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

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

At 1-2, the Falcons desperately need to win this game against the Titans, lest they fall into a hole that’s going to be tough to dig out of with a brutal stretch of game coming up.

The Titans are not a particularly good team, but their defense is legit. They’ve got talent at all three levels and could make this a tougher game than fans realize. Let’s see how the Atlanta offense matches up with the Tennessee defense.

Note: Assessments partially based off of PFF scores.

In the trenches

The Atlanta offensive line has been inconsistent this year. Normally reliable guys like Alex Mack and Jake Matthews have struggled. James Carpenter has been solid in pass protection but the entire line has struggled to get it going in the running game. Jamon Brown has been penalty prone at right guard but has also been a decent pass protector in his starts. Rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary has had moments of brilliance in the running game and as a pass protector, but he’s still prone to mistakes - as you’d expect. In total, this offensive line is capable of much better play, but they haven’t quite delivered on it yet. If they don’t start delivering soon, this could be a problem for all of 2019.

Unfortunately, they’ll face the 6th ranked defensive team in the league. Daquan Jones, Jurrell Casey and Brent Urban are a formidable defensive trio in the middle. They’re hard to run against and can generate pressure on the pocket. Outside linebackers Harold Landry III and Sharif Finch are decent players but not particularly prolific pass rushers. However, Cameron Wake steps in periodically to cause havoc, which he’s still capable of doing. This is a difficult line to run against and one that can generate pressure on the QB, even if they’re relying on an older pass rusher to do it.

Atlanta made it a point to fix the offensive line in 2019. Unfortunately, those fixes haven’t quite delivered just yet. There’s reason to believe this line can improve, but through the first three games the results just aren’t there yet. Based on that, you have to give the edge to the Titans.

Advantage: Titans

The skill positions

This season has been rough for QB Matt Ryan. His 6 interceptions are not ideal and he’s made some awful decisions in all three games. That said, his second half against the Colts was what we’ve been waiting for. There’s reason to believe he may be turning the corner and frankly he’s too good to continue struggling the way he has. Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley are one of the best receiving trios in the league. We just need Dirk Koetter to use them more consistently, instead of trying to feature Luke freaking Stocker downfield so much. That’s even more frustrating when you realize we have a great receiving tight end in Austin Hooper. The running game has talent with Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith, but it’s struggling to get going for reasons stated above. At minimum, both of these guys are also capable receivers, which helps.

The Titans have talent in their secondary and at linebacker. Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans are good players, with Brown excelling in coverage. Safeties Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro are both quality starters but both can be prone to some coverage lapses, though Byard is a terrific player overall. At corner, Logan Ryan is the best of a good group. Adoree’ Jackson has been good from his first year in the league but has struggled a little in 2019. Malcolm Butler is another good starter who has struggled some in 2019. Overall, this is a good unit with the ability to shut down the run consistently and cover quality receivers, albeit maybe not at their current top three level.

If the Falcons are going to win, it has to be here. As good as the Titans are in the secondary, the trio of Jones, Ridley and Sanu can force some advantageous looks. If Koetter is smart and runs more 3 receiver sets, Atlanta will get the slight edge here. If not, he’ll play right into the Titans hands. Oh god.

Advantage: Falcons

Overall

This is a closer match-up than people realize and is one that has me nervous. Given the Falcons struggles against AFC teams, my hope for an easy game has completely vanished. The Titans may be struggling offensively, but this defense looks legit.

Atlanta has the tools to be successful, but they have to get out of their own way. I think this matchup is close enough to give the nod to the home team, but only just slightly.

Advantage: Falcons