In the debacle of the loss to the Colts, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the Falcons defense still did a fairly good job of stopping the run. Minus a couple of big runs, Atlanta did a good job of limiting the damage on the ground. They’ll need to repeat that performance against a Titans offense that features Derrick Henry. Let’s see how this match up looks on paper.
Note: Assessments partially based on PFF scores.
In the trenches
The middle of the Falcons defense has turned out to be quite good so far. Grady Jarrett is the beast we always knew, but the addition of Tyeler Davison has quietly been one of the better free agent signings for the team in recent years. The edges are a different matter. Allen Bailey has been ok while Takkarist McKinley has been hit (Eagles) and miss (Vikings, Colts). Adrian Clayborn and Vic Beasley have both been generating some pressure and could get some opportunities against an OL missing their starting left tackle.
Ben Jones is a quality starter at center and Rodger Saffold is a savy veteran who is still playing well enough at left guard. In Taylor Lewan’s absence, Dennis Kelly is decent but a downgrade from Lewan. Right guard Jamil Douglas is a definite weak spot and Jack Conklin at right tackle is good, but his performance has declined in recent years. Jacksonville decimated this line in week 2, so it’s hard to say what exactly this offensive line is.
The Titans OL was supposed to be a strength, but the early returns have been less than impressive. The Falcons defensive line has been hit or miss as well, so who knows how this one can play out. This could be a home/road split in performance, which would give the edge to Atlanta. I’ll go with that for now, fully acknowledging this team can find new ways to disappoint.
The skill positions
The loss of Keanu Neal hurts. Kemal Ishmael will step in on run downs and he’s capable there, but is a liability in coverage. Ricardo Allen is a good starter at free safety that will help. Desmond Trufant has apparently returned to his good form and Isaiah Oliver has been improving with each game. In the middle, Deion Jones is still a super star but De’Vondre Campbell has been struggling this year. Foye Oluokun, meanwhile, has been playing pretty well and may see increased snaps if Campbell continues to struggle.
Marcus Mariota is a QB with great physical talent, but who has never quite delivered at the level many thought he would. He can still be dangerous, though. Derrick Henry is a good running back, but isn’t the dominant force many thought he’d be. Amazingly, Delanie Walker is still a great receiving tight end and could be a big factor in this game. Receivers Corey Davis, A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries are decent, but won’t be mistaken for an elite trio anytime soon.
Honestly, this is an ideal match-up - outside of Walker - for the Falcons. That also makes me incredibly nervous. That said, on paper, Atlanta holds the edge here. They need to actually take advantage of it.
After the Colts loss, the Falcons couldn’t ask for a better bounce-back game. At home, going against weakened offensive line and a receiving corps that isn’t exactly dominating with a QB who is on the verge of being replaced. Yet, the loss of Neal hangs over them and they really need Grady to get healthy in time for the game. This match-up still favors the Falcons, but there’s room for failure here that will make all of us nervous come Sunday.