clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What to know about Falcons vs. Texans in Week 5

It’s a battle of .500 teams traveling on very different trajectories.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons and Texans have not played since 2019, so these two squads will be unrecognizable to one another. The Falcons were fading that way, and out of Atlanta’s 2019 starting lineup, only Jake Matthews, Kaleb McGary, and Grady Jarrett remain; the once-Deshaun Watson led Texans were 10-6 but headed for a major cratering of their own starting in 2020 and Laremy Tunsil is the lone starting lineup holdover for them.

These teams find themselves at similar moments, too, in terms of what they hope to accomplish this year. Atlanta is in year three of a rebuild and hoping to contend this year; the Texans have re-done their roster, gotten their franchise quarterback, and installed a new head coach and are dreaming of contending in an iffy AFC South themselves. Houston may well come back to earth, but their passing performance and overall ability early on here makes them a formidable opponent, not at all what we anticipated heading into the year. These two teams would both like to clear .500 and get to the business of winning, but they stand in one another’s way.

Here’s what you need to know about the matchup ahead, one the Falcons really need to emerge victorious from.

2023 rankings

Falcons - Texans Week 5 rankings


Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Falcons 2-2 25 24 32 11 10 7 5 17 13 20
Texans 2-2 15 10 4 26 11 13 9 19 12 4

There isn’t a ton of surface-level daylight between these two teams on defense; the Falcons have been a bit better with the aid of facing a couple of shaky offenses, and the Texans have a missed tackle problem (more on that later) that undercuts the fine work they’re doing there. Defensively, though, it’s a good matchup between a pair of teams that did a lot of work to rebuild that side of the ball in 2023.

On offense, the daylight is significant. The Falcons are a much better rushing team, as Houston has been largely unable to get anything productive going on the ground and have been wholly reliant on a sterling passing game. With that taking off, they’re even more one-dimensional than the Jaguars team we just saw, but with Stroud playing out of his mind right now that hasn’t exactly hurt them. TH

How the Texans have changed

They are a completely different team than they were the last time the Falcons saw them, so let’s focus on their offseason.

After two disgraceful years where the Texans hired coaches they had no intention of keeping longer than a season, the team made their big hire, luring away coveted 49ers defensive coordinator and longtime Texans player DeMeco Ryans as head coach and highly regarded mind Bobby Slowik at offensive coordinator. They then set about transforming a moribund roster via free agency and the draft.

That included trading Brandin Cooks for draft picks while picking up starting guard Shaq Mason, and hitting up free agency for slot receiver Robert Woods, starting safety and longtime Falcoholic favorite Jimmie Ward, longtime Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, and ex-Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz, among other starters. That infusion of quality veteran talent has helped lift the floor for one of the NFL’s worst teams.

The draft brought in multiple useful players, but the two foundational pieces are quarterback C.J. Stroud and pass rusher Will Anderson. The latter already looks like he’ll be one of the league’s most intimidating pass rushers for years to come, while the former is finding his footing and looks like he’ll have a genuine case to be the best starting quarterback in this class, with currently struggling Bryce Young and hyper-athletic Anthony Richardson set to compete in the years ahead. Stroud is giving this passing game real life and juice and Anderson is a terror; those two plus a quality coaching staff and a smart free agency might actually have Houston competing all season.

This is not the basement dwelling team it appeared to be this summer; the improvement has been immediate and looks real. Ryans

What to know about Sunday’s game

The Falcons haven’t failed any tests from opposing passing games just yet; they just haven’t necessarily nailed them. Trevor Lawrence had brilliant stretches, Jared Goff was surgical for a frustratingly long time, and Jordan Love was effective early before wilting late. C.J. Stroud may not be the toughest challenge this Falcons passing attack has faced—Goff and Lawrence are very good—but he’s a precise, smart passer with tremendous talent who is rolling right now. The pass rush and this secondary will have to be excellent to hold him in check, and that’s critical because otherwise this game may quickly get out of hand.

Houston has an underrated group of pass catchers led by Nico Collins, who is averaging nearly 20 yards per reception and has scored three times thanks in part to a strong rapport with Stroud. Stroud is excellent at passing the ball around in general; the Falcons will need to disrupt his timing by getting pressure and will have to be really good in man coverage, given that it’s both what they favor and what Stroud has done an excellent job attacking so far in this young season. This is the one area in which Houston is already very good; a failure to stymie the Houston passing attack is a recipe for disaster.

Atlanta’s own passing attack remains the anchor on their fortunes, and expecting that to change drastically after two putrid weeks is probably asking too much. My optimism for this one centers on Ridder’s back being to the wall, and the fact that he and this assembly of talent really can’t produce work this bad for very long, even if it’s more than fair to have doubts about the young quarterback’s long-term viability based on the last couple of weeks. Ridder has the highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays in the NFL to this point, per Pro Football Focus, after a 1.4% rate in 2022 that was among the league’s lowest. In college, that rate was 2% in 2021 (the 269th highest among college quarterbacks) and 3.2% in 2020 (195th), so the rate at which he’s being sloppy and downright careless with the football is simply unusual in his brief career. If that rebounds even a little bit and Ridder starts taking advantage of the open looks available to him, this offense will blossom pretty quickly.

The problem for this team is that Houston’s pass defense has been both pretty good and pretty good at forcing turnovers, a dangerous combination to face if you’re a languishing attack like Atlanta’s. This is not a superlative pass defense on paper, but they’ve done it all quite well to this point, a testament to the havoc Anderson and Rankins can wreak up front and the solid work of Ward, Derrick Stingley Jr., and Steven Nelson on the back end.

If Atlanta can overcome that challenge by mixing in easier strikes to get this passing game in a rhythm, both thanks to the coaching staff setting them up and Ridder actually hitting them, the ground game can do the rest. The Texans have allowed at least 110 rushing yards in every game this season against banged up Ravens and Colts squads and merely so-so Jaguars and Steelers rushing attacks. Allgeier should have a bounceback game given that and Robinson should feast, as the duo have broken 17 tackles thus far this season combined and the Texans have a league-leading 45 missed tackles of their own. Atlanta’s goal should absolutely be to stress the Texans defense on the ground and by getting the ball into the hands of playmakers with an eye on yards after the catch; a repeat Jonnu Smith performance where he puts a couple of guys in the dirt with stiff arms isn’t out of the question. The Texans will try to counteract that by stacking the box with as many defenders as they can muster; success there will come down to discipline, solid tackling, and whether Ridder can punish them for doing so.

Defensively, Atlanta has to worry a little bit about Dameon Pierce, a quality player who has yet to get going this year, plus a solid complement in Devin Singletary. The duo is averaging just north of three yards per carry, though, and the Falcons’ run defense has been disciplined and effective over the last couple of weeks in particular. The fear in this game comes, again, from what Stroud and company can do through the air.

The mantra is the same as it has been all season: If the Falcons play crisp football, get off to a decent start, and play to their considerable strengths without making major mistakes, they can certainly beat a Texans team that has admirably improved but remains a work-in-progress. Anything short of that is unlikely to result in a happy Sunday.