Jacksonville’s defense is statistically odd. They’re ranked 23rd overall, but have 43 sacks on the year (tied for 5th). They appear to be middle-of-the-pack in several metrics, but the PFF scores are pretty bad in spots. Atlanta has the talent to be a dominant offense, but poor play calling and some disappointing seasons by key players has added up to a letdown of a season. How do these two units matchup? Let’s take a look.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line has been better in recent weeks, with Chris Lindstrom providing a needed spark at right guard. Alex Mack has been better and Kaleb McGary looks like a force in the running game. Jake Matthews has been our best guy on the line and gave up zero pressures against a stout 49ers pass rush. I really wish the team would give Matt Gono a shot at left guard, because the rotation of James Carpenter and Wes Schweitzer has been massively disappointing.
Jacksonville’s line is anchored by the veteran Calais Campbell, who is still playing at an elite level. Taven Bryan and Abry Jones are decent in the middle while Yannick Ngakoue has been getting to the opposing QB a good bit this year.
What’s worrying about this matchup is Campbell facing off against McGary. While Kaleb has improved, he’s still an up and down pass protector. He’s going to need some help against Campbell or Ryan may get pummeled on Sunday. This is going to be a tough assignment for Atlanta, though their recently improved play makes this more of a toss-up.
The skill positions
Julio Jones and Austin Hooper should have big games on Sunday. Jones will likely face A.J. Bouye, who is having a bit of a down year after playing well the past few seasons. Safety help from Ronnie Harrison and/or Jarrod Wilson will be necessary. Russell Gage against D.J. Hayden isn’t as great a matchup, as Hayden has been playing well as of late. The Falcons may need more out of Christian Blake and/or Olamide Zaccheaus if they’re really going to pile on points.
Linebackers Austin Calitro, Donald Payne and Leon Jacobs are a very underwhelming unit. This is where Hooper can be a big factor, along with Brian Hill and Devonta Freeman. If Matt Ryan is given enough time, the intermediate game may be where the Falcons do the most damage.
This matchup would be more lopsided if Calvin Ridley was still healthy. Blake and Zaccheaus haven’t exactly lit up the scoreboards since he went down with the abdominal injury. Still, Julio and Hooper are enough to give the Falcons some favorable matchups, so they’ll get the nod here.
This ultimately comes down to the offensive line again. Play well and the Falcons should be able to put up points. Give up too many sacks and they will cripple the offense. Given their improved play as of late, there’s reason to believe they’ll do enough to give Atlanta the edge in this matchup.