G’day Falcons fans, and welcome back to the contribution I, in collaboration with fellow Aussie Falcons fan dunlagh, hope to be making to the Falcoholic. I’ll analyse the best case scenario for the Falcons, with what are, in my opinion, a few keys to victory, while dunlagh will play devil’s advocate and look at how the game will turn out if we play at our true worst.
Coming off the shortened week, the Falcons face one of the best team’s in the league in the Baltimore Ravens. While we have the benefit of not having to travel on a shortened week, this will definitely be one of the toughest games we’ve got on our schedule, and a win would really put us in great position headed into the final stretch of the season. In good news, the Saints are coming up against the fierce bye week, a matchup which no team has come out of with a win this season, so we can really pull away with a 14th consecutive home 'W' with Matt Ryan.
The Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco duel has been much anticipated due to the similarities between the QBs, however the Ravens and Falcons have near identical stats in most categories. I expect this to be one of the best games of the season viewing wise, not just for the Falcons but for the whole league. The best case for the Falcons this week, against an eerily similar Ravens team, comes if we crack down on Ray Rice, establish the deep passing game and sure up on special teams.
Crack down on Ray Rice: Averaging 75.8 rush yards a game, Rice hasn’t been his usual dominant self this season; however his slight drop off in production in the running game doesn’t take into account his effect in the passing game. Rushing stats for Rice are deceptive, due to his impact in the screen and short passing game, which Rice turns into yards as though it was a designated rush play. In that sense, Ray Rice is still a fearsome running back and can blow any game wide open if given the chance. Maybe it’s my love for the underdog, but the 2008 draft battle I’m most keen to see isn’t Ryan vs Flacco, it’s Rice vs Curtis ‘force the fumble just by looking atcha’ Lofton. Ok, ok, I’d be lying if I didn’t want Ryan to show who’s better on national television, but I believe the real game changer for the Falcons will be shutting down Rice in the running and short passing game. Our run defense has been very solid, ranking sixth in the league, and I believe the Rice vs Falcons front seven matchup could decide the game. Making opposing QBs win it the Dome is difficulty (see the crowd bringing the heat on Freeman in the delay of game on Tampa’s one yard line). Without a running game, the Falcons defense can focus on statistically mauling Flacco, and settle the ‘08 draft argument until the next time. We force the issue by cracking down on Rice…hard.
Establish the deep pass: Remember the similarities between the Ravens and Falcons extending beyond the QB? Well those similarities rear their ugly but potentially beneficial head here, with the Ravens also featuring a less than stingy secondary at times. Sure they are ranked a casual 17 places above us in pass defense, allowing dead on 206 yards a game, but the Ravens secondary can get tested at times. While Ryan has to worry about Ed Reed floating about at FS, if he can connect on a deep ball to Roddy White or HD as was attempted through the first three weeks, we might start seeing a little less purple at the line of scrimmage and a little more room for Michael Turner to breathe. The Ravens love to blitz, but if the O-line can give Ryan enough time to connect on one early deep ball, it sticks in the defense’s mind, and they might be a little slower to creep up to the line on running downs. We tried for, and nearly hit, a deep TD with Jenkins against Tampa, and White’s juggling catch vs the Bengals will be a highlight reel mainstay for the season. We’ve shown we can connect on the vertical ball this season; establish the deep passing game early against Baltimore and we both gain a huge chunk of yards and neutralise the run defense skills of the likes of Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata,
Domonique Foxworth and Ray Lewis.
Sure up on special teams: Let me clarify straight up; this is not a reaction to the Tampa game. Kickoff coverage has been something that has bothered me since week 2, when a penalty was all that prevented Stephens-Howling from taking it for 6. The week after that, in the Superdome, I witnessed Lance Moore nearly take back a 72 yard punt the distance. Newsflash special teams; whilst my love for him knows no bounds, Michael Koenen shouldn’t be our big hitter on coverage. Atlanta would have, and should have, won the Tampa game 27-7 if it weren’t for kickoff coverage. We gifted them two of their TDs on kickoffs, and that’s a trend which needs to stop if we have any chance of beating the Ravens (and gaining some serious respect in the league). If we can force Flacco to take his crew on long drives time after time, we are definitely in a better position to pick him off or force some pressure. The mid-week addition of Stephen Nicholas and Kroy Biermann, our #1 and #2 leading tacklers on special teams last year, back into the coverage team for this one should help us a lot in that area. A nice punt from Koenen once in a while would be nice as well. Oh, and apologies to Matt Bryant for criticising the unit he is a part of; dude’s been clutch.
Well there it is, the third Best Case Scenario in the books. Be sure to check out dunlagh’s article here. One last thing; if you're lucky enough to be going to the game, make some noise! Homefield advantage should be an advantage, and when the crowd show up the Falcons have the uncanny ability to show up also. This is a crucial matchup, so make some noise for our Falcons! Come on Falcons, the lights are on bright, the nation is watching; show those Ravens what we can do!