For far too long it seems like the Atlanta Falcons have been the “get-right” opponent. This means that if an opposing team or player has been in a slump, they will habitually break out of it against the Falcons.
That has been the case the past two weeks, with the Detroit Lions breaking out for seven sacks in their week 3 win over the Falcons after totaling just a single sack in their first two games. Last week, the Falcons faced a Jacksonville Jaguars team that had turned the ball over in nine consecutive games dating back to 2022 with a turnover margin of minus 12 in that span. So of course, the Jags fail to turn it over once and get three takeaways against the Falcons.
When the Falcons return home to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face the Houston Texans this week, they need to flip the script. That starts up front with the team’s offensive line. The Falcons have given up 11 sacks combined the past two weeks, which poorly reflects on the line despite some of that being owed to quarterback Desmond Ridder holding onto the ball too long.
Overall, the Falcons have far too many negative plays, which they cannot afford to have given Ridder’s recent struggles. Currently, the Falcons are tied for fifth in the NFL in the highest number of plays for no gain or negative yardage on first and second downs. In 2022, the Falcons were 30th in that metric, meaning that they were rarely put in bad spots offensively. Much was deservedly made of the Falcons improving their roster’s talent level this offseason. But such a talent advantage is negated if the offense constantly finds itself behind schedule.
Fortunately this week, the Falcons face a Texans defense that is dead last in the NFL in creating negative plays on early downs. It’s perfect timing for a favorable matchup that should allow the Falcons offense to stay on schedule and avoid frequent third and longs. That too has been a problem this season, where the Falcons have faced the fourth-highest rate of third and longs (8 or more yards to go). Last year, the Falcons were roughly league average with a 15th-ranked finish in that stat.
The Texans currently sport the NFL’s sixth-worst pass rush based on sack percentage. The Falcons can’t afford to be another “get-right” game against the Texans pass rush as they were against the Lions. Avoiding third and longs would be the best way to do so, preventing Texans pass-rushers Will Anderson, Jerry Hughes, and Maliek Collins from pinning their ears back on obvious passing downs.
The Falcons also need to get their run game back on track, even if it has been pretty solid thus far in 2023. They rank 11th in rushing yards per game, which again is solid, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the dominant third-ranked unit from 2022 that averaged 160 yards per game. This season, they’ve only exceeded that average once when they racked up 211 rushing yards against the Green Bay Packers in Week 2.
Part of their rushing decline is owed to their attempts to become a more balanced offense this season. But given the recent struggles of their young quarterback and passing game, reestablishing the run game would do wonders to take pressure off Ridder.
They have a golden opportunity to do so on Sunday against a relatively soft Texans run defense. This season, Houston is allowing an average of 116 rushing yards per game (19th ranked). That is much improved from the previous seasons, where they combined to be the NFL’s worst run defense over the past three years, allowing an average of 157.5 yards per game. This Sunday would be a perfect opportunity to give Texans fans flashbacks if the Falcons can get their three-headed monster of a backfield featuring Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, and hopefully Cordarrelle Patterson going.
Overall, the Falcons’ ability to rebound after two losses potentially hinges on their offensive line reasserting itself as the type of unit that can control the game via a dominating rushing attack and keeping the quarterback pristine in the pocket. This isn’t about shifting blame away from the quarterback’s frequent mistakes or suggesting that Atlanta’s priority isn’t seeing improvement from Ridder. But football remains a team game. Therefore, the team must rally around to both literally and figuratively pick up their young quarterback.
Atlanta has invested a lot of resources into their offensive line in recent years, and it’ll all be for naught if it can’t take advantage of such a favorable matchup against the Texans. If the Falcons line can’t “get right” against the Texans, it’ll be much harder to expect such a rebound the following week against a far more formidable and capable Washington Commanders defensive front, regardless of what Washington looked like against the Bears for much of Thursday evening.