Saints set to take on Fal­cons in show­down.

El Dorado News-Times - - Sports -

AT­LANTA (AP) — If you like run­ning backs, you've come to the right game.

When the first-place New Or­leans Saints face the At­lanta Fal­cons on Thurs­day night in an NFC South matchup with se­ri­ous play­off ram­i­fi­ca­tions, the spot­light will be on the guys in the back­field.

All four of them. The Saints (9-3) boast the league's most dy­namic duo. Mark In­gram has rushed for 922 yards and nine touch­downs, while also be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of 42 passes from Drew Brees.

But the big story in the Big Easy has been the emer­gence of rookie Alvin Ka­mara, who al­ready has more than 1,200 yards run­ning and re­ceiv­ing, along with 11 TDs.

"Boom and Zoom" is In­gram's fa­vorite nick­name for the back­field tan­dem, though he went on to say it's not en­tirely ac­cu­rate.

"You re­ally can­not la­bel one of us," he said. "Both of us have the com­plete pack­age."

The Fal­cons (7-5) have their own pro­duc­tive pair­ing. Devonta Free­man, the league's high­est-paid back, and Tevin Cole­man had com­bined for more than 1,500 yards run­ning and re­ceiv­ing, along with 12 touch­downs.

"Both teams have two re­ally good run­ning backs who like to get af­ter it," Fal­cons coach Dan Quinn said. "If you like run­ning backs, it's your kind of game."

The Saints claimed sole pos­ses­sion of the di­vi­sion lead with a vic­tory over Carolina (8-4) last week­end, and they're two games in front of the Fal­cons.

At­lanta des­per­ately needs a win to have a re­al­is­tic shot at a sec­ond straight NFC South ti­tle.

Other things to watch for in the prime-time game at Mercedes Benz

Sta­dium:

CROWD NOISE: The Fal­cons haven't had much of a home­field ad­van­tage in their first sea­son at $1.5 bil­lion Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium, go­ing 3-3 so far. Most trou­bling, the fans don't seem to be nearly as loud as they were at the team's pre­vi­ous home, the Ge­or­gia Dome.

There are no­tice­able chunks of empty seats through­out games, and much of the crowd seems to be spend­ing its time gawk­ing at the shiny new digs rather than cheer­ing on the Fal­cons.

"We've built a bil­lion-dol­lar house, and we need to throw a bil­lion-dol­lar party," Quinn said. "I think some­times we're still us­ing the coast­ers. We need to be as loud and fun as all we rep­re­sent as a city."

Quinn even tweeted out a form let­ter for fans to use if they needed an ex­cuse to re­port late for work Fri­day.

COV­ER­AGE CON­CERNS: The Saints' sec­ondary is get­ting health­ier, which is good news as they pre­pare to face Matt Ryan, Julio Jones & Co. CB Ken Craw­ley re­turned from an ab­domen in­jury and played well last Sun­day in a vic­tory over Carolina.

Top draft choice Marshon Lat­ti­more is try­ing to come back from an an­kle in­jury. Coach Sean Pay­ton said his de­fen­sive backs are fac­ing an "ex­tremely dif­fi­cult" chal­lenge that goes be­yond Jones.

He also pointed to Mo­hamed Sanu, Tay­lor Gabriel and tight end Austin Hooper as play­ers to keep an eye on, not to men­tion Free­man and Cole­man out of the back­field.

"This is a team and it's just built dif­fer­ently and is very ex­plo­sive out­side and we're go­ing to have to be on point," Pay­ton said.

SOME­THING TO PROVE: The Fal­cons' of­fense is ea­ger to make up for a dis­mal show­ing last week against Min­nesota. In a 14-9 loss, At­lanta failed to score a touch­down for the first time in nearly two sea­sons — a ma­jor em­bar­rass­ment to a team that led the league in scor­ing a year ago and has so many weapons.

The Fal­cons had huge prob­lems on third down, con­vert­ing only 1 of 10 largely be­cause they kept putting them­selves in deep holes on first and sec­ond down.

"We've got to find ways to score touch­downs," said Jones, who was held to two catches for 24 yards by the Vik­ings. "We're bet­ter than this. We've got to come to­gether and make plays."

UNBURDENED BREES: With all the help he's get­ting from the run­ning game, Brees is play­ing some of the most ef­fi­cient foot­ball of his ca­reer. He has com­pleted an NFL-best 71.5 per­cent of his passes for 3,298 yards and 17 TDs with just five in­ter­cep­tions. When he hasn't been gash­ing de­fenses with screens to Ka­mara and In­gram, he's been hit­ting Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr. down­field. Thomas has a team-lead­ing 75 catches for 875 yards and three TDs.

HANDS UP: Mindful of how quickly quar­ter­backs, in­clud­ing Ryan, un­load passes these days, the Saints have been work­ing on bat­ting balls down at the line of scrim­mage. The front four has ac­counted for 16 passes de­fended this sea­son, in­clud­ing six by DE Cam Jor­dan. "When you go against a guy like Matt Ryan," Jor­dan said, "you're aware of his re­leases. You play him two times a year, seven years in. This will be my 13th time play­ing him."

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