When Atlanta plays Oakland tomorrow, there are going to be plenty of matchups worth watching, as there is every week. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about the likely standouts, though, and there are three that jump right off the page.
You won’t be surprised to learn that all three have to do with these teams’ respective passing attacks, because that’s where I believe the game will be decided. The Falcons should be able to do work against a relatively weak Oakland secondary if they can hold off the pass rush, while Derek Carr and company will need to work their way around the likes of Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford from the comfort of a clean pocket. It could very well be a shootout.
Here’s three matchups to watch.
Julio Jones versus, I dunno, Sean Smith?
Honestly, the Raiders can throw a ton of bodies at Julio Jones in an effort to slow him down, and perhaps the sheer numbers will make that work. Somehow I think Julio will bust out in a big way this week, though.
The Raiders simply don’t have the kind of standout cornerback it would take to keep Julio in check one-on-one, and their safeties aren’t good enough in coverage to make up for that. Reggie Nelson is still a useful player, and both Seth Smith and David Amerson have length and talent, but we’re talking about Julio Jones, here.
Of course, if the Falcons don’t have other receiving options stepping up, the Raiders can still afford to devote a ton of resources to Julio. But I’m interested to see if he does bust out this week, and if he consistently wins the matchups he is supposed to (and usually does) triumph in.
Falcons’ ground game versus Oakland defense
The Falcons stunk out loud running the football last Sunday, thanks primarily to poor blocking up front. This week, the Falcons are facing a front seven less equipped to stop the run.
Bruce Irvin is a useful player, but Ben Heeney is largely unproven and Malcolm Smith is best as a part-time starter, leaving the Raiders with a fairly weak set of linebackers to bring to bear against Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The front four is reasonably stout, but the Saints barely broke a sweat running Mark Ingram at them, and Freeman and Coleman are inarguably a stiffer challenge in tandem. You shouldn’t be surprised if, despite the Falcons’ obvious incentive to pass the ball, Coleman and Freeman do drastically better with the runs they’re given.
Desmond Trufant versus Amari Cooper
Once a cornerback gets a reputation for greatness, he’s rarely targeted. You can argue that this is due to consistent shutdown coverage, so that when quarterbacks glance in their direction they’re intimidated, but I think some of it has to do with a simple risk calculation. If you know a guy is extremely likely to cause an incompletion, why throw at him?
Derek Carr is not afraid to sling around the football, though, sometimes to the point where he’ll make some ill-advised throws. Amari Cooper is a terrific young wide receiver, and if Trufant is going to shadow him around the field, Carr surely will shy away from him more than he might on the average day, but he’s not going to stop throwing to him. That means Trufant may be tested more than he’s used to, and that means he’ll have an opportunity to prove himself further and potentially pick up another interception along the way.
Cooper is a genuinely tough matchup, given his youth, athleticism, size, and speed, so this won’t be Trufant’s easiest battle of the year. It will, however, be a fun one to watch.
We’ll re-visit these matchups on Tuesday to see how they turned out, so stay tuned for that.