Week 1 is here, with the Falcons taking on the Seahawks on Sunday in the first real football action of the season. Atlanta gets to start the season at home after two years of opening on the road, which has generally been a good thing for the team: Matt Ryan is 10-1 in home openers during his career. This should be a fairly evenly-matched game between two teams that know each other well, and both will be looking to kick off the 2020 NFL season with a win.
There are a ton of interesting matchups to watch this week for the Falcons. Sunday will provide our first ever look at the rookies and free agent additions, including Dante Fowler Jr., Todd Gurley, A.J. Terrell, and others. Here are some of the players I’m most interested in watching during Week 1.
Who starts at LG?
Perhaps the most wide-open battle on the roster this year, left guard has come down to two players: rookie Matt Hennessy and veteran James Carpenter. Hennessy seemed to be the more impressive option in camp before suffering an injury that caused him to miss some time over the past two weeks, but he was back at practice this week and appears ready to play. Meanwhile, Carpenter was taking the reps in Hennessy’s absence and was named the starter on the team’s first official depth chart, but sat out practice on Friday. Seattle doesn’t feature a particularly dangerous defensive line, but it’ll be interesting to see who the Falcons choose to start the season at left guard. My money is on Hennessy, assuming he’s healthy enough to play.
RB Todd Gurley
Sunday will be the first time Falcons fans get to see new RB Todd Gurley in action. Given what we know about Seattle’s defense in 2019—and the fact that they largely failed to address their issues on the defensive line—Gurley could be in line for a big game in Week 1. The Seahawks were among the NFL’s worst defenses against the run, allowing 4.9 yards per carry (T-28th) and 22 rushing TDs (30th) in 2019. Then again, Atlanta’s rushing attack was equally poor in 2019. Perhaps a healthy offensive line coupled with a return to the zone scheme and the introduction of Gurley as the lead back will come together to produce better results for the Falcons this season.
CBs A.J. Terrell, Darqueze Dennard, and Isaiah Oliver
While it doesn’t appear that the recently-signed Josh Gordon will be reinstated in time for Week 1, the Seahawks still feature a dangerous receiving corps. The speed and size of D.K. Metcalf coupled with the savvy of Tyler Lockett are difficult for any secondary to deal with, and the Falcons will have a lot of new faces on the back end. This will be a serious test for rookie CB A.J. Terrell—who is likely to draw Metcalf on the outside—and for recent free agent addition Darqueze Dennard, who will face off with Lockett in the slot. Isaiah Oliver likely draws a matchup with the underrated David Moore. Can this group slow down the passing game of Seattle?
The new-look defensive line
A big part of the secondary’s success will likely come down to the retooled Falcons defensive line. This unit was a huge disappointment in 2019, putting up just 28 sacks on the year and generally under-performing in all facets relative to our expectations. Heading into 2020, Atlanta invested significant resources in improving the unit with the addition of EDGE Dante Fowler—who is ticketed to be the team’s #1 pass rusher—and second-round DT Marlon Davidson. It’s unclear if Davidson will be healthy enough to play on Sunday, but the team also has 2019 fourth-rounder John Cominsky taking over the Jack Crawford role on the interior. The wild card here is Takkarist McKinley, who is being counted on to be a more consistent contributor in 2020. If this group can get pressure against a shaky Seahawks offensive line, that would help the secondary in a big way.
TE Hayden Hurst
Just as it’s the first game for Todd Gurley, Sunday will be the first chance for Falcons fans to see trade addition Hayden Hurst in action. Expectations are high for the former first-round pick, who lost his chance to become the featured TE in Baltimore after suffering an injury in his rookie season and watching his fellow draft pick have a tremendous breakout year (Mark Andrews). Hurst doesn’t have the proven production of Austin Hooper, but he offers more athletic upside and could be more of a downfield threat. I wouldn’t expect Hurst to have a huge game against the Seahawks—K.J. Wright is one of the best coverage LBs in the NFL, and recent trade addition Jamal Adams is no slouch either—but he’ll be a focal point in the offensive attack this year, particularly if Ryan is under pressure.
Who are some players that you’ll be watching closely when the Falcons take on the Seahawks in Week 1? What are the key matchups in determining the outcome of Sunday’s game?