And because of this strength of the Bronco defense, it has the potential to cancel out the greatest strength of the Falcons offense: their passing attack. While Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez certainly have the capacity to do to the Broncos secondary what they did to the Chiefs this past Sunday, they will not be able to if Ryan is lying on his back. And if the Broncos are able to get pressure with just four guys (and how can they not when Von Miller is one of the four?), it means more guys can drop into coverage to deal with the Falcons’ potent weapons.
Similar to the playoff game against the Giants, the biggest obstacle offensively for Atlanta is going to be slowing down the Broncos pass rush. And how the Falcons plan on handling this as well as their execution of it, will be a very good litmus test in determining just how much further this team has come since last year’s playoff loss.
My best guess for how the Falcons will try to handle the Broncos front is three-fold:
1) Establishing the Run
Establishing the run was the Falcons primary solution to the Giants pass rush, but in that game it failed because of the offensive line’s inability to open holes. It’s not the exact same starting five since Will Svitek and Joe Hawley started against the Giants. But remember that last year Svitek and Hawley outperformed Sam Baker and Garrett Reynolds, respectively. So if they couldn’t get the job done, then why should we expect Baker and Reynolds to?
The Falcons didn’t need Turner or the ground game to be effective against Kansas City. Without Brandon Flowers and little pass rush sans Tamba Hali, Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing attack had no obstacles to moving the ball at will against the Chiefs.
But that will not be the case this week, and the Falcons will need Turner and the offensive line to come up big.
The Broncos run defense was a question mark going into the season, but they passed their first test against the Steelers, bottling up starter Isaac Redman (11 carries, 20 yards) and that ground attack to 75 yards total for the game. Rookie Derek Wolfe made some nice plays in that opener, and how the Falcons handle him could be a deciding factor in the game.
The Falcons won’t need Turner to have a 150-yard game for him to accomplish the goal of establishing the run. But the Falcons need to be effective with their runs early in the game, showing that they can put themselves into 3rd & manageable situations to make it easier on the passing attack to execute. The more 3rd & shorts the Falcons can muster, the easier it should be on the line because Ryan will be able to get rid of the ball quicker to move the chains. It’s more about being able to 4 and 5 yard gains every time Turner touches the ball. One positive for Turner is that the Broncos don’t have great linebackers, who had some issues with missed tackles against the bigger, bruising Steeler tailbacks. If the line can open the holes for Turner, then he has the capacity to do some things on the second level that can turn those 4 and 5 yard gains into 15 and 20 yard gains.
Will Turner and the line be better prepared to answer the challenge this week that they could not answer a season ago? Who knows, but it certainly will make this Monday Night contest that much more exciting to watch for Falcon fans.