We're crunched for time this week, so this post is going to combine our four critical matchups and our usual Thursday musings post. It's an ambitious day for me.
As you all know, the Jaguars have been a downright abysmal football team. They've fired coach Jack Del Rio, dealt with crippling injuries on defense and rolled with rookie Blaine Gabbert, who has been such a train wreck that no one will let him get near this nation's railway systems. The only true bright spot has been Maurice Jones-Drew, the mighty mite running back who has dominated the NFL despite having the box stacked against him every single game.
Factor in that the Falcons get to play this team at home, the short rest and that they might have used up their point total for the rest of the year while punishing the Buccaneers on Sunday and you've got a recipe for a brutal beatdown. As we know, the Falcons rarely actually are on the giving end of one of those.
Still, this is not just a winnable game, it is a must-win game. The Falcons can afford exactly one loss the rest of the way, and even that's making things dicier than they need to be. With the Saints at the Superdome still looming, Atlanta can't afford to be tripped up by a team that has had only a couple of great games all year. Hopefully, they will not.
After the jump, a smorgasboard of analysis for your reading pleasure.
Blaine Gabbert versus The Entire Falcons Defense
I try to keep this to one-on-one, but really, you can't do that with Blaine Gabbert.
An indecisive pocket passer who might be able to scramble if he could just remember to do it but oh God look at this wall of humanity before me. Gabbert may someday be a terrific quarterback, but he's light years away from stardom at this point. As a result, every defender has the potential to make an impact against him.
The defensive line and linebackers can sack him. The linebackers and secondary can pick off errant pass. Any defender can get in the way of one of his throws and set it gently on the ground. There are a million ways in which this defense can disrupt and otherwise terrorize Gabbert, and I hope to see them use all of them.
Maurice Jones-Drew versus Ray Edwards
Again, it was hard to pick one player here.
MJD is among the league's deadliest backs, a truly explosive runner in a small package. He has power, speed and tenacity and is extremely adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. He's the Jaguars' best player by a mile and the one guy who can turn this into a hellish evening for the Falcons.
Edwards has been adept against the run all season and MJD likes to run to his side of the line, so he's going to get more than a few chances to bring the mighty mite down. He'll have to if the Jaguars are to be contained on the ground.
There are unfair matchups and there is Roddy White versus Kevin Rutland.
Due to a plethora of injuries in the secondary, the Jaguars are forced to start guys like Rutland, a 23-year-old rookie who is still developing. There's promise here—Rutland has a pick and a pass deflection and seems to be a capable tackler—but White is a great wide receiver who has a knack for getting open.
If I'm Matt Ryan—and until I get my powers of possession, I guess I'm not—I target White all day and dare Rutland to make a play. It'll be a great learning experience for the rookie corner and a big day for White, I'd presume.
Julio Jones versus Ashton Youtboty
Speaking of unfair matchups, here's another!
Youboty is what he is: A decent cornerback at times, a terrible one at others. At age 27, he's not suddenly going to blossom into an elite player. Julio Jones is coming off one of the biggest games of his young career and has to be hungry for more. You can guess why I think this won't end well for Jacksonville.
Basically, if Matt Ryan throws all day long, the Falcons should be able to pull this one off. There will be a few classic Falcons mistakes along the way, but this is a winning strategy.
The Rookie Quarterback Run
As reader mr92687!!! noted, this is the fifth straight week where the Falcons have taken on a rookie quarterback.
The Falcons have gone 3-1 over that span. They lost to T.J. Yates and a quality Texans team but managed to beat Jake Locker, Christian Ponder and Cam Newton. Out of all of those guys, Gabbert is by far the shakiest at this point in his career.
The Falcons will inevitably end their run after this week with two games remaining against the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even if Drew Brees and Josh Freeman were to suffer injuries that kept them out of those games, their direct backups are veterans. Alas, nothing good lasts forever.
In the brief time I had while writing this last night, I wasn't able to find which teams have faced the most rookie quarterbacks in a single season, and whether it's unprecedented for one team to face five in a row. But I do plan to research that, and it's an interesting question to ask.
The Falcons will let Jacksonville get going a bit early in the game but will clamp down hard later on. Final score will be 35-17, Falcons.
What's your prediction?