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Will Broncos-Falcons turn into a barn burner?

I spoke with the Falcoholics’ Adnan Ikic to find out.

While they don’t happen often, the Broncos have had some rather memorable games against the Atlanta Falcons. Obviously Super Bowl XXXIII is a game neither fan base will ever forget. There’s also the matchup where Jake Plummer almost broke 500-yards passing in defeat as well as Peyton Manning’s first 3 interception game in orange and blue.

This year’s game will be a contest between two potential upstarts. The Broncos have won three of their last four games and come into Sunday following a dramatic comeback victory. The Falcons are familiar with tense moments themselves and are one huge mental lapse from being undefeated over their last three games.

To get a little inside info on the enemy, I reached out to The Falcoholics’ Adnan Ikic.

1st and 10

Since Raheem Morris took over, the Falcons are a Todd Gurley blunder away from being undefeated. What changes has he made, and do you believe they’ve turned a corner?

Ikic: The main difference I’ve seen from Morris has been some strides we’ve seen from the defense, as OC Dirk Koetter has remained in control of the offense no matter who the head coach has been. In five games before firing Dan Quinn, the Falcons were conceding 32.2 points per game and 446 yards per game.

In the three games where Morris has presided over the team, the Falcons have conceded 21 points per game (and that mark would be even lower had Gurley not accidentally scored against Detroit, like you mentioned) and 352 yards per game. This coaching staff has been a lot quicker in dialing up the blitz to help aid Atlanta’s underperforming pass rushers under Morris’ watch, whereas they were as vanilla and conservative as can be under Quinn.

I’m reluctant to say that they’ve turned a corner as they haven’t had to face any world-beating offenses under Morris (the Vikings without Dalvin Cook, the Lions and the Panthers). However, in an apples to apples comparison, the performance of this defense against the Carolina Panthers with Morris as head coach in Week 8 vs. their performance against Carolina with Quinn in Week 5 was night and day. We’ll have to wait to see just how good they are, and that game in Week 10 against the Saints is where I think that will be revealed.

2nd and 8

I’ve had my eyes on the Falcons for awhile because the defensive struggles led me to believe it’s a real “show me something” game for Drew Lock. At least by DVOA, the defense has seemed to struggle with talented receivers and tight ends. Teams have also found success with the deep ball. Should Broncos’ Country expect more fireworks for Albert Okwuegbunam and K.J. Hamler?

Ikic: Had you asked me this question a few weeks ago, I would have given you an emphatic yes. Now, I’m giving you a much more tepid and unsure yes. The cornerback group has definitely been Atlanta’s biggest weakness this year, but they’ve been a bit better the past few weeks. Part of that has to do with the extra pressure generated from the uptick in blitz dial-ups under Morris, and part of it has been young CBs (particularly A.J. Terrell) coming more into their own as the season has gone by.

The Falcons will get Darqueze Dennard back from IR this week which will be a big help. They’re still not world beaters by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re also not the tire fire we saw at the beginning of the year. However, the weakness at the free safety position with Damontae Kazee down for the season and Ricardo Allen a very visible liability makes this team vulnerable to the deep pass nonetheless.

3rd and 3

Julio Jones looks to be playing through pain, but this Falcons’ passing offense remains dangerous. How do you expect them to attack the Broncos?

Ikic: I’ll just give you a heads up right now that you should expect to see a lot of Todd Gurley runs on 1st downs and a lot more run calls than you’re used to seeing on 2nd downs, whether they’re effective or not. That’s been Dirk Koetter’s MO, and it’s frustrated the fanbase throughout these past two seasons.

Atlanta will always look to establish the run, but Julio Jones will garner a lot of targets from Matt Ryan in the passing game on play actions from those runs. The offensive line has been a much improved unit in the pass blocking department, but this isn’t a game where I expect the passing attack to go crazy as Calvin Ridley looks to be in serious danger of missing this game.

I’d expect them to incorporate tight end Hayden Hurst into the game plan a bit more as the second option as a result. Hurst has put together a string of three straight consistent games and seems to be garnering more and more of Ryan’s trust as the weeks go along, so that’s a name to watch.

4th and inches

The line of scrimmage is always the last talked about matchups, but it looks like it could be pivotal Sunday. With Shelby Harris a question mark and Graham Glasgow likely to miss the contest, how do you see these playing out?

Ikic: The Falcons aren’t a team that generates too many sacks — Dante Fowler has been a disappointing free agent signing, Takk McKinley has done nothing, and Harris has actually been one of the better pass rushers on the team. Grady Jarrett is the exception and has continued to play at a pro bowl level.

They are sixth in the NFL in total rush defense, giving up fewer than 100 yards per game so I would expect more of the same from them in this one — holding the run game at bay while having some trouble getting to Drew Lock when it’s not a blitz.

The offensive line, meanwhile, has been very good in pass protection but has been gashed in the run game, though part of that has to do with the predictability of Koetter’s play calling.

To summarize my long-winded answer, I’d expect both run games to be stifled a bit and both QBs to have clean pockets for the most part.

Extra Point

What’s your prediction for the game?

I think the Falcons squeak out a close one. I would expect to see the defense continue their inspired play from the past few weeks and for the offense to do enough, though I do expect some trouble in the red zone from that unit.

Poll

Who ya got?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Broncos by a metric poop ton.
    (119 votes)
  • 61%
    Broncos by a tiny bit.
    (344 votes)
  • 4%
    Falcons by a metric poop ton.
    (26 votes)
  • 12%
    Falcons by a tiny bit.
    (68 votes)
557 votes total Vote Now