Thursday basically 'must-win' for Falcons in NFC South race


FALCONS: Atlanta, however, could still have something to say about it because it still has two shots at the Saints - beginning Thursday.

Currently, the Saints (9-3) lead the NFC South and are playing efficiently on offense and defense. Drew Brees went 25-34 for 269 yards and a touchdown while Mark Ingram made 14 rushes for 85 yards and a touchdown and Michael Thomas led the receivers with 5 catches for 70 yards and touchdown.

Some people in New Orleans got so excited after seeing Atlanta disintegrate, they decided the occasion was worthy of a celebration that included fireworks. The Falcon's focus will be to stop the run first and the pass second.

METAIRIE, La. - Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore has been a breakout sensation for the New Orleans Saints this season - and one of the biggest reasons why they are 9-3 and have turned around their embattled defense.

The non-Panthers game of most interest to Panthers fans this week is for sure the Thursday nighter, when the Falcons host the Saints - the first of two meetings in a three-week span.

Look for the Saints to try to establish the north-south running game again on Thursday night.

The issues started early, when rookie running back Alvin Kamara forced several missed tackles on New Orleans' first drive, eventually fighting through a big hit by Shaq Thompson to find the end zone for the game's opening score. It wouldn't surprise me to see a run-heavy clock-control game here (despite two elite QBs on the field), and I think that scenario favors the Saints.

Kamara scored two touchdowns against Carolina Sunday, and rushed for 60 yards on nine carries.

The Falcons will need to use a strong push up front from the defensive line and the linebackers swarming pitching in to help slow down the Saints' rushing attack. In that Minnesota game, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan put up 173 yards on 16-of-29 passing.

To beat the Saints, the Falcons must establish the run early.

Lattimore has missed almost three full games since suffering the injury in the first quarter in Week 11.

Julio Jones will again have a favorable match-up this week with no true shutdown corner on the Saints Jones could look to have another huge day if the Falcons feed Julio.

The Falcons offense isn't almost the killing machine it was in 2016 as Atlanta now ranks eighth in yards-per-game and 14th in points. Ryan threw four touchdowns. Together Freeman and Coleman average a combined 105.7 rushing yards, contributing to Atlanta's 11th best rushing offense. He also caught five passes for 66 yards.

Defensively, the Falcons surrendered 350 yards through the air and 132 yards on the ground.