Falcons might need to score 50 to keep up with high-octane Saints

Falcons QB Matt Ryan is no stranger to how the Saints can put up points, noting, "Obviously, we know that they're explosive and capable of making plays." AP Photo/John Amis

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn got straight to the point when discussing what his team needs to do to compete with the high-powered New Orleans Saints on Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

"When you're in the red zone against them, you better finish with it in the end zone because they're certainly able to score and have shown that this year," Quinn said. "So field goals against them isn't going to cut it, the way they're putting points up."

The Saints (9-1), winners of nine straight, have averaged 48 points in their past three games and lead the league with 37.8 points per game. Their defense surrenders 23.9 points per game, which ranks 15th. Meanwhile, the Falcons rank ninth in scoring (26.3 PPG) and 29th in scoring defense (27.6 PPG).

When the Falcons and Saints met in Week 3, Drew Brees guided his team to a 43-37 overtime victory, which was the Falcons' second-highest scoring output of the season behind a 38-14 win in Washington. The Saints scored their season high of 51 points in a 37-point win against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Maybe the NFC South rivals can duplicate the 54-51 outcome from Monday night's Rams-Chiefs shootout?

Asked if his offense is prepared to get into such a shootout, if needed, Quinn responded, "We are. We're equipped. ... It was no surprise to see that in the first game, either."

The difference now is the Saints are rolling, and the Falcons are reeling. Quinn's squad is 4-6 after back-to-back losses to Cleveland and Dallas. In those games, the offense averaged 17.5 points per game, didn't score in the first quarter and made it into the red zone just four times, scoring twice.

Quinn also pointed out that third-down conversions have dropped the past two weeks, with the Falcons going 11 of 26 (42.3 percent) against the Browns and Cowboys. Through the first eight games, the Falcons converted 56 of 105 (53.3 percent) on third down. During a three-game win streak, they were 25 of 39 (64.1 percent) on third down.

Of course, sustaining the drives they get will be important if the Falcons have any thoughts of keeping their slim playoff hopes alive.

At the beginning of the season, ESPN's Football Power Index gave both the Saints and Falcons a 58.4 percent chance to make the playoffs. Now, New Orleans has greater than a 99.9 percent chance to reach the postseason, and Atlanta has just a 7.0 percent chance.

"Every time we get the ball, it's critical," wide receiver Julio Jones said of scoring points. "And they know we can score, too. So what teams will do, especially the Saints, they try to keep us on the sideline for long periods of time. But when we get the ball, we've got to score points."

As Quinn said, finishing those drives with touchdowns -- not field goals -- is the most important thing. If there's a positive to take out of the past three games, it's that Jones has scored a touchdown in each.

"He's been streaking all year," quarterback Matt Ryan said, dismissing Jones' recent scoring surge. "I know the touchdowns have kind of resurfaced the past couple weeks, but he's been playing so well for us all year and has been so consistent. It's been a major focus point of our offense, is finding ways to get him involved and get him the ball because he's so explosive. He's had a great year."

Ryan, who is 8-12 all time against the Saints and 3-7 in New Orleans, has been part of some high-scoring affairs against Brees. In 2016, Ryan threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-32 win at New Orleans. The key to that win was balance, as Devonta Freeman rushed for 152 yards and Tevin Coleman had three rushing touchdowns. The Falcons ran the ball 31 times, and Ryan attempted 30 passes. That's the kind of balance Quinn is looking for now -- especially coming off a 34-pass, 18-run outing in the loss to Dallas. But to have success with the run and pass, the offensive line has to block and protect better than it has.

Ryan offered his take on possibly being in another high-scoring game against Brees on Thursday.

"Obviously, we know that they're explosive and capable of making plays," Ryan said. "But every game shakes out differently. And I've been in all kinds of different ones throughout my career. I try to prepare myself the same way every week, knowing that it's our responsibility and our job as an offense to find a way to score more than they do."