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What to know about Falcons vs. Jaguars in Week 4

Trans-atlantic travel is just one complication for a matchup between two teams who haven’t fully gotten going on offense.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

We shouldn’t feel panic or pressure regarding this Falcons team through three games, not with a 2-1 record and plenty of positives to take away. The state of disrepair the passing game is currently in and the overall disjointedness of the performance against Detroit nevertheless has some of that familiar Falcons anxiety creeping in for the fanbase, even if the Lions kicking the cheese out of the Packers last night might have helped alleviate that stress for many of us.

Still, to dispel it fully, Atlanta will have to turn in a better performance on the road this time, but it won’t be an easy matchup. The Falcons are in London this Sunday to take on the Jaguars, another team scuffling despite high expectations, and will have to deal with Jacksonville’s plethora of talent if they’re going to earn a victory.

This game promises to be chaotic, both in process and in outcome. The Falcons were supposed to be better than this offensively and less polished on defense, adding an element of uncertainty, and the Jaguars were just supposed to be much better than this period. It feels like a winnable game for whatever the best version of this Atlanta team might be; it also feels like a trans-atlantic, Toy Story-animated opportunity for a thousand things to go sideways. What both teams have been able to learn and implement after a pair of embarrassing drubbings suffered in Week 3 will likely matter a lot.

Here’s what you should know about the game ahead.

2023 rankings

Falcons - Jaguars Week 4 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 2-1 23 26 29 9 7 8 4 18 13 6
Jaguars 1-2 21 16 9 19 23 19 27 7 6 21

Look! A Falcons defense in the top ten in points and yardage! I know it’s early, but that’s enough to make a grown man shed a tear.

These teams are both falling short of their considerable potential thus far, but the Falcons are sitting with a better record because of two quality games from their rushing attacks and three quietly strong performances from the defense. Jacksonville is throwing the ball pretty well even with their early misfires and have done an excellent job of stopping the run (albeit against so-so competition there), while as we know, the Falcons can run and have had a wonderfully stingy pass defense even with some strong first halves from Jordan Love and Jared Goff.

How the Jaguars have changed

Calvin Ridley is playing for them! That’s new.

Big Cat Country has a good recap here, but essentially their two biggest losses were Jawaan Taylor and Marvin Jones, and the Jaguars plugged those holes with Ridley and a top draft pick in Anton Harrison. Thus far it has been a mixed bag for both—Harrison was never going to be Taylor immediately, but he has really scuffled in pass protection—but Ridley had a huge Week 1 game that hinted at what he can still do when he’s rolling. The Falcons are catching him after a quiet week featuring drops and false start penalties, but we all know what happens if Ridley gets hot.

New kicker Brandon McManus has whiffed on a pair of field goals, the departure of pass rusher Arden Key has been keenly felt for this shaky defense, and Jacksonville’s expansive draft class has largely not made outsized contributions. There’s a ton of talent here, but this team is mostly running it back after an encouraging finish to 2022 and yet still has not gelled in 2023. It’s a question of when and not if in my mind, however, and Ridley is a dangerous addition to a passing attack that will get going at some point.

What to know about Sunday’s game

I have had this game penciled in as a loss more or less since the schedule came out, but Jacksonville’s shaky start to the season gives me some hope that the Falcons can swipe one in London. I doubt it will be easy, and if the Falcons can’t surpass their performance on the road against Detroit, they’re probably dead in the water. This version of the Jaguars was not one I foresaw kicking around for Week 4, though, and as they’re more juggernot than juggernaut there’s certainly a chance Atlanta gets the job done here.

As Benjamin Solak wrote at The Ringer, this Jaguars team is underperforming, but some of that is based on drops and bad luck that isn’t likely to continue. Trevor Lawrence is very good, Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk are—or at least should be—deadly, and Evan Engram is a terror for a team that just struggled to bottle up Sam LaPorta. The pass rush has all the pieces to be a nightmare even if that hasn’t come together just yet; the Jaguars are something of a ticking time bomb of talent. The Falcons have to hope they don’t blow up this week, but even if they stay scuffling, they’re good enough to punish a lackluster Falcons effort.

The chief problem for Atlanta is that it’s very difficult to have faith in their passing game right now, even if the Lions also put the clamps on Green Bay in the first half in particular last night in a way that echoed their dominance of the Falcons. Getting the ground game going is a must and should work better than it did against Detroit, which had a very specific gameplan and a handful of terrors in Alim McNeill, Aidan Hutchinson, and Brian Branch who were able to absolutely wreak havoc. The defense will have its hands full with all of Jacksonville’s weapons, but they put forth a heroic effort to hold Detroit to 20 points considering how many opportunities the Lions had to score. An effective rushing attack and at least somewhat effective defense should keep this one manageable if the aerial assault is less of an assault on our senses and more of an assault on Jacksonville, which is not a given.

But former NFL quarterback JT O’Sullivan had a scathing but worthwhile film review for Desmond Ridder this week that reinforces my impression of this passing attack from Sunday: It’s broken at the moment. Despite worthwhile weapons, a quarterback who is at least capable of strong moments, and three years of personnel additions and coaching staff tweaks to build this thing out and make it shine, nothing is working the way it should at the moment. It is worth noting that for all those worries, this is not a very good Jaguars pass defense, so the Falcons should be able to exploit some of their weaknesses both in the secondary and from a pretty toothless pass rush.

Atlanta can win this game with a superlative effort in other facets, it just won’t be simple. Jacksonville has a top ten run defense in all the basic metrics like yards per game, yards per attempt, touchdowns, and so forth, as noted above, and even if they’re not quite the powerhouse in that regard that Detriot proved to be they can slow Atlanta down. Their offense has been slow to get rolling and Atlanta’s defense has been good enough that it’s reasonable to expect those struggles to continue for another week, which should keep things in striking distance if the offense is up to snuff. Stopping Ridley, Kirk, Engram, and Travis Etienne is still not the makings of a simple afternoon in London.

As is so often the case, the best shot the Falcons have here if they can’t get cooking early or force a couple of timely turnovers is just keeping things close until late and counting on Younghoe Koo’s leg and/or some late game excellence to push them over the top. A fast start in this one will go a long way toward putting the Jaguars back on their heels—do cats have heels?—and giving Atlanta a chance to win this one. If we get a Falcons team that has learned from its mistakes through the first three weeks and comes out playing sharper football, this is a winnable game and would put Atlanta at a very appealing 3-1 mark. If not...well, let’s save that particular anxiety for another day.