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What to know about the Falcons - Texans matchup in Week 4

It has real bloodbath potential, unfortunately.

NFL: OCT 04 Texans at Falcons Photo by Frank Mattia/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2019 Ranks & Records

On paper, this is more of the same for the Falcons, who are facing a team with a capable defense and a middling offense. Like the Falcons, the Texans have twice been held under 14 points this season, though they actually won one of those games. They haven’t cleared 30 points in a game yet, either, and they’ve allowed just as many points (78) as they’ve scored. They have been the very definition of a middle-of-the-road team in almost every regard to this point.

Falcons - Texans Side-by-Side

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Point Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Point Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 1-3 26 11 2 27 21 9 7 18 27 23
Texans 2-2 22 23 26 11 10 17 20 16 11 5

The Falcons have a nearly top ten mark in yardage, are second in the NFL in passing yardage, have a top ten number in yardage allowed, and overall look on paper like a team that should be at least 2-2 themselves. The biggest difference between these two teams is that the Falcons have not turned all that yardage-based efficiency into much scoring, have certainly not stopped other teams from scoring well enough, and are absolutely awful when it comes to holding on to the football on offense and taking it away on defense. They are a team that, as you’d suspect, has been doomed by increasingly dumb and preposterous mistakes that are a character trait at this point.

Houston is more blandly average. They’ve run the ball fairly effectively and Deshaun Watson has been good, but he’s gotten killed (18 sacks in four games) and it’s been an unusually quiet year from his talented receiving corps. Good defenses like the Jaguars and Panthers have simply put the brakes on them. Defensively they’re certainly better—there’s talent here, they have 13 sacks on the season, and they’ve forced 8 fumbles already—but not quite the world-beating unit I’m sure they’d like to be. On paper, this isn’t such an awful matchup.

The problem, as Falcons fans are well aware, is that virtually nothing this year has gone how it’s supposed to go on paper. The Texans are home, they’re pissed after losing a nailbiter to the Panthers, and the Falcons are a team that just got humiliated by a very so-so Titans team at home. The Texans are plenty good enough to beat the hell out of Atlanta, and frankly it’s hard to bet against them doing so.

How the Texans have changed

The Texans have enjoyed a wild ride to this point. The core of the team is still very much the same as it was a year ago, but their approach under the GM-by-committee in service of Bill O’Brien’s lusty offensive line overhaul looks like it’ll have ramifications for years to come.

Start with the trade for Laremy Tunsil, one of the game’s elite tackles. The Texans gave up two first round picks and a second round pick to get him, and in trading Jadeveon Clowney they only got back a third rounder. They head into 2020 with no first rounder, potentially down a third rounder, fourth rounder, and sixth rounder, and will go into 2021 with no first or second round pick. It was the kind of desperation move that will be lauded if Tunsil is amazing and the Texans go somewhere with Deshaun Watson and utterly reviled if they don’t. It was a lot to give up, and the team already spent two draft picks on tackles Tytus Howard (1st round) and Max Scharping (3rd round). They’re kind of a mess.

Rookies Lonnie Johnson at cornerback and Charles Omenihu on the defensive line have at least shown some promise, which is good because the Texans really did more subtracting from than adding to their roster otherwise. Tunsil’s the headliner and Howard, Scharping, Johnson and Omenihu will have to be good for 2019 to go down as anything but a bit of a personnel disaster for the Texans. They’re fortunate that they still have that killer core or they’d likely be in the basement of the woeful AFC South by now.

What should you know about this game?

Last week, I said that if the Falcons couldn’t get it together against the Titans at home, they probably were not going to get it together. It’s time to carry that thought to its logical conclusion: The Falcons are going to get smoked in this game.

The only reasons for optimism concern Houston’s concerning inability to string together quality performances and the holes in their roster you could drive a truck through. Houston has just one interception in four games, a byproduct of a solid but not particularly ball-hawky secondary, and an oddly one-dimensional rushing attack considering they have multi-tool Duke Johnson in the backfield. If you can stop Carlos Hyde—and teams haven’t, by and large, to be totally fair—you can turn this into a team that has to throw all day long. Given how the Falcons have fared of late, though, that’s probably not the route they want to take regardless.

The problem for Atlanta is that they’re facing a team that punishes sloppiness. DeShaun Watson is an athletic, precise passer who can tear apart soft zone defenses when he wants to and take off running for productive gains in the unlikely event that your secondary is doing what it needs to. Hyde is a throwback one-dimensional back with physicality who will at least help wear down the defense. DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills are the kind of trio that the Falcons are going to struggle to keep in check for an entire game. I don’t expect Houston to score 30-plus or anything, but they should have little trouble making noise against the defense the way it has played against the Colts and Titans in back-to-back weeks.

Defensively, the problem is a little different. Matt Ryan can pick apart this secondary with time and they’re not necessarily going to be able to cover Atlanta’s receivers effectively, but he needs to have time. The Titans just drilled Ryan multiple times and they’re not the same caliber of pass rush, given that the Texans can bring J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus to bear. The Texans, as noted above, have 13 sacks and eight forced fumbles on the season thus far, and it may only take one turnover to put the Falcons in a very bad spot, if recent history is our guide.

I hate to sound so grim, given that Atlanta’s issues can be simply solved by a little magic I like to call “playing better,” but they just let a vastly inferior quarterback with vastly inferior receiving options shred them in Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the offense is an unholy mess for the Falcons right now. They have to improve nearly everything in a major hurry or this one is going to be very, very ugly.