After two straight drubbings by the Cowboys and Patriots, the Falcons are looking to bounce back against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that has just 2 wins, but one of those being against the Buffalo Bills. The Urban Meyer led team has been grinding it out all season, but this offense has scored 20 or more points just 3 times this year.
Will this be the big game from Trevor Lawrence everyone is waiting for? Let’s examine this matchup.
In the trenches
Let’s get this out of the way: the Falcons are dead last in the league in sacks. Yes, behind even this Jacksonville team. That said, they were able to get to Mac Jones three times, and getting Dante Fowler back has certainly helped somewhat. Still, this unit is sorely lacking in talent in getting to the QB. They’ve been better against the run with Anthony Rush and Mike Pennel stepping in to add a large amount of mass to the defensive front. Grady Jarrett is still finding ways to make plays despite being the only high quality starter up front. This unit is unlikely to improve until 2022, when a draft class and free agency could help lift the talent level.
The Jags offensive line is not great, but they aren’t a complete mess like some of the units this team has faced this year. Their interior is bolstered by Andrew Norwell and Ben Bartch at guard, though center Tyler Shatley has personally surrendered 10 pressures and 2 hits in 6 games. At left tackle, Cam Robinson hasn’t allowed a sack all year, but has allowed 27 total pressures, while right tackle Jawaan Taylor has surrendered 3 sacks and 26 total pressures. He’s the likely target for the Falcons pass rush efforts. In total, Lawrence has been sacked 19 times this year, which is just 1 less than the 20 Matt Ryan has to his name.
Until they prove otherwise, I don’t know that anyone is going to bet on this Falcons defensive front - and yes, that includes going against the Jaguars.
The skill positions
The Falcons actually are not as terrible in the secondary as you’d think. A.J. Terrell is having an incredible season and is deserving of at least a Pro-Bowl nod, if not more. Fabian Moreau started off the year poorly, but has played better recently despite being targeted more frequently because of how good Terrell is. Duron Harmon and Erik Harris are clearly not long-term answers at safety, though Harris has had some quality games during the year.
Hopefully, Jaylinn Hawkins can get healthy and back on the field as he’s been a quality player and is lining up for a starting role in 2022. Linebackers Foye Oluokun and Deion Jones have been disappointing thus far, particularly in coverage, but the talent is there. They just need to turn it around in these last seven games.
The top pick in the 2021 draft is having the kind of rookie season most rookie quarterbacks have. He’s completing just 58.4% of his passes for 2,141 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions and a passer rating of 72.8. He has some weapons surrounding him, but no one that intimidates an opposing defense. Marvin Jones is the leading receiver with 486 yards, and slot receiver Laviska Shenault is right behind him with 408. Tight end Dan Arnold and wide receiver Jamal Agnew round out the top of the guys catching the ball, but Agnew just hit injured reserve. On the ground, James Robinson is having a strong year with 568 yards and a healthy 5.1 yards per carry along with seven touchdowns.
The Falcons need to sell out to stop the run and force the ball into the hands of Lawrence. While the long-term potential is there for the young quarterback, he’s not putting it all together just yet. That said, this Falcons defense is one of the worst in the league and there’s always the chance that Jacksonville has their “big game” against this unit.
Here we are, facing a terrible Jaguars team that rarely scores more than 20 points and yet this matchup appears to favor them. That’s the story of the 2021 Falcons defense. While this unit played well against the Patriots, it’s too soon to call that an omen for the rest of the season.
This game really could go either way with the Jags offense being this inept at scoring. As it stands, this one will probably be close, but a slight nod to the Jags because Atlanta needs to prove it more than just once.