METAIRIE, La. — Flip on video of the Atlanta Falcons in Week 11 and something stands out that you just can’t miss.
No Julio Jones. No Sam Baker. No Kroy Biermann. No Mike Johnson.
The Falcons team New Orleans will play Thursday night at 7:30 will be a decidedly different group than the Saints played in the season opener, when they held off Atlanta late in the fourth quarter to win 23-17.
“Concept-wise it’s not very different,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “But personnel-wise it’s a lot different. You’re seeing guys out there you’re not used to seeing.”
That’s part of the reason the Falcons are 2-8 a year after earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record.
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
And the Saints (8-2) have to figure out exactly how to prepare for a team that’s not at all like the one they saw to open the season.
Running back Steven Jackson, who signed with the Falcons in the offseason in a move that seemed to be the final piece to put Atlanta over the top, has played in only six of the 10 games. After having rushed for at least 1,000 yards in eight straight seasons, he has only 192 yards on 58 carries due in part to a hamstring issue that has slowed him down.
Jones, the dynamic receiver, was in the books for 580 yards on only 41 catches through the first five games. But his season ended with foot surgery and one of the NFL’s best big receivers was done.
And Roddy White has been plagued by injuries all season and has just 185 yards on 18 catches.
Add to that the absence of Baker (season-ending knee injury) and Johnson (left leg, preseason) and the Falcons haven’t been able to be one of the best offenses in the league.
Atlanta is 14th in total offense, ranking 21st in rushing yards per play and 16th in pass yards per play.
Still, tight end Tony Gonzalez has 568 yards receiving and four touchdowns while Harry Douglas has stepped up at receiver, catching 51 passes for 754 yards and two scores. Jacquizz Rodgers has stepped in for Jackson, rushing for 272 yards while recording 227 receiving yards and has four combined touchdowns.
It hasn’t been enough, however.
“Their main receivers, you’ve got Julio and Roddy White, are hurt,” New Orleans defensive end Junior Galette said. “These guys have been real effective Pro Bowl guys. You take those two out it’s pretty tough. Harry Douglas is doing a real good job stepping up, having probably one of his better seasons. But it’s tough to fill those guys’ shoes.”