After a heart-attack inducing Week 3 victory over the Detroit Lions on the road, the 3-0 Atlanta Falcons return home for a tilt against the 2-1 Buffalo Bills. Buffalo just finished embarrassing the Broncos, and have their sights set on another contender. The Falcons should be a much more difficult opponent to stop, however, particularly on offense.
Before Buffalo starting trading away many of their pieces this offseason, I had this game pegged as a potential “trap”. As it stands now, I’m just not sure that the Bills have the talent to hang with this Falcons’ offense at home. Here are some of the more interesting players to keep an eye on during Sunday’s game.
EDGE Takkarist McKinley
Takk’s debut as a starter against the Lions was pretty encouraging. He managed a sack against the mobile Matthew Stafford, and was generating consistent pressure throughout the game. Not only was he effective against human turnstile LT Greg Robinson, he was able to get it done against quality RT Ricky Wagner as well. Takk showed off his ridiculous burst and relentless motor, harassing Stafford and regularly pushing his way into the backfield.
He’ll have another opportunity to make noise this weekend against the Bills. LT Cordy Glenn is still not practicing with an ankle/foot injury, giving Takk the chance to go up against fellow rookie Dion Dawkins. Buffalo’s offensive line has been a problem in 2017, with QB Tyrod Taylor being one of the most hit QBs thus far. With Takk’s exceptional speed, he may also be called upon to spy Tyrod from time to time. Let’s see if the promising rookie can continue his strong play in Week 4.
LB De’Vondre Campbell
Campbell has arguably been one of the best defenders on the team through three weeks. His progression from last season—where he looked confused and unsure of himself at times—has been nothing short of extraordinary. The SAM LB position seems to be a perfect fit for his athletic abilities and his particular talents. Atlanta figures to play a lot of base package defense in Week 4 with the Bills featuring a rush-heavy approach. That means plenty of opportunities for Campbell to make his presence felt.
In addition to his prowess against the run, Campbell will likely be matched up consistently against TE Charles Clay. Clay is a very good blocker and a primary receiving option for the Bills, who don’t have much talent in their receiving corps. His ability to keep Clay in check could potentially make a big difference in this game. Just like with Takk, Campbell may be called upon to spy the always-dangerous Tyrod Taylor. Preventing Tyrod from breaking off big plays with his legs is key to stopping the Buffalo offense.
RG Wes Schweitzer
Schweitzer has, thankfully, continued to improve each week after a miserable debut against the Bears in Week 1. He’s held his own against quality competition in each of the last two games, and is no longer the liability many perceived him to be early on. That’s great news for the Falcons’ OL, particularly if RT Ryan Schraeder can return from his concussion this week. Even with Schweitzer’s improved play, however, he’ll have a serious test this week against the Bills formidable interior defensive line.
DTs Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus are certainly in the running for the best 1-2 combo in the NFL. They’re disruptive against both the run and the pass, and would provide a challenge for even quality NFL starters. Schweitzer’s performance here should tell us a lot about his improvement and if he’s getting closer to being a dependable, long-term starter. The Falcons don’t need Schweitzer to be elite, but if he could turn into an average to above-average player, that would be a huge (and cost-effective) boon to their offensive line.
WRs Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel
With Julio a little banged up and likely drawing double or even triple coverage in this game, the Falcons may be forced into targeting some of their more tertiary options in the passing game. Somewhat strangely, the Bills only have four CBs listed on their active roster. Outside of impressive rookie Tre’Davious White, none are particularly inspiring options. Not one of Buffalo’s CBs is listed as over 5’11, and that might even be bit generous for some.
That could open up opportunities for the 6’2 Sanu, who has shown the ability to out-muscle smaller DBs at the catch point throughout his career. Matt Ryan may not have the time for a lot of deep throws, but if he does, Taylor Gabriel could be a factor. None of the Bills depth CBs—guys like E.J. Gaines, Shareece Wright, and Leonard Johnson—are capable of matching-up with his speed down the field. It’ll be interesting to see how the Falcons attack the Bills defense, as the CB unit appears to be the weakest link.
FS Damontae Kazee
With starting FS Ricardo Allen unlikely to clear the concussion protocol in time for Sunday’s game, rookie Damontae Kazee seems destined to make his NFL debut as a starter. Kazee converted from CB during training camp, but has apparently taken to his new position quite quickly—and offers the versatility to play the slot if called upon. He’ll have big shoes to fill, particularly in terms of Allen’s leadership and experience on the field, but I’m feeling confident in Kazee heading into Week 4.
There are lot of factors working in his favor. He gets to play at home, surrounded by plenty of talent in the secondary. Keanu Neal will apparently be taking over the defensive calls, which should help keep the young player from getting overwhelmed. Kazee also has the benefit of going up against a pretty limited passing attack, with Jordan Matthews and rookie Zay Jones as the only two threats. After an impressive—if limited—showing in the preseason, Kazee has a chance to really make a name for himself with a strong game against Buffalo. We’ll see if his ballhawking traits come in to play against QB Tyrod Taylor, who has no fear of throwing the ball deep.
What are your early thoughts on the game? Any players you’ll be keeping a close watch on? Any Bills players that scare you in this match-up?