing for 171 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Michael Thomas caught four passes for 38 yards, while Alvin Kamara amassed 98 yards from scrimmage.

Matt Ryan finished 35-of-47 for 377 yards, two touchdowns and an interception through the air for Atlanta.


Saints the Super Bowl Favorites with Defense Hitting Stride

By now, we know what to expect from the Saints offense, and Brees is in the midst of a season in which he'll likely win his first Most Valuable Player Award. New Orleans has the playmakers to keep pace with the best teams in the league, as evidenced by the team's Week 9 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

As we've seen plenty of times before, though, a high-powered offense isn't enough on its own to get the Saints to the Super Bowl. New Orleans' defense is doing enough to at least give the offense the support necessary to make the team the top title contender in 2018.

Larry Holder @LarryHolder

Defense actually exists in the NFL. And the Saints, yes the Saints, are showing it.

The Saints held the Falcons to 366 total yards, down from their season average of 403.4. They also forced four turnovers, with their three fumble recoveries illustrative of how their players flocked to the ball as soon as it got loose.

Geoff Schwartz @geoffschwartz

The Saints defense is fast. They seem to play faster every week.

This wasn't an outlier, either. In their last three games, the Saints have allowed an average of 12.7 points and 282.0 yards.

Will Brinson @WillBrinson

We're all talking about Drew Brees, but here's the @Saints points allowed since their bye week: 23 20 35 (Rams) 14 7 17

While New Orleans surrendered 35 points and 483 yards to the Rams, that game still showed why the Saints might be best positioned for Super Bowl LIII. Between the Saints, Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans arguably has the toughest defense of the bunch.

Throw in Brees and the offense, and the Saints check all of the boxes.

Especially if the Saints can clinch home-field advantage and avoid a potential NFC Championship Game in Los Angeles or Chicago, New Orleans deserves to climb to the top of the NFL power rankings.


Devonta Freeman's Value to Falcons Evident Amid Running Game's Struggles

Tevin Coleman continues to watch his free-agent value lower by the week. Coleman ran for six yards on eight carries against the Saints.

The Falcons placed Devonta Freeman on injured reserve in October, and the two-time Pro Bowler has been limited to two games this year.

Freeman's injury problems could've been a blessing in disguise for Coleman, who's in the final year of his contract. Instead, Freeman's absence has shown Coleman may not be a sensible No. 1 option for a team looking to sign a running back in the offseason.

William McFadden @willmcfadden

That's an example of the type of run play where Devonta Freeman might have been more comfortable. Tevin Coleman is great in space, but Freeman has a little bit more wiggle at the line of scrimmage. #ATLvsNO

Matt Tabeek @MatthewTabeek

Early observations so far: Matt Ryan has been sacked three times in the first half so far (for a loss of 18 yards). And the #Falcons run game is non-existent (Coleman has carried for 4 times for -2 yards). #ATLvsNO

More pertinent to the Falcons, they've had to put more pressure on Ryan and the passing game because they're unable to count on a consistent running attack.

Atlanta is now averaging 83.1 yards per game, which knocks the Falcons down to 31st in the NFL. Not coincidentally, Ryan is on pace to have roughly 631 passing attempts this year, which would be the second-highest of his career.

Even if Freeman returns to the field when he's eligible to come off injured reserve, it will come far too late to salvage the Falcons' playoff hopes.


Steve Sarkisian on the Hot Seat After Another Poor Falcons Offensive Showing

Perhaps it's unfair to place too much of the blame on Coleman for the Falcons' inability to run the ball. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian befuddled many fans with his play-calling throughout Thursday's game.

Will Brinson @WillBrinson


Nick Shook @TheNickShook

Will Sark do something better than slam a rusher into the line again here?

It takes seeing the Falcons matched up against a team like the Saints to truly understand how much Atlanta is failing to maximize the talent at its disposal.

Cian @Cianaf

Putting Sark's offense next to Payton's on a football field is like putting a Sumo wrestler next to prime Arnold Schwarzenegger on stage at a body-building contest.

Entering Week 12, the Falcons ranked seventh in offensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders, and averaged the sixth-most yards in the NFL (403.4).

Both of those numbers indicate Atlanta is a very good offensive team, yet one still can't shake the thought Sarkisian is keeping the Falcons from reaching an elite level. Atlanta is 11th in points per red-zone appearance (5.27), according to Football Outsiders, despite having Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and a dynamic pass-catcher out of the backfield in Coleman.

Bad luck has unquestionably had a role in the Falcons' disappointing year, and it's not Sarkisian's fault when Ridley fumbles inside the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter on fourth down to take at least three points off the board.

However, Atlanta has had too many games where the offense left something to be desired, and the buck stops with Sarkisian.

If this continues for the rest of 2018, then head coach Dan Quinn needs to seriously consider Sarkisian's status on the staff.


What's Next?

The Saints hit the road in Week 13 for a Nov. 29 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. The Falcons head back home to play the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 2.