Tue, 24 Nov 2020

Early Bird Taysom Hill rumored to be Saints' starter vs. Falcons

Atlanta Falcons
21 Nov 2020, 17:57 GMT+10

The top Falcons headlines from around the country  Will McFadden

One of the top mysteries surrounding Sunday's game is who might be starting at quarterback for the Saints in place of Drew Brees. On Friday morning, there appeared to be some clarity provided on that front.

Hill has been deployed as a gadget player for the Saints during his time with the organization, and he has not thrown more than two passes in a single game this season. In fact, the most attempts Hill has had in a single season came in 2018 when he threw seven passes.

Per Schefter, he might be throwing a good deal more on Sunday.

While Winston, a former No. 1 overall pick, has plenty of experience against the Falcons and as a starting quarterback in this league, the Saints appear set to have him play a backup role to Hill on Sunday. This will be the 14th start of Hill's career, but the first game in which he would have to bear the full brunt of playing quarterback. Hill's greatest asset is his legs, and he's gained 538 yards and scored four touchdowns on 98 carries. He's also caught 28 passes for 312 yards and seven touchdowns.

Teams that are better and worse than their records

It hasn't been often this season that Atlanta hasn't been in any game its played. Now that the Falcons have figured out how to close out games, they are building up their win total. Up next is a tough division game with the New Orleans Saints, giving Atlanta another chance to prove itself.

Longtime NFL general manager and NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt shared three teams he believes are better than their current records and three teams that are worse. When it comes to the Falcons, Brandt says Atlanta's 3-6 record may be misleading.

"An ongoing inability to close out games during an 0-5 start to the season cost Dan Quinn his job as Falcons coach," Brandt writes. "But Atlanta has turned things around since, winning three of its last four games under interim coach Raheem Morris. And the schedule is about to present an opportunity to really course-correct, with the next three games featuring two chances to face the NFC South-leading Saints, sandwiched around a showdown with the 6-3 Raiders. This stretch will go a long way toward determining whether the Falcons can still make some noise this season -- and whether Morris will be able to remove the interim tag from his title in 2021."

How have Falcons been different under Morris?

The Falcons are 3-1 since Raheem Morris took over, and he has seemingly helped the team solve its late-game woes. Atlanta has been able to close out games on both sides of the ball and will need to continue to do so in order to navigate the toughest part of its schedule.

There's still talent on the Falcons' roster, but Morris and his staff have worked to make things simpler for their team. With the goal to go 1-0 each week, the Falcons have done a better job executing on the field in the way Morris has asked them.

"It's just a matter of the process," Morris said. "We trust our process. We deliver a simple, small message to the guys and they've been able to go out there -- and give them credit -- and execute it. They've been taking the message. They've been taking the keys to victory and they've been able to accomplish a couple of them. Three to be exact. We fell short in one game and we've got to continue to move on."

ESPN's Michael DiRocco further explained how Atlanta has changed since Morris took over and the messaging he's had for the team.

Picking first-time Pro Bowlers

Entering the 2020 season, Calvin Ridley was focused on proving he was among the league's elite. Just halfway through the season, he's proved that and then some. Despite missing a game and a half, Ridley currently leads the Falcons with 43 catches for 657 yards and six touchdowns. In projecting potential first-time Pro Bowlers for the 2020 season, NFL.com's Nick Shook ranks Ridley eighth among young players most likely to make it.

"Atlanta was forced to go without Calvin Ridley for much of Week 8 and all of Week 9 thanks to a foot sprain," Shook writes. "Though Matt Ryan found ways to fill the gaps, Ridley's effectiveness when available is impossible to overlook. Ridley is a threat along the boundary, seeing targets on over half of his out routes and gaining 182 yards and two touchdowns on such completions, tying him for second in both categories in the NFL. He trails only DeAndre Hopkins and Amari Cooper in out-route targets and is behind only Hopkins in receiving yards."

Top five Hail Mary targets

The NFL world was in awe of Arizona's late-game win due to a jaw-dropping Hail Mary touchdown between Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. It was a great play between one player firmly established as one of the best receivers in the league and a second-year quarterback quickly ascending to the ranks of the elite.

In light of the Hail Mary, former NFL quarterback and current NFL.com analyst David Carr ranked his top five targets for such a situation. One of the most physically gifted receivers to ever grace the league, Julio Jones's spot at No. 4 on this list shouldn't come as a surprise. In fact, an argument could be made for him landing much higher.

"Anyone who can rip the ball away from a defender like Jones needs to be on my list, especially when you consider how many bodies are around the ball on most Hail Mary attempts. Jones knows how to box out defenders and make a play on the ball. His size, competitiveness and God-given ability make him one of the most physical receivers the NFL has ever seen."

How Dirk Koetter spent his bye week

For the second year in a row, the Falcons' bye week comes before their first matchup against the New Orleans Saints. In 2019, that resulted in an upset that shocked the football world. A win on Sunday would again likely be a shock, but the Falcons are putting in the work to duplicate that feat. As offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter audited his unit during the bye week, efficiency was the aspect of play he wanted to increase.

"You always come back to the same stuff that you already knew you needed to work on," Koetter said. "The main one is we would like to be efficient across the board, but mainly that applies to the red zone. We have to have a higher touchdown percentage in the red zone. You also find out you're doing a lot of things well."

Koetter shared his thoughts on the Saints and how talented they are on both sides of the ball, which Jason Butt detailed in greater length for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

NFL power rankings - What would teams take back

Most Falcons fans have probably avoided the national power rankings since the team's 0-5 start, but Atlanta is s l o w l y starting to creep back up the lists. Coming off their bye week, the Falcons held steady at No. 24 in ESPN's weekly power ranking.

This week's edition comes with a question of what moment or game would each time like to take back from this season. That question for the Falcons is fairly easy to answer, as ESPN's David Newton did.

"Ever wonder where the Falcons might be today had one of three players fallen on an onside kick in Week 2? It was a comedy of errors and allowed Dallas to complete a comeback from 15 points down in the final five minutes," Newton writes. "It set the tone for head coach Dan Quinn to be fired after a Week 5 loss to the Panthers as well as perhaps for other fourth-quarter collapses that ensued. Not since 1933, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, had a team that scored 39 points and had no turnovers lost. If Atlanta could have that moment back and started the season 1-1, there's no telling where it might be in the NFC playoff picture."

More headlines for Falcons fans

AtlantaFalcons.com: Julio: 'Blood is boiling' for Falcons-Saints AtlantaFalcons.com: Falcons' pass rush doing more with less AtlantaFalcons.com: Matt Ryan discusses Drew Brees, Saints rivalry AtlantaFalcons.com: Falcons-Saints expert picks NFL.com: All teams entering intensive protocols NBCSports.com: FMIA Week 10 CBSSports.com: QB power rankings PFF.com: NFL midseason surprises AJC.com: Falcons try to slow Saints' roll AJC.com: Falcons look to unlock return game AJC.com: What Payton said about the Falcons

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