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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Saints running back Alvin Kamara has more than 1,200 total yards in his rookie season, posting 11 touchdowns along the way.

Thursday, December 07, 2017 1:00 am

Running backs in national spotlight

PAUL NEWBERRY | Associated Press

Jaws' pick

New Orleans

at Atlanta

When: 8:25 p.m. today (NBC/NFL Net)

Records: Saints 9-3; Falcons 7-5

The skinny: The Saints march into Atlanta firmly perched atop the NFC South, having fended off rival Carolina for the second time this season. Next up, the defending conference champions, the first of two in a three-week span that will determine the division champion. New Orleans has been the more consistent team, reeling off eight straight wins at one point. Atlanta is in desperate need of wins to stay in the playoff race but is only 3-3 at home.

Prediction: Saints 28-24

Last week: 14-2; Season: 131-61

– Mark Jaworski, The Journal Gazette

ATLANTA – If you like running backs, you've come to the right game.

When the first-place New Orleans Saints face the Atlanta Falcons tonight in an NFC South matchup with serious playoff ramifications, the spotlight will be on the guys in the backfield.

All four of them.

The Saints (9-3) boast the league's most dynamic duo. Mark Ingram has rushed for 922 yards and nine touchdowns. But the big story in the Big Easy has been the emergence of rookie Alvin Kamara, who already has more than 1,200 yards running and receiving, along with 11 TDs.

“Boom and Zoom” is Ingram's nickname for the backfield tandem, though he went on to say it's not entirely accurate.

“You really cannot label one of us,” he said. “Both of us have the complete package.”

The Falcons (7-5) have their own productive pairing. Devonta Freeman, the league's highest-paid back, and former IU standout Tevin Coleman have combined for more than 1,500 yards running and receiving, along with 12 touchdowns.

“Both teams have two really good running backs who like to get after it,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “If you like running backs, it's your kind of game.”

The Saints claimed sole possession of the division lead with a victory over Carolina (8-4) last weekend, and they're two games in front of the Falcons.

Atlanta desperately needs a win to have a realistic shot at a second straight NFC South title.

Other things to watch for tonight:

Crowd noise

The Falcons haven't had much of a home-field advantage in their first season at $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, going 3-3. Most troubling, the fans don't seem to be nearly as loud as they were at the team's previous home, the Georgia Dome.

There are noticeable chunks of empty seats throughout games, and much of the crowd seems to be spending its time gawking at the shiny new digs rather than cheering on the Falcons.

Coverage concerns

The Saints' secondary is getting healthier, which is good news as they prepare to face Matt Ryan, Julio Jones & Co. Cornerback Ken Crawley returned from an abdomen injury and played well Sunday in a victory over Carolina. Top draft choice Marshon Lattimore is trying to come back from an ankle injury.

Offensive concerns

The Falcons' offense is eager to make up for a dismal showing last week against Minnesota. In a 14-9 loss, Atlanta failed to score a touchdown for the first time in nearly two seasons – a major embarrassment to a team that led the league in scoring a year ago and has so many weapons.

The Falcons had huge problems on third down, converting only 1 of 10 largely because they kept putting themselves in deep holes on first and second down.