Right now, the Falcons defense finds itself in the middle of the league rankings for sacks with six on the year. To be clear, this is not a defense to be bragged about.
At best, they’re a unit that is still adjusting to a new, more complex scheme that has shown signs of promise at times and has had stretches of solid play. The Giants game was solid but the terrible offensive line in New York was certainly a contributor there. How do they matchup to this Washington offense? Let’s take a look.
In the trenches
The two most critical players in this defensive front have been better in recent weeks. Grady Jarrett (1) and Dante Fowler (2) have half of the sacks so far, which is a better trend than we saw last year. They consistently disrupted the Giants terrible offensive line last week, but the unit they’ll face this week is much better.
Jonathan Bullard has had a nice start to the season while Steven Means and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner have proven they’re far more deserving of rotational roles than significant snaps, though Means does in fact have a major role. Tyeler Davison has been alright and Marlon Davidson, when healthy, has had big moments. This unit is still woefully lacking in quality depth, but at least Ta’Quon Graham and Ade Ogundeji are showing us something.
The Washington OL is pretty good. Charles Leno Jr. is a quality pass blocker on the left side while right tackle Samuel Cosmi is proving to be a great run blocker who is struggling with pass protection a bit in his rookie season. In the middle, Ereck Flowers seems to be doing better as an interior player after flaming out his first few years in New York as a tackle. Brandon Scherff is one of the best interior offensive linemen in the league on the right side, while center Chase Roullier is a solid overall player. This is a good unit, but there are opportunities to get to the quarterback if they go through the rookie right tackle and Jarrett can win his matchups in the middle.
While Grady and Dante have been good so far, the rest of the guys up front for the Falcons register a big meh overall. This isn’t the absolute best OL in the league, but they’re good enough to give them the nod here.
The skill positions
A lot is going to depend on the health of A.J. Terrell. If he’s in, this secondary looks better. If he misses another game, the combo of T.J. Green and Fabian Moreau was shaky on Sunday and likely will be again. Isaiah Oliver has been a bright spot in the slot, however. Safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris had their best outing against the Giants, though Harmon yielded some time to Jaylinn Hawkins, and we’ll need more of that against Washington. Foye and Debo have been steady on the inside.
Atlanta gets to face a journeyman quarterback thrust into a starting role because of injury in Taylor Heinicke. He played well enough against the Giants but took a notable step back against the Bills last week. He’s capable of bursts of good play but generally regresses back to being a replaceable player, especially under pressure.
Running back Antonio Gibson is a well-rounded player, averaging 4.2 yards per carry and 15.8 yards per reception. Former Falcon J.D. McKissic is also a decent 2nd option out of the backfield, so the Falcons will have to play the run well. Their best receiver is Terry McLaurin, who is a budding young star averaging about 77 yards per game right now. Tight end Logan Thomas is their second leading receiver and the quality drop off after these guys and the two running backs is pretty noticeable. There’s not really a dominant weapon here, but McLaurin and Thomas are both very good.
Much will depend on the health of the Falcons secondary. If they get Terrell back, he could help neutralize the best receiver Washington has. If he misses the game, this matchup tilts back in favor of the visiting team. For now, we’ll call this a push because of the suspect QB quality.
On paper this looks like Washington gets a slight edge. However, this could all hinge on the kind of game Heinicke has under center. If Dean Pees can get enough pressure on the quarterback, the Falcons may be able to limit the damage by forcing some bad throws and perhaps even generating a turnover.
This is not a good defense, but this is not a good QB. Atlanta being at home is just enough to make this a push, though I will never underestimate the ability of the Falcons to make bad QBs look good.