NFL News & Analysis

ATL-NO grades: Falcons' O-line paves way for rushing attack

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 26: Devonta Freeman #24 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts after scoring a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 26, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Atlanta Falcons 45, New Orleans Saints 32

Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from Falcons' 45-32 win over the Saints on Monday Night Football:

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan earns average grade despite strong stat line

Quarterback grade: Matt Ryan, 65.8

It wasn’t a bad performance from Matt Ryan in the win over the Saints, but he just didn’t have that much of an impact overall, which may seem odd for a quarterback that threw for nearly 250 yards and two touchdowns. One TD, however, came on a screen pass, while the other came on a shovel pass near the goal line. Of his 249 passing yards, 161 came after the catch. When he did throw to receivers further downfield, his success was limited. On 11 passes targeted 10+ yards downfield, he completed just four, going zero-for-six on passes outside the numbers. Ryan did take care of the football and made a couple of nice plays with his legs, but ultimately earned an average grade for this performance.

Top offensive grades:

LT Jake Matthews, 85.0

RT Ryan Schraeder, 79.3

RG Chris Chester, 78.0

RB Devonta Freeman, 77.7

TE Jacob Tamme, 76.4

Dominant performance in the trenches

Atlanta was able to run all over New Orleans, and a lot of that started up front. Jake Matthews had one of the best run-blocking performances of his short career, while the other four starters each graded at or above average. RB Devonta Freeman took advantage of some good blocks and also created yardage on his own, forcing three missed tackles. RB Tevin Coleman wasn’t as fortunate with the blocking, having earned 30 of his 33 rushing yards after contact on 11 carries. Both backs also found success in the passing game, as the duo combined for nine receptions on as many targets for 111 yards.

Top defensive grades:

OLB Dwight Freeney, 83.0

LB Deion Jones, 81.1

S Keanu Neal, 76.1

DT Tyson Jackson, 75.5

DT Jonathan Babineaux, 75.3

Rookies lead otherwise lackluster defense

There were certainly a handful of forgettable performances on the Falcons' defense, and it will be surprising if they make it through a game without giving up a deep crosser, but there were some reasons to be encouraged, as well. Rookie LB Deion Jones is still learning how to take on blocks, but flashed his ability to play in space. He led the Falcons' defense with five stops, and his tackle for no gain with 12:00 remaining in the first quarter was the best play any player on the defense made versus the run all night.

New Orleans Saints

Quarterback grade: Drew Brees 67.9

Brees clutch with heat on, but made questionable decisions with no pressure

Monday night’s performance was a microcosm of what we’ve come to expect from the Saints' quarterback over the past few years. At times he made dazzling, highly-difficult throws into tight windows, racking up 172 yards on six-of-nine targets 20+ yards downfield. Interjected between those were the head-scratchers— no pressure, no blitz, yet Brees would try to fit a ball into a non-existent window for seemingly no reason. He only had one interception in the box score, but two others went through the hands of Atlanta defenders.

Top offensive grades:

RT Zach Strief, 79.6

WR Brandon Coleman, 78.9

RB Mark Ingram, 77.8

LG Tim Lelito, 76.7

TE Coby Fleener, 76.7

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Ingram, drops, and Peat

Let’s start with the good, and it was unequivocally the ground game for New Orleans. If the defense hadn’t dug them a cavern to crawl out of, Mark Ingram could have easily run for 150 yards. Instead, he has to settle for 79 yards and four broken tackles on 16 carries.

The bad came from the drops by the Saints' playmakers. Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman, and Coby Fleener all set or tied records for targets in a New Orleans uniform, but all dropped at least one pass on the day.

And finally, the ugly is Andrus Peat’s chances of staying at tackle long-term. In All or Nothing, Dwight Freeney talked about setting a tackle up with the speed rush all game, and then hitting the spin move for critical situations. Well, there was no need to even set Peat up Monday night, as Freeney went to the spin repeatedly with predictable results. In the end, the second-year offensive lineman allowed a sack, a hit, and three hurries.

Top defensive grades:

CB Ken Crawley, 83.9

CB Sterling Moore, 78.6

DE Kasim Edebali, 75.4

CB B.W. Webb, 73.9

DT Nick Fairley, 72.0

Drubbing leaves little reason for excitement

There weren’t many bright spots on defense for the Saints. Out of their 11 base-defense starters, eight earned below-average grades in run defense. Craig Robinson, who led the team with four defensive stops, was the only player to finish with an above-average grade against the run. In the passing game, both Sterling Moore and Ken Crawley did perform pretty well. Crawley was targeted a game-high nine times and allowed just three catches for 34 yards with a pass defense. Most impressively, he held Julio Jones to just one 16-yard catch on five targets. Moore allowed just one catch for 6 yards, and on the one time he was targeted while covering Jones, he made a nice play to break up the pass. The Saints still need to generate more pass-rushing production; seven different players had at least one pressure, but it wasn’t nearly often enough for Matt Ryan’s 35 dropbacks. Only Kasim Edebali came away with an above-average pass-rushing grade; he accounted for nearly one-third of the defense’s total pressures, with four hurries on just 14 pass rushes.

PFF Game-Ball Winner: Falcons RB Devonta Freeman

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