FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The NFC South clash between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints won't carry the same significance, with the 2-8 Falcons having a down year. But the battle is sure to be spirited regardless of records.
Here's what to watch for on Thursday night:
Schraeder's time? Garrett Reynolds is expected to regain his starting role at right guard after being benched last week while Peter Konz talked as if he has been replaced by Joe Hawley at center for the immediate future. But the interesting spot to watch on the Falcons offensive line is at right tackle, where Ryan Schraeder, Jeremy Trueblood, and newcomer Sean Locklear all got first-team snaps this week. Trueblood got benched for Schraeder last week while Locklear was inactive. One of the players seems destined to be inactive Thursday, but it would make sense for the Falcons to get a longer look at the rookie Schraeder. "I feel comfortable," Schraeder said. "I'm ready to go, if I need to be called on." He played 22 offensive snaps in the last game. "I got some positive feedback," Schraeder said. "Got coached up on a few things."
Free spirit: Pro Bowl free safety Thomas DeCoud admitted he's not playing his best football right now. At the same time, he didn't appreciate all the blame being pointed his way and vented through social media about it. DeCoud has been nothing but a true professional in terms of dealing with the media, so one would expect him to handle this adversity in the same manner. He won't lose his starting job this week, but the Falcons need him to defend the deep ball better. How soon people forget that DeCoud scored the last defensive touchdown for the Falcons with a 30-yard return of a fumble recovery against the Buccaneers in Week 7.
Pressure point: Speaking of the defense, DeCoud scored his touchdown a result of a perfectly timed blitz by himself and fellow safety William Moore. In fact, the high amount of blitzes dialed up by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was a big factor in the Falcons' last win. Would the same work against Drew Brees and the Saints? Maybe not. According to ESPN Statistics and Information, Brees completed 8 of 9 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 when the Falcons sent five or more pass rushers.
In the running: Mike Smith has said it was imperative to get Antone Smith more involved in the running game after Smith broke off a 50-yard touchdown run last week and gained 88 yards on two carries. That statement came a week after the Falcons said they needed to work their workhorse Steven Jackson more often. That's not to say that Smith will surpass Jackson as the primary ball carrier, but it will be interesting to see how the Falcons deploy Smith against the Saints. Jacquizz Rodgers was limited in practice with an ankle injury and Jason Snelling is in the doghouse following a marijuana arrest, so there will be opportunities for Smith. Plus the 5-foot-9, 192-pound special-teams ace Smith has the right approach. "I feel like I'm playing for a job every time I step in the building," he said.
Ryan's hope: Rob Ryan obviously has made an impact. The Saints had the worst defense in league history in terms of yards allowed last season. Now with Ryan coordinating the defense, the Saints boast the league's fourth-best total defense and third-best passing defense. Ryan comes at you with a variety of different looks, which will test Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's game plan. "He's really good at mixing his personnel groups," Koetter said of Ryan. "Some of how he mixes his groups is determined by the health of his guys. Whoever he's got up on game day, he uses all of his guys." The Saints lost top cornerback Jabari Greer to an ACL injury, which could benefit the Falcons.