We’re all ready for the return of Falcons football, and we’re getting what should be a good game between Atlanta and the Arizona Cardinals. It kicks off at 1 p.m. tomorrow, and as always, there are many matchups worth your time and consideration.
Today, we’ll focus on three of those that could be key to the outcome. None of them will come as surprises to you if you know these two teams, but then, teams with lousy run defenses, Julio Jones, and Tevin Coleman are set up to win shootouts. The only wrinkles are how they get gouged by opposing offenses and how their best weapons wreck opposing defenses. Let’s talk a little bit more about that.
Here’s three matchups worth watching closely.
Julio Jones versus Patrick Peterson
It was not that long ago that Julio Jones embarrassed Patrick Peterson, which led many to mock his status as one of the best cornerbacks in the game. Two years later, Peterson is looking for revenge, and Julio is looking to destroy him again.
I doubt this will be quite as lopsided as it was the last time these two met up, but there’s little point in denying that even Richard Sherman had his hands full with Julio, and asking even a cornerback as good as Peterson to shut down #11 is dumb. Julio’s arguably better than he’s ever been, and he’s certainly better used than he’s ever been, and the combination ensures he’ll eat unless teams pile defenders on him and give Matt Ryan better looks elsewhere. Given that Peterson will want to prove himself against Jones one on one, he’s going to give up a few catches.
As I said, though, this shouldn’t be the roasting it was last time out, and Peterson really is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Ryan would be wise to pick his spots and get the likes of Tevin Coleman and Taylor Gabriel involved in this one to avoid going at Peterson one too many times, and I expect #2 will do just that.
Falcons run defense versus David Johnson
This one is going to be lopsided. If the Falcons manage to muster the strength and fortitude to keep Johnson under 100 total yards, I will be shocked.
There are two things that go into this: The first is obviously Johnson, an absurdly gifted back who is just 24 years old and has almost 1,400 total yards and has accounted for 12 touchdowns thus far in 2016. Very few teams have managed to slow him down, much less stop him, and he’s good enough on the ground and through the air to ensure he’ll get his touches and make the most of them. The Falcons just aren’t going to hold him entirely in check.
The second thing that ensures the Falcons will have a rough time is the quality of the run defense, which was no better than average this entire year and has taken a small nosedive in recent weeks. The Eagles game was this team’s Waterloo, proving as it did that the middle of the defensive line and the linebackers in particular are just not good enough yet to beat back a determined ground assault for four quarters. That was against the likes of Ryan Mathews, so you can understand my abject terror at what Johnson might be able to do here.
If by some chance the Falcons do bottle up Johnson, this one will be a win. I feel very strongly about that.
Tevin Coleman versus the Cardinals defense
Arizona has an active, athletic defense, particularly in the secondary. That means they’re more likely to be able to keep Tevin Coleman from bombing past them en route to the end zone, but how much more likely are we talking?
If Coleman is back to full health, not very. He’s a fine runner, but Coleman’s bread and butter before his injury was lining up out wide, forcing a hapless linebacker into coverage against him. He simply ran by those guys, and teams were not willing or able to put a defensive back on him with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and the rest of the team’s weapons also demanding attention. Coleman’s just incredibly dangerous as a receiver, and while I expect Arizona to be aware of that, I’m not sure what they’re going to do to stop it.
Give Coleman a couple of long receptions to set up scores, or see him score himself, and the Falcons are in great shape. If Arizona can stop him, I’ll be impressed.