The Atlanta Falcons will look to finish their quest to conquer the NFC East on Sunday. They will face the Washington Redskins, which appears to be an intriguing matchup. Kyle Shanahan facing his old team has become a common storyline this week.
Unfortunately, DeAngelo Hall will likely be out, which decreases the possibility of a sideline brawl and other eventful possibilities. Washington appears to be short-handed without TE Jordan Reed, along with possibly not having CB Chris Culliver or WR DeSean Jackson.
While the Redskins are suffering from several injuries, the Falcons will be bolstered with Tevin Coleman and Jacob Tamme likely returning on Sunday. Both players will be vital parts of Atlanta's balanced offense. Despite Devonta Freeman's unbelievable emergence, Coleman could be a game-changer through his breakaway speed and improved vision. Atlanta is firing on all cylinders and seem primed to remain undefeated. Here are the key components to watch for on Sunday.
Containing the two-headed power rushing attack
Washington's high-powered rushing attack will pose a sturdy test. While they don't possess a talented offensive line, a dynamic duo has propelled them towards becoming the most productive rushing attack in the league. Matt Jones' ability to break long runs on the outside and make tacklers miss has given the team a much-needed second option at their disposal. Even though Alfred Morris is a true workhorse back that excels between the tackles, he has become a one-dimensional running back to an extent.
The mixture of Jones and Morris gives Washington a one-two combo that perfectly complements one another.Atlanta's front seven has bounced back following their first half debacle against Dallas. Brooks Reed looks to be an excellent fit for the 4-3 under front formation on first down. His ability to set the edge should complement Tyson Jackson well on the strong-side. It has to be a top priority to force third-and-longs to unleash their pass rush and force Kirk Cousins to make difficult decisions. Not many quarterbacks are less athletic than Cousins.
Opportunities will be there for this defense to generate sacks and continue forcing turnovers on a weekly basis. Stopping the run will be essential through Paul Soliai and Ra'Shede Hageman continuing their strong play. It must be noted that Justin Durant could potentially be a substantial loss, given his instincts and speed to close down running backs in small areas.
Another dangerous pass rush on the horizon
Besides their running game, Washington's best quality features a lethal pass rush. Ryan Kerrigan has proven to be one of the more complete pass- ushers in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, only two edge rushers caused more quarterback disruptions last season, and Kerrigan has noteworthy history of playing well against Atlanta. Jason Hatcher's athleticism and relentless motor will cause matchup problems, as well.
For the second straight week, Atlanta's offensive tackles will be challenged extensively. Ryan Schraeder will look to bounce back following J.J Watt's destruction. While he didn't allow any sacks, Jake Matthews was pushed around by Jadeveon Clowney at times. Kyle Shanahan will design quick passing plays to attack Washington's below-average secondary. Both tackles have played admirably this season, but they will need to improve against bull rushes. Shanahan's scheme have contributed them towards improving significantly as run blockers. They need to show that same improvement from a pass blocking perspective. With Washington's stellar run defense, Matt Ryan could be forced into attempting 35 to 40 passes.
The Devonta Freeman show
Although Tevin Coleman will likely return this week, how can anyone take their eyes off Freeman? The diminutive running back has gassed through the entire state of Texas, since being thrusted into a starting role. His vision and aggression were applauded last season through being utilized as a change-of-pace back. Due to having a limited role, it's hard to describe Freeman's progression as an all-around running back.
His burst at the second level has really been captivating. Obviously, a more well-organized offensive line has benefited him. Washington possesses a strong challenge, through their second ranked run-defense. Chris Baker and Terrance Knighton have caused havoc through four games. Besides Mohammed Wilkerson, Baker has the highest run-stopping grade on Pro Football Focus (premium stats) at 8.3. In recent years, Atlanta's centers have notoriously struggled against monstrous nose tackles such as Knighton. Mike Person played well against an aging Vince Wilfork last week. It will be crucial for him to continue holding up at the point of attack and making reach-and seal blocks to continue his surprisingly proficient form.
Starting fast is the motto once again
Besides having a more complete front seven and being far more disciplined as an overall team, Washington is fairly similar to Houston. They clearly want to run the ball to negate their quarterback's limitations. Through watching Freeman's emergence, Jay Gruden's squad would like to take their chances by making Atlanta play similar to the one-dimensional unit from last season. Washington is built to excel by having a lead through unleashing their running game and pass rush on a frequent basis. It will be essential for Atlanta to start fast to force the game into Cousins' hands.
Matt Ryan was aided with good field position throughout last week's victory. He will need to make quick decisions and look to get his receiving options heavily involved. Atlanta's distinct advantage on the outside will be evident throughout the game. Of course, Kyle Shanahan will continue his balance approach through running the ball and implementing play-action. The best opportunity for Atlanta to decimate Washington's defense will come from Ryan's arm. He needs to continue playing turnover-free football and making excellent decisions on third down. Atlanta is ranked second in third-down conversions at 54 percent, which is a testament to Ryan's poise and vastly improved run blocking on third-and-short situations.
Julio Jones takeover seems probable
It seems unnecessary to include Jones on this list. No player on the roster commands more attention than him. For this particular matchup, Jones could possibly break the 200-yard barrier. With Culliver and Hall likely not playing, Bashaud Breeland and Will Blackmon appear to be replacing them. Blackmon was signed less than a month ago. Jones has to be salivating over matching up against either cornerback. Dashon Goldson can't be forgotten about either, as he may still have nightmares about his last encounter with Jones. Washington's secondary is arguably the worst unit that Atlanta has faced so far this season.
Due to the talent discrepancy between both teams, Jones won't likely break his career-best for receiving yards. This is still a prime opportunity for him to continue proving his worth as the most terrifying receiver in the league. From hitch routes to post patterns, Jones will be open on a consistent basis. Pass protection against Washington's front seven will be the only hindrance for him to not complete his four-game supremacy of the NFC East. Through three games against NFC East opponents, the superstar wide receiver has 34 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns. Shanahan's exit from Washington wasn't very pleasant. The well-acclaimed mastermind may look to unleash Jones even further against a hapless secondary.