Looking back to the offseason, this upcoming showdown in Atlanta was probably overlooked by many, largely due to the level of expectations that were placed on both the Atlanta Falcons and the Las Vegas Raiders prior to the season getting underway.
The actual manifestation of the season however has changed things immensely for both squads. One is scrapping for a playoff spot and has played the defending Super Bowl champions impressively on two different occasions, and unfortunately that’s not our team. The other team is still trying to figure out an offensive rhythm and has fired their former head coach and general manager this season, and unfortunately that’s our team.
The teams will collide on Sunday. Let’s discuss it.
About their opponent
The one player that Las Vegas needed to play lights out this season is doing exactly that. Quarterback Derek Carr is in the midst of the best season of his career. Carr is sixth in the NFL this season in quarterback rating and the Raiders offense as a whole has improved in the scoring departmen,t as they rank eighth in the league currently after coming in at 24th last season.
The Raiders have wins over the Chiefs and the Saints and were one last defensive stop last week from sweeping Kansas City. The attitude and mentality of the Raiders has changed. They are now a team on the rise.
Falcons run defense vs. Raiders RB Josh Jacobs - There is a complimentary dynamic that is set in stone for the Raiders offense. While Carr has been outstanding, Josh Jacobs has been a legit weapon as well. As of now, Jacobs is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and fourth in the league in rushing touchdowns. He is also tied for fourth in the league in broken tackles forced with 17 and to pile on, Jacobs is also fifth in the league in rushing yards before contact with 370 yards.
The last three games for the Falcons, however, they have allowed 147, 103, and 166 yards respectively, in run defense. But to their credit, they have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. That trend needs to continue against one of the best rushers in the entire NFL.
Falcons RBs/TEs vs. Raiders linebackers - While the Raiders as a team are on the upswing, there are some holes on the defensive side of the ball that are alarming. The Raiders are 28th against the pass as a defense but one level in particular will get the focus here. In linebackers Cory Littleton and Nicholas Marrow, the Raiders have a pair of linebackers that have allowed at least 31 receptions apiece, completion percentage of 67% or more, and a combined 550 yards after the catch this season.
They also have missed tackle percentage of 23.8% and 13.7% respectfully, which is the two highest of any defender on their roster that has played at least eight games. The reason why I am pointing this out is because the running backs and tight ends allows safer throws, especially when the defense is likely to key in on receiver Calvin Ridley heavily. Not to mention the status of Julio Jones is up in the air. There has been talk of getting tight Hayden Hurst more involved and this is a matchup that presents an opportunity for him to break out a bit.
I hate to sound like a broken record but the Falcons are going up against a quarterback that is playing at an elite level this season. Currently, Carr is third in the NFL in passing DVOA, fourth in total QBR, and is a huge reason why the Raiders rank second in the NFL in bad throw percentage at just 13.2%. To boot, the Raiders are sixth best in the NFL in pressure percentage allowed at 16.4%.
It all leads back to how stellar Carr has been all season for the Raiders. If they are to land a playoff spot this season, it will be largely because of him.
I’m sure many circled this game during the offseason as one that will likely end up in the win column for the Falcons. Even with a recent bye a couple of weeks ago, the Falcons are limping into this matchup a bit. The team took a punch to the jaw last week against their rival. While the playoff chances are dim and not a lot to play for, you could make a small case as to this game being overlooked some as the Falcons get another shot at the New Orleans Saints next week.
As I stated in last week’s preview, this stretch on their schedule is harder than their start to the season. They’ll have to strap up and tighten up the laces for this Raiders squad.