On paper, the Baltimore Ravens should destroy the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday. Thankfully, games are played on turf, except for at paper stadiums.
The Falcons come into this game reeling badly. They've lost three in a row thanks to a slurry of weak defense, scuffling offense behind a rapidly dissolving offensive line and too-small doses of Antone Smith. The Ravens just finished mopping the last of the Buccaneers from their plate with a slice of crusty bread, and now sit at 4-2. They have a quality pass rush, a strong run defense and a potent ground game, which is pretty much anathema to this year's Falcons. Many of you are likely predicting blowouts, and I can't blame you. This is a difficult matchup and the Falcons are on the road.
The Falcons can certainly win this game, however, if only because of the vagaries of the NFL. This is a team that has been left for dead already and played awful football over the last three weeks, and it's fair to suggest for pride's sake or simple regression toward the mean that that they'll be a bit better in this one. But it's not going to be easy, which is why we have these helpful, obvious suggestions for the team.
- Play better. This is borderline stupid to even note, of course, but it's clear that the current level of play is going to get the Falcons blown out against quality football teams. As Mike Smith is wont to note, this team simply has to execute better, and doing so will certainly make life harder for Baltimore. That means fewer mistakes and definitely less of the communication snafus that led to Kemal Ishmael desperately tailing Alshon Jeffery.
- Play your most effective personnel, and play them correctly. Jonathan Massaquoi should be playing better than half of the snaps, and he should be pursuing the quarterback. Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson should be off the field on third downs in favor of Jonathan Babineaux, Malliciah Goodman and Corey Peters. Antone Smith should receive every touch until he falters. Simply taking snaps away from less productive players and awarding them to more productive players generally gets results, however modest.
- Stop running the ball up the middle. Of course you want to keep the defense honest, but this defense features massive dudes who have limited opposing running backs to the 7th-fewest yards in the NFL. Every single Steven Jackson carry up the gut is a waste of a precious down.
- I can't believe i'm saying this, but stop throwing so many screen passes to Julio Jones. I know the intent is to make the defense think twice about bringing the heat against Matt Ryan and to give Jones a chance to break one, but all too often it's a 3-to-5 yard gain, at best. Last week's extreme dropfest aside, Jones in particular is perfectly capable of reeling in tough catches in traffic without the screens, which leave him needing to fight through more yardage and defenders to get going.
- Give Robert Alford some safety help whenever possible. I love Alford, I think he'll be fine over the long haul, but don't leave the man on an island if you can help it. He's scuffling right now.