One day away from the return of football for the Atlanta Falcons. It was a bit of a sluggish two week stretch, in my humble opinion, but I’m ready to see the season roll on and see where it brings us.
Sunday’s opponent is the best team in the NFC East at the moment, and an interesting challenge for this Atlanta team with their combination of middling offense and strong defense in a road game. If the Falcons win here, I like their chances against Cleveland and Dallas in the coming weeks. If not, well...let’s talk about that only if it happens.
Here’s why I’m feeling confident about this matchup (and I am), and one reason I’m quite concerned.
One reason to feel confident: An anemic Washington passing attack
Remember how Eli Manning punished the Falcons for stopping Saquon Barkley, showing he still has some zip on his arm and reminding us that this Giants offense is loaded with weapons like Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram who would be a legitimate problem with better quarterback play? Yeah, that’s not Washington.
Adrian Peterson has been effective with volume and Washington is completely committed to using him. If Atlanta suffers a pullback from their impressive effort against Saquon Barkley and Peterson runs wild, the Falcons are in trouble. But while that is a legitimate possibility, I think the Falcons showed they can get the job done if they really align their defensive efforts toward doing so.
That leaves the passing attack, and that’s where Atlanta should be able to fare well for one of the first times this year. Alex Smith is bottom ten in passing yardage and yards per attempt and has just eight touchdown passes on the year, showing a consistent unwillingness to attack downfield opportunities. The possibility that he will dink and dunk his way through this defense is legitimate, but overall, this is the weakest offense Atlanta will face this year outside of Arizona. I’m optimistic they’ll take advantage of that.
One reason to worry: A killer front seven for Washington
On the flip side, this is one of the stronger front sevens Atlanta will face in 2018, and that concerns me a great deal. They have a run defense that went from fine to incredibly stingy over the course of the last month, and that means Atlanta’s already shaky ground game is unlikely to be a major factor here. If that was the extent of it, fine, but it’s not.
Washington has shown themselves capable of getting turnovers—chiefly D.J. Swearinger, who has four picks—and they have the pieces necessary to be a problem for a depleted Falcons offensive line. The only thing that has genuinely stopped or slowed Matt Ryan in 2018 besides his own fluky Week 1 performance is pressure, and Washington is plenty capable of bringing it. They’re also one of the league’s most capable run defenses, at least in recent times.
I don’t envy the Falcons trying to take care of that, what with their injuries at guard and performance to this point, and I doubt this will prove to be a clean game for them. The question is whether that will cause Atlanta to lose this game, and after watching what a lesser but game Pittsburgh front did a month ago, it’s a legitimate concern.