The Falcons enter week 9 of the NFL season coming off two straight wins and a bye week. Finally, they seem to be building a little confidence as we approach the second half of the season. Their opponent, the Washington Redskins, also comes in on a high-note after three straight wins including two inside of their own division. Washington currently sits at first place a top of the NFC East with a game and a half lead over the Philadelphia Eagles.
This will be Atlanta’s third road game compared to five home games. In their previous two away from home, they have looked like a shell of themselves. The Falcons high-powered attack has only managed to put up 14.5 points per game on the road while scoring 32.2 points per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Some of that has to do with being away from their fast home turf, but a lot of it has to do with whom they were matched up with. Both the Eagles and the Steelers have quality front sevens that can take away the running game and get after the quarterback. If there are two places the Falcons have struggled on offense, it has been establishing a running game and protecting Matt Ryan.
The task will be similar on Sunday. Washington’s defensive front is absolutely filthy, with top picks out of Alabama, Jonathan Allen and D’Aron Payne, clogging up run lanes, and an elite pass rusher on the outside in Ryan Kerrigan. That’s a tall task for the best of offensive lines, and even tougher for a unit missing both of it’s starting guards for the season. I can’t imagine the Falcons getting much of anything going on the ground, meaning the offensive line better be pristine in pass protection.
Because if Ryan has time, nobody is stopping him. There is not a quarterback playing at a higher level than Matty Ice right now, and the Redskins certainly don’t have the secondary to guard all of the Falcons receivers. Sure, D.J. Swearinger has been one of the best safeties in football, and Josh Norman is still a high-quality cornerback, but beyond that, the Redskins are suspect in their secondary. It’s the one weak link on this Washington defense, and one the Falcons certainly have the personnel to take advantage of.
On the flip side, the Washington offense has been less than impressive under Alex Smith. The former Kansas City Chief has put up similar pedestrian numbers in his first year in the Nation’s capital. At running back, Adrian Peterson looks rejuvenated once again at 33 years old. God, please remind me never to count that man out on anything. However, the Falcons should be up to the challenge that Peterson brings.
While teams have had success running the ball against Atlanta, it hasn’t happened often when Grady Jarrett is in the lineup. The Steelers and Bucs were able to combine for over 200 yards on the ground with Jarrett out, but the star defensive tackle returned to face the Giants on Monday night, and Atlanta took Saquon Barkley out of the game, holding him to 43 yards rushing on 14 carries.
Even when running backs did find success against the Falcons with Grady Jarrett, it was through the passing game. Adrian Peterson has never been the type of player to kill you in the receiving game. Nonetheless, the Redskins do have a player like that in Chris Thompson.
In the first two games alone, Thompson racked up 19 receptions for over 150 yards out of the backfield. Unfortunately for Washington, he has been unable to stay healthy much after that. According to reports, he is suffering from a rib injury among other things that could keep him out again versus Atlanta. If that is the case, it’s a huge plus for the Falcons.
With all of that being said, this one has the makings of being the type of grind it out game we saw when the Falcons played the Giants on Monday Night Football. The Falcons defense should continue to look improved as they get healthier and are up against a mediocre offense. The Redskins are going to have success slowing down the Falcons. At the end of the day, it comes down to which of these quarterbacks that rarely make mistakes, turns the ball over. Unfortunately, that could be Matt Ryan, who will be on the road and under pressure most of the afternoon.
Falcons 20, Redskins 24