Three key matchups
Saints DE Will Smith vs. Falcons LT Sam Baker: Baker has been called for four holding penalties, but the Falcons think his issue may be related to the new placement of the umpire. Baker will have to get his hands on Will Smith and keep him from collapsing the pocket as he did last season in New Orleans. Smith had two sacks in that game. He was a disruptive force. Baker and the Falcons were able to contain Smith in the second matchup last season.
Saints S Malcolm Jenkins vs. Falcons QB Matt Ryan: Jenkins is in his first season as a full-time starter and is trying to replace the injured Darren Sharper. Jenkins is a converted cornerback and has one fumble recovery. The 49ers were able to hit some deep passes over the top of the defense Monday night. Ryan has won six of his past nine NFC South starts. He passed for three touchdowns and had a 117.3 quarterback rating last weekend. The Falcons are 10-0 when Ryan has a quarterback rating of more than 100.
Saints RB Pierre Thomas vs. Falcons MLB Curtis Lofton: With Reggie Bush out, the Saints likely will give his carries to the hard-running Thomas. They signed Ladell Betts for depth. Thomas averages only 3.2 yards per carry, but leads the team with 11 receptions. Thomas hopes to have his third game in a row at home against the Falcons with a touchdown rushing and receiving. In the past two games in New Orleans, he has 209 total yards and four touchdowns. Lofton respects Thomas’ style of play and knows he’ll have to account for him in the run game. “I don’t think anybody overlooks him,” Lofton said. “He’s a great back. We’re going to have to bring our pads.”