The biggest key for the Falcons this week will not be getting off to the slow start they did a week ago. They want to take advantage of their passing attack going against the weak Redskin secondary.
The health of Julio Jones (hand) will be a factor in this game. The team will need him to have a bigger game. He will have that opportunity going up against DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson. Hall struggled with the size that A.J. Green and Vincent Jackson presented on the outside the past two weeks, and thus the Falcons hope to similarly take advantage with Jones. The last time Roddy White went against Josh Wilson, he had one of his better games in 2010. He wound up catching 12 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner against the Ravens on Thursday Night that year. Tony Gonzalez will also be licking his chops going up against Madieu Williams and DeJon Gomes. He’ll also get some opportunities going up against the Redskin linebackers in London Fletcher and Perry Riley.
Because of the advantages the Falcons feature in this game, even if they get behind early they should still be able to get back into the game. The one worry the Falcons have is their pass protection. Last week, Tyson Clabo really struggled to block Charles Johnson. His job won’t get much easier as he’ll be facing the Redskins top pass rusher in Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan is not an elite pass rusher in the class of Brian Orakpo (out for the year), but he has the skills to give Clabo fits with his speed on the edge.
Pat Hill will likely be lighting a fire under the butts of the line, and Dirk Koetter will likely modify the protections and play-calling to try and prevent the breakdowns that occurred last week.
The running game has looked somewhat resurgent in recent weeks, but it’s unlikely that it will do a lot this week vs. Washington. The strength of the Redskins defense is their front seven and in the middle. But that doesn’t mean that the Falcons won’t try to make some plays on the ground. The area where they may try and attack is the edges by trying to get Turner and Rodgers going on some outside runs. If Jones’ hand limits his effectiveness as a receiver, the Falcons may try to get the ball in his hands on reverses, end-arounds, and screens to try and attack those edges as well.
Defensively, a key for the Falcons will be trying to get pressure on RG3. Griffin is pretty good at avoiding pressure and escaping the pocket, so the Falcons will have to be disciplined. It’s a positive for them that they are coming off a game against a similar quarterback in Cam Newton. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Newton ran all over their defense. If the Falcons want to beat Washington, they cannot let that happen a second consecutive week. Tyler Polumbus is a weak line at right tackle, and the team will hope that John Abraham and Kroy Biermann can exploit that weaknesss. This should also be a game where the interior players should be to create some havoc going against Will Montgomery and Chris Chester, two players that have been better backups than starters over the years.
The Falcons run defense will also be challenged this week. They have not really had a strong game all year long, and it’s unlikely that is going to change against Washington’s zone-blocking attack. Instead, the Falcons will likely do their best to take the Redskins running game out of the equation by building an early lead in order to make Washington one-dimensional.
Because the Redskins offense has been fairly strong this year, it’s unlikely the Falcons will be able to shut them down. This could easily be a game where the scoreboard gets lit up. Thus, defensively the Falcons will need to generate turnovers in order to stall Redskin drives. As mentioned before, pressure will be critical for that. The positive for the Falcons is that the Redskins lack the playmakers on the outside that should really give the secondary trouble. If there is one matchup that the Falcons might lose a bit of sleep over, it will be the slot corner against Santana Moss. Moss is not the playmaker he once was, but he is a guy that can still move the chains on 3rd & short and extend drives. The Falcons seem intent on giving Chris Owens reps at nickel cornerback and I don’t really understand why. Owens has never shown himself in two seasons in the slot to be anything worthwhile. Meanwhile, Dominique Franks and Robert McClain at the very least are competent. It may be a mistake on the Falcons to try to shoehorn Owens back into the lineup coming off his concussion.
The overarching theme for Atlanta this week will be to offensively look like the team that they were in the first three weeks of the season. A fast start by Atlanta and they should be able to extend their record to 5-0. This may be a game where the team that is ahead at the end of the first quarter is the winner. The positive thing for the Falcons is that they’ve shown themselves over the years (particularly last week) that they can finish games. Washington has yet to really figure that out. Each one of their losses has come down to the final possession,