With the Falcons offense, the ultimate question is “Will Dirk Koetter get in the way?” And with this matchup, that definitely holds true. The Broncos have a good defense and Dirk ... well, he’s not particularly good at scheming for those. However, some injuries could equalize things a bit, so let’s see how it all might play out.
In the trenches
The Falcons now have a relatively solid offensive line. The duo of Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary have been improving dramatically and they look like they’re going to live up to the first round picks spent on them. Alex Mack is not the same guy he was but he’s still solid. Jake Matthews is still very good in pass blocking, but it’s clear this running scheme is not his forte. James Carpenter has been hit or miss all year, but at least his pass blocking is ok. This is a relatively good offensive line now and they’re giving Ryan more time in the pocket. Finally.
With 5.5 sacks on the season, Bradley Chubb is turning the corner into the kind of player the Broncos hoped he’d be. In the middle, DeShawn Williams is playing pretty well in his second year while guys like Dre’Mont Jones and DeMarcus Walker are decent, but not anything to rave about. Malik Reed is second on the team in sacks with 5. He and Chubb are the guys to watch. If they get going, Matt Ryan may have a long day at the office. As it stands, this looks like a bit close to call.
The skill positions
For Atlanta, the big question will be whether or not Calvin Ridley can suit up. He’s missed two days of practice (as of this writing) so things aren’t looking great. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones can certainly do damage and Russell Gage could be a big factor as well, but Ridley really puts the unit over the top. Other guys like Hayden Hurst and Todd Gurley could be factors as well, though their production tends to be hit or miss this year.
The big question for the Broncos is whether or not starting corners A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan will be ready for the game. Both were listed as not practicing on Wednesday with no additional update as of this writing. If one or both are out, the Falcons get a huge advantage here. Safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons are quite good, but they aren’t enough to make up for those potential absences. Linebackers Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell are a decent pairing, but the Falcons have seen better.
With Ridley, this one would go to Atlanta. Without him, the question becomes the health of those Broncos corners. If just one of them misses the game, look for the Atlanta passing game to get a boost. Slight edge to the Falcons on the idea that one of those guys won’t be on the field on Sunday.
The conclusion here shouldn’t gloss over the fact that this one could be really close. Injuries will tell the tale of the day as will the competence (or lack thereof) of Dirk Koetter. Atlanta has paths to victory here, but they’re somewhat narrow. I like the Falcons, but not by very much at all.