The Fleur-De-Lis Report: Saints Enter the Season With High Expectations as They Play the Falcons in Week One
The New Orleans Saints kick off the 2022-2023 season on the road against long-time division rival, The Atlanta Falcons. Expectations going into the new season are high given this talented new look roster. Saints fans are hopeful the team can make a return to the postseason but it all starts with setting the tone today in week one.
OBSERVATIONS FROM THIS WEEK
This week was the first official week of game planning for a regular season opponent and how fitting is it that the Saints will kick off the Dennis Allen era against the Falcons.
Monday, the team released the ‘unofficial’ week one depth chart. Everything was pretty much standard but there were a few key things to note. James Hurst will start at left tackle (LT) as expected. During training camp, all indications pointed to Hurst being the starter but rookie Trevor Penning was gaining momentum prior to suffering a torn toe ligament. Tight ends (TE) Adam Trautman and Taysom Hill will likely split time starting. Both these guys have two very different skill sets. I anticipate Hill will be heavily involved in the passing game as a playmaking threat. Trautman will probably be used more in run packages and as an extra blocker. Wide receiver (WR) Chris Olave was listed behind several receivers including the injured Tre’Quan Smith. I wouldn’t look too much into this as Olave will be a huge part of this offense and likely see significant time against a vulnerable Atlanta secondary. Jameis Winston, Alvin Kamara, Demario Davis, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Ramcyzk, and JT Gray were all named team captains for the season.
The Saints received some much needed good news when it came to Trevor Penning’s status. Sources say Penning is not expected to miss the entire season as previously feared. Reports indicate that the rookie lineman could return as early as November.
LB Chase Hansen was signed from the practice squad to the active roster. Last week, I touched on several linebackers reassigned to the practice squad who had a shot to get called up. Hansen wasn't the first name that came to mind as I thought Eric Wilson was more likely to get promoted, but the Saints added depth to a position that really needed it. Demario Davis and Pete Werner are the starters but behind them are guys like Kaden Elliss, Andrew Dowell, and Zach Baun. Hansen had a dominant start to the preseason against Houston but struggled with injury thereafter. I anticipate him being an asset to the special teams unit. Replacing him on the 16-man practice squad is former Jacksonville quarterback (QB) Jake Luton. Also earlier this week, the Saints promoted defensive tackle (DT) Christian Ringo to the roster.
Thursday, the Saints locked up starting center (C) Erik McCoy by signing him to a 5-year extension worth $63.75 million, with $40 million guaranteed. McCoy will make an average of $12.75 million per year placing him in the top five highest paid centers in the league.
Throughout the week, star WR Michael Thomas participated in limited walkthroughs. Dennis Allen and the coaching staff said he looked good coming off a hamstring injury that held him out the majority of training camp and preseason. This morning, sources confirmed he will play against the Falcons. It’s not clear what limitations Allen will place on Thomas, but I expect him to get involved early and often as the game goes on.
Cornerback (CB) Paulson Adebo will not suit up this week as he still battles an ankle sprain. Adebo hasn’t practiced since August 24th and the coaching staff is closely monitoring his rehab progress. Bradley Roby is expected to start in Adebo’s place. PJ Williams or rookie Alontae Taylor could see time in the nickel-role. WR Tre’Quan Smith and RB Dwayne Washington are also out for the game. Smith is battling a groin injury and for Washington, it’s his hamstring. Safety (S) Tyrann Mathieu didn’t report to practice Friday due to an illness. He is listed as ‘questionable’ to play today.
PREVIEWING WEEK ONE AGAINST ATLANTA
Obviously there's a deep history between these two ball clubs. The Saints-Falcons rivalry is one of the most heated in the NFL. Today will be the 107th meeting all time between these two teams.
The Saints have won their last three season openers in epic fashion. For them to extend that streak to four, they must come out today sharp and focused. Alvin Kamara is the best all around player on this team and I believe he will be the driving force of this offense. Coaches praised his performance throughout training camp with Dennis Allen saying he looks to be in peak shape. QB Jameis Winston also needs to be on point. Winston spent the lion share of this week prepping with his new receivers and establishing chemistry. I expect the offense to flow smoothly and efficiently, especially now that Michael Thomas is cleared to play. Thomas will give Winston a big premiere target to throw to, which will be key for his confidence in this game.
The Saints ranked within the top 5 in total defense the last two seasons and with the new added pieces, this unit will be expected to lift the team into contention. Paulson Adebo’s absence and the uncertainty around Tyrann Mathieu’s status shouldn’t impact them too much, given the matchup. This secondary is still loaded with talented players who can create turnovers and force stops. Not to mention, Cameron Jordan and the defensive line should have a good day against Atlanta’s offensive line.
The Falcons are in the middle of a team rebuild after trading away key franchise players such as WR Julio Jones and former league MVP QB Matt Ryan over the last two seasons. Many project them to finish at the bottom of the division this year.
Marcus Mariota will start at QB for the Falcons. Mariota hasn’t lived up to expectations since being drafted behind Jameis Winston in 2015. The last few seasons, he’s backed up Derek Carr in Las Vegas. Now, Mariota finds himself on his third team with a new chance to be a full time starter. It will be interesting to see how he performs as he tries to resurrect his career.
Atlanta won’t have much to work with in terms of playmakers, especially with stud WR Calvin Ridley still suspended indefinitely. Second year TE Kyle Pitts is talented but the Saints defense is perfectly capable of neutralizing him. Last season, Pitts logged a total of 5 receptions for 70 yards in two games against the Saints, including the season finale where he was held to just 8 yards on 2 catches. Of course, he’s bound to improve in year two but it's hard to imagine he’ll dominate a Saints defense oozing with top tier talent. Rookie first rounder, Drake London participated in limited practices earlier this week but is questionable to play as he deals with a knee injury. Defensively, CB AJ Terrell had a good season last year but he’ll have his hands full with either Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, or rookie Chris Olave depending on where he lines up.
Kickoff in Atlanta is at noon.
Overall, this is a game the Saints should win but that doesn’t mean they should let their guard down. The Falcons are still a division rival who seemingly always plays the Saints tough. New Orleans can’t afford to get sloppy or they’ll risk being upset. As long as Jameis Winston and the offense take care of the ball and the defense lives up to expectations, I don’t see the Falcons challenging them much at all.
The betting odds have the Saints favored by 5.5 points. I predict the Saints will cruise to victory, 31-14.
Around the media, several outlets have the Saints ranked middle of the pack in terms of early week one power rankings. NFL.com ranks them 13th. The Ringer has them 18th. And Pro Football Focus ranks the Saints 20th. I think most people are drastically underrating this team. Today gives them the opportunity to flex their might against an inferior opponent and establish themselves among the NFL’s elite.
Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter @Chris_Lunkin98 for weekly content and up-to-the-minute updates on your New Orleans Saints.
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