WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
RADIO: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge; en español: WGSO-AM, 990; WVDU-FM, 97.9
RECORDS: New Orleans 1-1; Atlanta 1-1
COACHES: Saints, Sean Payton, 12th season, 106-71; Falcons, Dan Quinn, 4th season, 30-20
LAST WEEK: Back at home after 10 days to bounce back from a loss to Philadelphia in the opener, Atlanta got off to a fast start at home against Carolina and beat back the Panthers’ late charge to win 31-24.
OFFENSE: One half of Atlanta’s talented pair of running backs, Devonta Freeman, is battling a right knee contusion that has been reported as an injury that will keep him out for a couple more weeks, although Dan Quinn told reporters on Monday that Freeman is day to day. With Freeman out on Sunday, Tevin Coleman ripped off 107 yards on 16 carries, demonstrating just how dangerous Atlanta’s running game can be when Freeman’s out of action. Steve Sarkisian‘s offense has drawn a metric ton of criticism for its troubles in the red zone, but Atlanta made some strides against the Panthers; the Falcons are ranked 16th in the NFL in red-zone percentage through the first two weeks. Atlanta has unbelievable weapons at wide receiver. Julio Jones, as always, is the primary weapon — he has 15 catches for 233 yards this season — and he had more success against Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore than anybody last season. In two games against New Orleans, Jones hauled in 12 passes for 247 yards, although no touchdowns. Jones now has big-play help; first-round pick Calvin Ridley made his first touchdown catch last week, and veteran Mohamed Sanu is a good possession option. Tight end Austin Hooper is second on the team through two weeks with eight catches for 83 yards.
DEFENSE: Atlanta was dealt a pair of heavy blows in the season opener when linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal both suffered long-term injuries. Neal is out for the season after tearing his ACL, but the loss of Jones, who is expected back at some point from a foot injury, is a bigger problem against the Saints. A product of Jesuit and LSU, Jones has made life tough on his hometown team, picking off Drew Brees three times in his four career games against the Saints, but with him unavailable, former LSU linebacker Duke Riley is taking over and pairs with De’Vondre Campbell to keep the speed going at linebacker. Up front, Vic Beasley has struggled to match his 2016 production, but 2017 first-rounder Takkarist McKinley has two sacks, and the Falcons also have a devastating player in the middle in nose tackle Grady Jarrett. Atlanta still has talented veteran cornerbacks outside. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have been around a long time, but they’re both still young and talented, and Ricardo Allen is a good eraser at safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The ageless Matt Bryant has been perfect this year at age 43, and punter Matt Bosher remains a weapon in the field-position game. In the return game, New Orleans must be wary of Ridley, who is averaging 25 yards per kickoff return and has speed to burn.
Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.
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