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What you need to know about Falcons - Raiders in Week 12

A bloodbath in the making.

Atlanta Falcons v Oakland Raiders

The Falcons don’t have any easy games the rest of the way, with the Chargers and Raiders looking like perhaps the most straightforward matchups left. The problem for Atlanta is that they aren’t necessarily capable of beating even solid teams consistently this year, and the Raiders have caught fire at exactly the wrong time heading into this matchup.

Here’s a closer look at what’s ahead for Atlanta, and why the Falcons will need to get that passing game on track in a hurry if they’re going to stand any chance against Las Vegas.

Head-to-head comparison

Falcons - Raiders Comparison

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Giveaways
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Giveaways
Falcons 3-7 16 9 2 24 25 29 31 9 19 6
Raiders 6-4 8 14 20 8 26 23 28 12 19 6

Heading into the season, this seemed like it would be one of the more straightforward matchups on the slate for Atlanta. The Raiders didn’t figure to be a bad team, but I wasn’t sure they’d be particularly good, either. Through the first six weeks of the season, that largely held up, as the Raiders went 3-3 and dropped some very ugly ones to the Patriots and Buccaneers.

Unfortunately much has changed in the four weeks since. Derek Carr has caught fire and the Raiders are 3-1 in their last four contests, only losing Sunday because of some insane last minute heroics by Patrick Mahomes. They’ve held opponents under 20 points twice in those four weeks and have scored 30-plus points in three of those four. Suffice to say, this team is currently rolling.

With an effective passing attack that has been growing in efficacy, one of the league’s better run games, and a fairly stingy run defense, their very shaky pass defense is their only real Achilles heel at the moment. That’s a significant problem—one the Falcons more or less have to exploit—but they’re a more formidable team than I ever would’ve expected them to be coming into this matchup. That’s a big problem for Atlanta.

The Falcons had won three of their last four games against the easiest part of their 2020 schedule, and I felt like it was reasonable to expect them to play a tight game against a Saints team minus Drew Brees and Marshon Lattimore. Instead, they put up an incredible dud, scoring just three field goals and allowing the Saints to put up nearly 400 yards on them with Taysom Hill at the helm. It was a disastrous effort that casts doubt on their ability to hang with quality teams the rest of the way, with their sole saving grace being that the Raiders probably won’t be able to stop them through the air...if Julio Jones can play.

This is a team on the rise against a team that will be reeling after an awful loss, full stop. The Falcons aren’t good enough to make you think they’ll bounce back and power to a win, but hope springs eternal.

How the Raiders have changed since the last time

The last time these two teams met, it was 2016. Derek Carr was still the quarterback, but the lead back was Latavius Murray (now with the Saints), Clive Walford (free agent), Amari Cooper (Cowboys), and Michael Crabtree (free agent) were leading receiving options, and Khalil Mack (Bears) was still prowling around on defense for this team. The team’s coach was Jack Del Rio and the general manager was Reggie McKenzie, who is now a candidate for Atlanta’s vacant GM job.

Much has changed, in other words. The Raiders have been a perpetual rebuilding machine since the 2002 AFC Championship, with no coach spending longer than three seasons in Oakland/Las Vegas since then. To my genuine surprise, Jon Gruden appears to be getting the franchise back on track in his third season with the team, taking advantage of a well-balanced offense and a physical defense. It’s an open question whether they’re better this year than they were in 2016, when they went 12-4 under Del Rio, but the Falcons are also clearly much worse than they were in 2016, soooo....

What you need to know

The Raiders are not dumb enough to overlook the lessons the Saints just taught them. They don’t have the same caliber of pass rush as the Saints, necessarily, and their secondary is vastly inferior in comparison, but they’ll try to crank up the pressure on Matt Ryan, play things tight near the line of scrimmage, and hope that’s enough to stall drives out. If Julio can’t go, it depressingly might be.

That said, if the Raiders can’t execute that gameplan the Falcons are likely to have success against a secondary built more around big hits and run support than any particularly compelling coverage ability. Las Vegas has surrendered 400+ passing yards in six out of their past 10 games, an eye-popping stat that clues you in to just how poor their secondary and pass rush have been throughout much of 2020. Even Dirk Koetter can get the job done against a defense like that, though their strong, physical run defense is likely going to lead to another frustrating day for Todd Gurley.

The question is whether Atlanta can put up enough points to hang against a very sharp offense. Derek Carr was stellar against the Chiefs, completing nearly 75% of his passes, and he’s been on fire over the last month or so in general. The Raiders can spread the ball around to the likes of Hunter Renfrow, Nelson Agholor, and Henry Ruggs, but they’ll likely focus on killing the Falcons via lots of crisp, short passes to Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs, who are very capable of picking up a lot of yards after the catch. Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard and Devontae Booker are all capable runners and the Raiders like to mix things up to help wear down opposing defenses, and the Saints just showed an effective scrambling quarterback (which Carr kind of is) paired with a few good backs can run well enough to cause problems for Atlanta. I don’t like the Falcons’ chances of shutting them down.

Once again, then, it’s going to come down to the defense being decent enough to keep Atlanta in the game, and the Falcons passing game being borderline great to propel them to a victory. That blueprint has worked in the recent past, but the Saints game has knocked me for a loop and my expectations are that things won’t go so smoothly.