Mmm.....Falcons. Tastes like chicken I've heard. The stage is set for us Broncos fans. We can accomplish a few things this upcomming Monday night. We can go into someone elses' house and feast on fowl while remaining undefeated all while gaining some tie-breakers over K.C. in our division. I can taste it now---you know this feeling...the table is set, our prey awaits! The only thing missing is a nice chianti with some fava beans. Come with me and let's discuss some keys to the game and ask some questions along the way!
What we learned from last week:
- His name is Peyton Freaking Manning folks, don't forget it. After having not played for what must have felt like an eternity, Mr. Manning donned our orange and blue and led our offense up and down the field like the field general he always has been. He passed, checked, and even ran his way to first down after first down as our offense scored on four consecutive possessions. There were no three and outs. There were a lot of mind games.
- Our running game was used to open up passing lanes and keep the chains moving. Gone is the pound, pound, and pound some more philosophy of last year. What remains is a "we will move the ball by whatever means are necessary" attitude. Wait and see, we'll let you decide how you want to lose.
- Our line protected and adjusted well despite a few protection gaffes that resulted in sacks. Worried about our line holding up? Don't, they'll be fine for the most part Manny Ramirez and all. Worried about Peyton getting hit? Don't, even when he does, he'll pop back up and move to the next play.
- Peyton plays no favorites. If you're open you'll get the ball. Tamme, Decker, and Thomas all had 5 receptions.
- The no-huddle is a beautiful sight. In it Manning went 15-19 for 209 yards and 2 TD's. He controlled the tempo, slowed the pass rush, and negated any substitution attempts.
- Our defense has the potential to be elite. Forget the garbage 3rd and longs Big Ben converted for a sec. We saw the ability to pressure with the front 4, the ability to stop the run with the front 7, and the ability to blanket receivers from our secondary. All we need now are less mis-communications, more discipline on the edge, and more comfort with JDR and his new defense working together.
- Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard still struggle in some coverage situations, Mays more so at this point. His aggressive style of play renders him a liability against pass catching TE's with double moves in their aresenal. WW bit on them too.
- Derek Wolfe was deserving of being the first Broncos pick in the 2012 draft. Kid can flat out play.
- Our front 4 rotation remained stout even with the loss of Ty Warren. 22 carries for 68 yards against the Steelers big 3 is nothing to scoff at.
- Welcome to Colorado Mr. Porter. We hope your stay is long and fruitful, keep up the good work!
- Not much Prater, Colquitt, or Boldin. I like it that way. TD's instead of FG's, first downs instead of punts, no air instead of atmosphere. Sorry Omar, what else can I say kid? 65 yards at 5280ft is not going to give you many opportunities.
- Replacement officials remain a black mark on the game. Did they cost anyone a game this weekend? Nope, though they sure tried in Arizona. It's only a matter of time though. PAY ED HOCULI!
Now that the rundown is out of the way, here is what I've gathered about the Falcons so far. Their offense can be really REALLY potent (or the Chiefs just suck). Seriously though, they have a lot of play-makers at the skill positions and the trigger man to hit them. Matt Ryan may not be a lot of things, but he is accurate. The Falcons managed to score on their first 8 possessions of the game! Add to that, they have a no-huddle too. When they ran their offense in attack mode, Jacquizz Rodgers was the feature back, not Michael Turner. Roddy White also received the most targets (5 to Julio Jones' 2). So when they go to this package, which they should, keep an eye on those two things.
Defensively, they are led by Mike Nolan who was one of the few brightspots in recent Broncos D history. He has been successful for the last several years. One thing that is different this year is that the Falcons' base defense is a 4-3 front, whereas Nolan has ran the 3-4 both here and in Miami. Don't read too too much into this. If you've read enough articles about defensive football and watched enough NFL games over the past couple of years, you should know that all teams mix up their fronts and play different packages game to game. Nolan knows defense and will put his players into positions to succeed.......BUT, this is not a defense we should fear. The Chiefs matched them score for score in the first half. The ball can be moved on them. They don't have someone the likes of Elvis Dumervil or Von Miller, and they definitely don't have Champ, Porter, or even Harris (perhaps we won't this weekend either). With that here are the questions I have coming into this game:
For the Offense
1) Will crowd noise be a factor?
