The Falcons can't seem to buy a win so far in this young season. They played a weak team in Minnesota and lost, put up a weak effort against a tough Jacksonville squad and came tantalizingly close against Carolina. Now Petrino & Associates get a matchup that looks decent on paper, but how will it end up? Let's take a look.
Passing Game: I'm going to predict 90% of the damage both teams do in this game is going to be through the air. Joey Harrington is coming off a big game where he stayed on his feet and made smart throws. The team should plan to sacrifice Joe Horn to Dunta Robinson, the Texans' best corner and a man I don't particularly want Roddy White matched up against. The Falcons will want to look for Alge Crumpler all day; the safeties and linebackers in Houston aren't known for their coverage skills and he should be able to tear them to shreds. That should also open up more opportunities for an emerging White and Mike Jenkins. Jenkins had a solid game last week and appears to be climbing the depth chart again. The offensive line is again a concern for the Falcons, who will be matched up against "Super" Mario Williams and a talented and young front seven. The Falcons must keep Harrington upright to survive.
The Texans will turn to Matt Schaub, who has been unbelievably accurate so far this season. He'll go to war without top receivers Andre Johnson and rookie Jacoby Jones, so that can only help a Falcons secondary that will feature a benched DeAngelo Hall and a limited Lewis Sanders (not that he's a big help in the first place). Still, the Texans have little to speak of on the ground and will have to air it out.
Lines? Harrington 17/27, 210 yards, 1 TDs, 1 INT, 3 sacks; Schaub 22/29, 195 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 2 sacks
Edge: The Falcons actually have the edge here. Without their top flight receivers, the Texans passing game is somewhat neutered and the Falcons should get it done better in the red zone. I just can't shake the feeling that Schaub is going to pull a good game out of his butt, though.
Running Game: No longer an area of strength for the Falcons, but the Texans don't fare much better. Dunn and Norwood have been unable to get going so far, though the line is largely the culprit. As good as Dunn has been for the Falcons over the last few years, it's probably time for him to see the bench more often. A smaller back who loses a little speed off the edge and can't hit the pile hard is a liability. Petrino should limit him and try to feature Jerious Norwood, whose speed makes him incredibly dangerous if he ever gets in the freaking game. Even Artose Pinner gives the Falcons a change of pace with his size. The Falcons are going to have to actually move the ball on the ground at some point, and I see no place like the present for them to start.
The Texans have Ahman Green (hurt), Ron Dayne (fat), and Samkon Gado (who knows?). The only way that tandem could strike fear into me is if I was covered in steaks because Ron Dayne might devour me. The Falcons have been poor against the run so far this year, but the Texans aren't going to provide too much of a challenge here. Still, the Falcons will have to watch out for Dayne at the goal line.
Lines? Norwood 11 carries, 71 yards, 1 TD; Dayne 15 carries, 55 yards, 1 TD.
Edge: The Falcons should have a wide edge here, but due to the fact that Houston's run defense allows about half as many yards as Atlanta's, I have to call this one a wash. I am predicting good things from Norwood this week, though.
Run Defense: Because I already explored this a little this will be a short section. The Falcons have allowed an average of 142 yards on the ground a game. That's astonishingly bad, for those of you keeping track at home. There's no way Dayne and company can pile up that many yards against the Falcons, but Trey Lewis will have his work cut out for him regardless in his first start at defensive tackle. If the Falcons are going to improve on run defense they need more help on the outside from Abraham and the nearly invisible Jamaal Anderson and any linebacker not named Michael Boley. This is a good time to try that out, given the Texans weaknesses.
The Texans meanwhile are allowing an average of 76 yards a game. Based solely on stats it doesn't seem like the Falcons should be able to get going in this game, but if they switch up a Dunn/Pinner tandem with Norwood as the featured back I think they can finally bust out of their slump. That being said, the Falcons definitely have their work cut out for them running up the middle against Amobi Okoye, who already looks like a star in this league.
Lines? Falcons allow 95 yards, 1 TD; Texans allow 115 yards, 1 TD.
Edge: By my predicted numbers, the Falcons have the edge here. A slight edge, yes, but an edge.
Pass Defense: This is where the numbers favor the Falcons; ironically, it's also where I'm least comfortable forecasting. DeAngelo Hall will only play part of this game and represents the only sure thing we have at cornerback. Lewis Sanders has been solid when it comes time to tackle people, but he's normally having to tackle them because they're blowing by him at an alarming rate of speed. Chris Houston and David Irons aren't ready, and I don't trust Chris Crocker and Lawyer Milloy in most situations. The front sevn has also lost Babineaux, who was responsible for a great deal of the quarterback pressure in the first three games. They've only allowed 184 passing yards a game and won't have a tough matchup here, but if we're going to get beat I have a gut feeling this is where it's going to be.
The Texans are just pretty damn bad except for Dunta Robinson. They'll be relying pretty heavily on sacks and hurries, and unfortunately that's an area in which the Falcons could use a little help. If the O-line can't keep the Texans out of the backfield the Falcons are in a lot of trouble. Unfortunately, I think we're probably in trouble.
Line? Already did it for the passing game.
Edge: The stats favor the Falcons, but I think the Texans will have much greater success at harrying, limiting and generally being a pain in the ass to Joey Harrington.
The Falcons have been horrendous on special teams so far this year. Having Norwood return kicks and Morten Andersen handle kicking has helped a great deal, but Adam Jennings hasn't been able to do jack squat on returns. Koenen's been solid so far this year and will probably get a chance to show off his leg a couple times during this one. The return game is going to be critical here; the Falcons could use some favorable field position for a chance and will need Jennings to actually capitalize on punt returns instead of running forward three yards and falling down.
The Texans have underrated return man Jerome Mathis to contend with, but he's doubtful and probably won't see the field. I have no clue who is going to return kicks for the Texans in the meantime, which makes this sort of a wild card. Kris Brown has a career 76% conversion rate and his numbers start to drop dramatically as soon as he gets into the 30+ yard range, so if the game's on the line I feel good about him having to kick. Matt Turk is a very old but reasonably effective punter.
Line? Morten Andersen 1/1 FG, 2/2 XP, Norwood 5 KR for 130 yards, Jennings 4 PR for 35 yards; Kris Brown 2/3 FG, 2/2 XP, who the hell knows on the return numbers.
Edge: The Falcons. Andersen's still a little more reliable than Kris Brown, Koenen's a better punter than Turk and Jerome Mathis is out. Excellent.
Final Prediction: On paper this is a winnable game for the Falcons, but unfortunately my gut says we're losing it regardless. My prediction is already different than it was on Battle Red Blog; after examining everything more closely I think we're due for a closer game. That being said, my completely useless and arbitrary prediction is Texans 20, Falcons 17.
Let's go Falcons!