Why Jessie Bates III could be the X-Factor for Falcons against Lions

NFL: SEP 10 Panthers at Falcons

The Falcons have a big test against the Lions this week.

Detroit’s offense, led by Jared Goff and Ben Johnson, is among the league’s best. That unit ranks in the top 10 in points (26.0/game), total yards (393.0/game), and passing yards (283.0/game).

Goff has been tremendous this year, particularly at producing explosive plays. According to Pro Football Focus, he recorded an 8.1% big-time throw rate in Week 2, which ranked second to only Trevor Lawrence. Goff attempted five deep passes of 20-plus yards, completing three for 102 yards and a touchdown.

The Falcons know the Lions offense wants to produce those explosive plays. Atlanta’s assistant head coach Jerry Gray acknowledged that fact, adding that if the defense can keep everything in front of them, they’ll have a great chance to win, according to Michael Rothstein.

The pass rush has a certain responsibility in limiting those plays. Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata have been among the most disruptive interior defenders in the league this year. The pair lead the defense, which has quietly become one of the top units in football.

Ryan Nielsen’s group ranks 3rd in total yards given up (252.5/game), 8th in points (17.0), and 6th in opposing quarterback rating (74.6). This will be their toughest test of the season, but the key will be to limit explosive plays, which is why Jessie Bates III could be the X-Factor.

The gem of the Falcons free agent class has been a revelation on Atlanta’s backend. He had one of the best debuts of any free agent signing ever, notching three turnovers against the Panthers. According to PFF, Bates ranks first among safeties with his 91.4 coverage grade, allowing just one reception for four yards through two games.

This week, he’ll likely draw T.J. Hockenson and Sam LaPorta while being tasked with keeping Amon-Ra St. Brown and Marvin Jones Jr. in front of him. His ability to play centerfield raises the play of everyone around him. Bates covers up deficiencies of the other defenders in coverage and tricks opposing quarterbacks into thinking something is open that really isn’t. The praise could go on and on, but in fewer words, Jessie Bates III will be extremely important in Week 3.

Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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