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Falcons offense vs. Texans defense: Who wins this matchup?

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If the Houston defensive front terrifies you, it should.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons offense has been underwhelming in 2019. They were only able to muster a miserable 10 points at home last week and while they’ve had moments of brilliance, it’s really been a disappointing season overall. This is a unit that has the talent to be so much better, but has yet to deliver it this season. It won’t get easier this week, as they face a Texans team that has J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Let’s take a look at the entire match up.

Note: Assessments partially based off of PFF scores.

In the trenches

The Atlanta offensive line has been below average so far in 2019. Normally reliable players like Jake Matthews and Alex Mack have been solid in pass protection but are struggling badly in run blocking. James Carpenter has been pretty meh at both while Jamon Brown has been better at run blocking. If Brown can’t clear the concussion protocol in time, Wes Schweitzer will likely fill in at right guard, and he’s been mostly okay at protecting the pocket and not much else.

Rookie first round pick Kaleb McGary is beginning to find his feet, but he’s got a brutal matchup this week. Welcome to the NFL, rookie. If the offense is going to do anything on Sunday, the five guys up front have to play better than they have.

This Texans front is terrifying. D.J. Reader is one of the best nose tackles in the league. While J.J. Watt may not be as unstoppable as he was in the past, he’s still an incredible player who can still get after the QB. Angelo Blackson is the lone weak link in this defensive front. Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is having a great season so far, with 5 sacks in his first four games. On the other side, Brennan Scarlett can generate pressure as well, even if the sack numbers aren’t reflecting it just yet.

Yes, this is not a good matchup for Atlanta. With guys like Mack and Matthews struggling with the rest of the line, this could be painful to watch on Sunday. Let’s hope they surprise us all and have their best game of the season. Matt Ryan is gonna need that from them if he’s going to survive.

Advantage: Texans

The skill positions

Matt Ryan started the season off horribly, but has quietly been much better the past two games, even if the offense struggled to put points on the board last week. When he’s on point, he’s one of the most accurate and reliable passers in the league. Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley are a formidable trio but they need to be used better. There’s simply no reason for these guys not to be on the field together more often. Tight end Austin Hooper is having another big season and has been a nice bright spot for this offense. Unfortunately, the running game is just sad so far with both Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith unable to do much on the ground. That doesn’t look likely to change this weekend.

On the opposite side, veteran CB Johnathan Joseph is playing okay, but his best years are clearly behind him. On the other side, second round pick Lonnie Johnson Jr. is off to a really rough start in his rookie year. In nickel sets, Bradley Roby comes in and is serviceable at best.

Safety is a slightly better position for the Texans. Justin Reid is decent in coverage and underwhelming against the run. Jahleel Addae is sort of just underwhelming all around and the same can be said of Tashaun Gipson Sr. Both of these guys have played better in the past, though. In the middle, Benardrick McKinney is a quality linebacker who plays well in coverage. Zach Cunningham is stout against the run, but a liability in coverage.

The Falcons have a clear advantage here and they are going to need to take advantage of it to have any hope of success. If Ryan can be given that extra split-second in the pocket, though, this is a secondary that Julio, Sanu, Ridley and Hooper can do well against.

Advantage: Falcons

Overall

Yet again, this is going to be dictated by how things going in the trenches. If Ryan spends the afternoon on his back, the Falcons won’t be able to take advantage of the favorable match ups on the outside. I’ll be honest: I have no idea how this is going to play out.

Advantage: Push