All season long, this loomed as one of the most interesting matchups on the Falcons’ schedule. Baltimore’s tough defense and the prospect of Lamar Jackson starting by this point in the season made them one of the rougher opponents for Atlanta, all told, and when this was still a potential playoff year it seemed like it might be one that could help catapult the Falcons to the postseason.
Now? The playoffs are all but a distant dream—I know many of you aren’t ready to give up on that and respect that—and the Falcons aren’t the team we thought they’d be back in July and August. This matchup is still arguably the most interesting and challenging one left with Carolina and Green Bay imploding, Tampa Bay being Tampa Bay, and Arizona looking barely competent most weeks. A win here will mean something, if only to the players and coaches who earn it.
Here’s what I’m confident about this week and what I’m concerned about.
Feel confident about the pass defense for once
The Falcons are probably going to struggle mightily to get Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards and the crew under control on the ground. With Jackson looking like a real threat to run all the time and defenses having to account for that, this team has been rolling over the last couple of weeks when running the ball. The Falcons also don’t stop that well, so uh oh.
I’m not nearly as concerned about the passing game in this one. While the threat of play action looms large for a defense that hasn’t been great at recognizing it, Jackson has passed for under 200 yards in both of his last two games against two largely terrible pass defenses in Oakland and Cincinnati, with three interceptions. There aren’t a ton of weapons for Jackson to work with, though he has a solid bunch of pass catchers, and the pass is really secondary at the moment with how well things are cooking on the ground. The Falcons have one of the league’s premier ballhawks in Damontae Kazee and a secondary that...well, okay, it’s not great. Still, the past two weeks suggest the Falcons should focus more of their energy on stopping the run and forcing Jackson to beat them through the air, something he’ll be able to do sooner than later but hopefully not this week.
Feel concerned about injuries
My expectations for this game are hovering right around zero. I think the Falcons can win and would like a pleasant Sunday, but nobody’s going to be surprised if Atlanta gets blown off the field after their last three weeks.
So my major concern this week is not that they’ll get run over or that they’ll unexpectedly allow Jackson to pass for 300 yards or that their offense will look anemic for the third straight week, though any of those would lead to an unpleasant day. I’m concerned about injury more than anything else, because at this point my primary objective is seeing this team grow a little and get into what should be a productive offseason healthy.
So, you know, hope for the best there.