Every week, I attempt to name five Atlanta Falcons that intrigue me in their upcoming matchup. This week as the Falcons travel to face the Tennessee Titans, the intrigue revolves around compelling and interesting matchups in a road game between Arthur Smith’s current team and former team.
Some players have unfavorable matchups that will test them to their limits, and others have the opportunity against favorable ones that could lead to success in Week 8.
The player with perhaps the toughest matchup could be Falcons left guard Matthew Bergeron, since he’ll be facing Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons for a large chunk of the day. Simmons plays all over the Titans’ defensive line, so he’ll also have plenty of matchups against the Falcons' other interior linemen. But the times when he lines up against Bergeron will test the Falcons rookie.
Bergeron has been battle-tested this year, going up against top-notch defensive tackles like Derrick Brown, Kenny Clark, Vita Vea, and Jonathan Allen, and has managed to pull through. Such clashes against premium talent should aid Bergeron’s long-term development. Yet in the short term, there will be struggles as Bergeron will have to strap on the armor once more and wade into the fray against Simmons on Sunday.
Perhaps the player that is second to Bergeron in terms of severity of assignment is linebacker Nate Landman. He’ll be one of several Falcon players tasked with trying to get Titans running back Derrick Henry on the ground. Of course, Landman won’t be singularly responsible for taking down Henry, since the 250-pound running back usually needs to be gang-tackled.
But since Landman is the team’s most productive run defender, it’s likely he’ll be one of the first to greet Henry in the hole on his many carries. PFF ranks Landman third among all NFL linebackers in run stop percentage. A run stop is defined as a “win” for the defense, so if the Falcons are successful at slowing down Henry, it’ll be Landman leading the charge towards those frequent wins.
The Titans lost a keystone piece of their defense this past week by trading safety Kevin Byard. The Falcons will look to take advantage of that, and one player that could help there is their very own trade acquisition in wide receiver Van Jefferson. Byard often was tasked with playing deep for the Titans, and his expected replacement, Elijah Molden, might not be up to par with handling those responsibilities in his first week on the job.
Jefferson was added to the Falcons to help open up the vertical elements of their passing attack. Last week, Desmond Ridder connected with Scotty Miller on a deep ball, and it will be nice to see him do the same this week with Jefferson.
With defensive end Bud Dupree questionable with a groin injury, it’ll be backup Lorenzo Carter who will likely see a dramatic increase to his snaps if Dupree can’t go or is limited. Carter has been a valuable role player for the Falcons, ranking third on the team behind Arnold Ebiketie and David Onyemata in PFF’s Pass Rush Productivity metric this season.
He should have an opportunity to improve in that metric this week against Titans left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, who will be making his first career start at left tackle.
Lastly, cornerback A.J. Terrell also draws an intriguing matchup against All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Over the past month, the Falcons have experimented with Terrell acting as a “shadow” cornerback and tracking the opposing team’s top wideout. There have been mixed results, but should it continue this week, it’s very likely he’ll be squaring off against Hopkins.
While Hopkins is not the same threat who made All-Pro five times between 2015 and 2020, he’s still by far Tennessee’s most reliable weapon. If Terrell can keep him contained and not allow him to be a security blanket for rookie quarterback Will Levis in his starting debut, it will be an obvious boon to the Falcons' defense.
Can you name any other Atlanta Falcons that intrigue you in this Week 8 matchup?