The first road test of the season. No doubt our team has been working on crowd noise in practice this week. But with the no-huddle seeming like it will be an integral part of our offensive attack communication is paramount.
2) Can we eliminate our case of the fumbles, and continue our case of the INT-absent-itis?
That was just a bad fumble Willis McGahee. Hold on to the ball please! Manning was surgical and precise, let's keep the accuracy going and continue a streak of attempts without an INT.
3) Can we get our wideouts involved early?
This is more for the sake of Demaryius Thomas. He started off slow and came on with that awesome athletic ability we all know he has. Get the young man some early touches.
4) Can our O-line keep Manning clean?
Two sacks two many. Ok, ok, one was Peyton's fault for not adjusting the right protection, but still let's keep him off the turf.
5) Can our run game provide more "oomph?"
I'm all for grinding it out 3-4 yards at a time. But I want to see some big plays this weekend....I'm looking at you Willis and Knowshon!
For the defense
1) Can our linebackers do a better job in coverage this week?
I don't see our defense becoming elite until they can. Tony Gonzales can still play folks. Later on we'll see Jimmy Graham and Gronk/Hernandez. What good is it if Champ and Porter shut down WR's while Mays and Woodyard continue to drop the ball against receiving TE's?
2) Can Tracy Porter keep the mojo going?
I foresee Champ Bailey on Julio Jones and Tracy Porter on Roddy White, though I could be wrong. They have history together and played each other twice a year. Talking to folks over at the Falcoholic, Roddy White has had success with that match-up. THAT ENDS MONDAY...i mean hopefully it does;)
3) Can Champ Bailey (who is still elite BTW haters) shut down Julio Jones?
Julio Jones is going to be one of Champs' more difficult tasks this year and I expect the Falcons to move him around and for Champ to follow him. This is the key matchup of the game for me.
4) Can our front 4 continue to get more pressure on the QB? Can our front 7 shut down Michael Turner, and to a lesser extent Jacquizz Rodgers?
I felt our front 4 did a good job at moving the pocket and getting pressure on Ben, BUT there is still room to grow. Running game+Tony Gonzalez+Julio Jones/Roddy White = death. Shut it down and the playaction is one less thing to worry about.
5) Can we eliminate miscommunication in the secondary? Will JDR have a better feel for playcalling in this game?
We had breakdowns in coverage all too often Sunday night. And though Matt Ryan is no Big Ben when it comes to making lemonade death juice out of lemons on 3rd and long, he will make us pay for our mistakes regardless. The second point was brought up by Topher. During the game I saw a mix of coverages and blitzes on 3rd down, the problem is more often than not the Steelers still had success. That means one of two things 1) JDR was too predictable 2) Big Ben is as smart as Peyton Manning. I choose to believe the former.
Thought a lot about whether to include this or not....6) Can our D get off the field on 3rd down?
Big Ben extends plays and hits guys downfield. That is what he does. Still 11/19 on 3rd down for the Steelers is a much higher percentage than our defense should allow. Anomaly or habit---the Broncos D will let us know this week, keep an eye on it at least.
For specials teams
1) No more good returns ok punt coverage team?
2) Deadly from 40-49 ok Matt Prater? And yes 50+ as well!
3) Britton Colquitt, don't take this personally, but I don't want to see your face...
So to recap, here are my keys to the game and hopefully a Broncos victory:
Communication all around
More zah, zip, "jazz hands" from the running game
DT early and often
Manning off his back
JM + WW - pass coverage blunders
Tracy Porter > Roddy White, Champ Bailey > Julio Jones
Front 4 goes "angry birds" on the "dirty bird" Front 7 goes brick wall on Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers
Defense holds on 3rd down
My prediction? Broncos 34 Falcons 23
That bird is gonna be tasty YO! Go Broncos!!!