New Orleans Saints (5-6) at Atlanta Falcons (10-1)
Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network, Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan
Last meeting: The Saints won a see-saw 31-27 shootout Nov. 11 in New Orleans with Drew Brees tossing three touchdowns and the Saints defense holding Atlanta to 46 rushing yards.
Streaking: Brees is averaging 314 passing yards with 18 touchdowns and a 6-1 record against the Falcons since 2009.
Pass the Quizz: There is raging debate over Michael Turner's role in the Falcons' pedal to the metal offense. Turner's production is in decline -- 41 carries, 78 yards in his past three games -- and the Falcons are getting Jacquizz Rodgers more involved on first and second down. QB Matt Ryan is doing most of his damage between the hashes. The Saints have reason to fret. SS Roman Harper and FS Malcolm Jenkins have been worn out by Tony Gonzalez and other premier tight ends. With Rodgers on the field, stretch plays to get him into the open field with only a defensive back in his path or play-fakes that employ Rodgers as the final checkdown option when nothing opens up deep require the Saints to keep a linebacker up - allowing more space for Gonzalez. He caught 11 of Ryan's 34 completions in the first meeting after catching 11 passes combined in two meetings in 2011.
Pocket protector: Brees has been sacked twice in 114 passes attempts over the past three games. When the Falcons get John Abraham blocked, Brees has too much time to survey the defense and wait for receivers to uncover against Atlanta's zone-heavy schemes. Heady but overaggressive CBs Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson have three interceptions total but coach Mike Smith will stress keeping the ball in front of them Thursday. The Saints are 27th in the NFL in rushing, a total that is up in recent weeks, but can be pushed into a heavier reliance on the pass if the Falcons pinch their linebackers and safeties inside to create traffic for TE Jimmy Graham and RB Darren Sproles. Graham has four TD catches in his past three games against the Falcons.
Need to know: Ryan has led 21 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most by any quarterback in his first five seasons since 1966. ... Brees has five consecutive seasons with 30 or more TD passes. Only Brett Favre (nine) and Peyton Manning (six) have at least five 30-TD seasons.