The Denver Broncos will host the Atlanta Falcons this weekend. It’s a high-powered offense versus a ferocious defense, which makes for some very interesting story lines this week. We asked David Choate of The Falcoholic. some questions about the Falcons to get some perspective from the other side.
1) It is early in the season and once again Matty Ice and the Falcons appear to be a team to be reckoned with. Is this the year they stay consistent and finish strong? If so, what is the primary change that happened this offseason to keep the Falcons fans hopeful?
I think they're due for a bit of a course correction as the caliber of opponents ramps up in the coming weeks, starting with Denver, but that they'll be a much more impressive team at the end of 2016 than they were in 2015, regardless of their final record.
They owe much of that to the acquisition of Alex Mack on the offensive line. He's been a stabilizing force both as a blocker and an expert at ensuring all ducks are in a row when it comes to protection, and the rest of the offense has benefited from that. Add in a more helpful Tevin Coleman, some improved receiving options, and it's not hard to figure out why the offense is better. The defense has benefited from the addition of young, athletic defenders like linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal.
In some ways, though, the biggest change is just being in the second year of a system. These guys know their roles, they're more comfortable, and the coaching staff is aware of the team's strengths and limitations in a way they weren't after only spending about seven months with them before the 2015 season kicked off.
2) Julio Jones is an unstoppable force. What strategies can the Broncos defense employ that will limit the damage he is capable of from a defensive standpoint?
Really, you can do one of two things to stop Julio Jones. You can either cover him with your best cornerback and ensure safety help is always near, thereby making him a less attractive option for Matt Ryan, or you can pressure Ryan constantly to ensure he doesn't have the time to find Jones. If you can do both successfully, you're well on your way to stopping Julio.
Covering him one-on-one is not advisable unless you're absolutely certain the corner in question can lock him down, and there are very few cornerbacks in the NFL who could do that.
3) It seems that all we hear about is the offense in the MSM. Tell the Broncos fans about the strengths and weaknesses of the Falcons defense.
The strengths? Well, uh, geez...
In all seriousness, the Falcons now have some young, physical defenders who can clean up the plays they screw up, which is helpful. Their run defense is at least competent, especially when the passing attack isn't firing on all cylinders. And Desmond Trufant is one of the best cover cornerbacks in the NFL, which effectively takes one wide receiver off the table for long stretches of the game.
The weaknesses are pretty much everything else. The pass rush is weak, the team sometimes struggles to cover tight ends effectively, and they're susceptible to quarterback runs and effective short passing games, as well as the occasional costly penalty. It's a defense that can be attacked.
4) What two players are fairly unknown to the outside world, but are making a significant positive impact for the Falcons in 2016.
The first would be Taylor Gabriel. The wide receiver was waived by Cleveland and snapped up quickly by the Falcons, and he's had a small but important role for the Falcons, displaying good hands and speed and effectively functioning as the team's third receiver for the last couple of weeks. He'll certainly be targeted Sunday, and could wind up making a genuine impact.
The second is rookie safety Keanu Neal. He missed the first couple of weeks of the season, but he's back now and he's added much-needed speed, physicality, and even coverage ability to safety for the Falcons. Your tight ends will get to know him.
5) What are your three keys to the game and prediction?
My keys are Devonta Freeman's success against the Broncos' run defense, the Broncos' ability to contain the great and powerful Julio Jones, and whether the pass rush gets home against Matt Ryan.
I think the Broncos are simply too good to beat on the road, no matter how good the Falcons offense has looked. 27-21, Denver.