Can Roddy White shake off the injury bug and return to his old form?
Is this season over yet? That’s the sentiment for Falcon fans, as the team heads into the final month of football. It feels odd that the team isn’t in the playoff picture, after five straight seasons of having a winning record. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but there are still games left to be played and players that are playing for their jobs. There aren’t many players on the roster that can say their job is safe at the moment.
You can expect to see a revamp next season, especially on both lines. This is the time of year, where young players are going to look to make an impression and veterans can’t show they’ve declined otherwise they’ll be looking for a new home next season. Now they play the Buffalo Bills in a winnable game. Am I allowed to call it a winnable game?
Buffalo has actually been a decent team this year, under the difficult circumstances of not having a stable quarterback situation. They are a nightmare matchup for the Falcons, because they like to run the ball and know how to create pressure on a consistent basis. With how poor both lines have played all season long, I’m not sure how Atlanta can actually win this game. Here is the full breakdown of what they have to do to stop the losing streak.
Stopping the run is a group effort
When people talk about stopping the run, they immediately point out how the defensive tackles have to be productive in order to stop the run. That is a good point, but it takes the entire front seven to stop the run. You don’t see running backs like LeSean McCoy or Reggie Bush run the ball up the gut too many times. They go to the outside and force the ends to make plays.
The point I’m trying to make is that Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux are an excellent duo at defensive tackle. Both of them have played at a high level for most of the season, despite Atlanta being one of the worst teams at stopping the run. The issues with the Falcons’ front seven involve the ends and linebackers. They just got Sean Weatherspoon back a few weeks ago and he’s looked rusty so far. They have undrafted rookie free agents playing almost every snap.
When Osi Umenyiora is forced to play heavy snaps, teams will run the ball his way because he’s always been a terrible run defender. He gets manhandled at the point of attack or will use his speed to go outside, which immediately leaves an opening for a running back to attack as long as the fullback picks up the linebacker. Malliciah Goodman has shown flashes of being an excellent run defender this season and will be coming back this week, after a calf injury sidelined him for a few weeks. I’d expect him to have a lot of snaps this week.
With Fred Jackson and C.J Spiller, you know the runs will be directed more to the outside. It will be up to the ends to contain and not over peruse like Umenyiora does on a consistent basis. Some people criticized John Abraham for being below average at run support, but at least he didn’t over peruse like Umenyiora does and allow big holes. It takes all seven or even eight players to stop the run. We could see William Moore play in the box more, because Buffalo is going to look to run the ball for most of the game. It will be up to the run defense to force third and longs to put pressure on EJ Manuel to make throws downfield.
How to stop Buffalo’s pass rush?
Other than using delayed handoffs, I’m not sure how Atlanta can contain Buffalo’s defensive line. The screens that they run on a weekly basis are becoming predictable. After being nearly hired last off-season for a few head coaching gigs, Dirk Koetter is someone I’d like to see fired after the season is over. His play calling has been horrendous this season, particularly in the red zone. They draft a six foot eight tight end in Levine Toilolo and haven’t used him in the red zone in recent weeks. That makes absolutely no sense, when you have someone that can clearly be a matchup problem for defenses.
As for the offensive line, the right side has been the main issue all season long. Lamar Holmes is still a work in progress, but he’s shown flashes in recent weeks of being an above average tackle. Justin Blalock remains solid as usual, while Joe Hawley has been a nice upgrade over Peter Konz in the past two weeks. The right side is where most of the pressure comes from, as Garrett Reynolds and Jeremy Trueblood were embarrassed against New Orleans. Konz replaced Reynolds at one point, while Trueblood continues to show why he was unemployed until late August.
I’d like to see them start rookie Ryan Schraeder at right tackle. At six foot seven, he is an intriguing prospect. Even though he’ll be thrown into the wolves going up against Mario Williams on a few occasions, Atlanta has nothing to lose. Trueblood won’t be back with the team next year, so there isn’t any point in even playing him. As for the right guard spot, it has been a complete disaster ever since Harvey Dahl left in 2011. Whether it’s Konz or Reynolds, neither of them has proven anything besides being a complete liability. They will have their hands full with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.
Obviously Matt Ryan will look to get the ball out in a hurry, but you can expect him to take plenty of punishment. I’m still amazed that Ryan hasn’t been hurt this season. Despite his slim frame, he knows how to take punishment and has shown great poise this season under the brutal circumstances. Hopefully Holmes continues to improve, while Schrader can start and play all game long to get some experience.
Sean Weatherspoon- The captain of Atlanta’s defense has looked rusty in coming back from a long layoff. He’ll have the responsibility in making sure Manuel doesn’t run wild, along with contributing into making sure Spiller and Jackson don’t get into the secondary. Weatherspoon is one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the league and will remind people why on Sunday.
Stevie Johnson- I’ve always felt that he was one of the more overlooked receivers in the league. Johnson is so talented, but has struggled with injuries and drops this season. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to make plays, especially if Atlanta puts eight players in the box to stop the run. Johnson knows how to get open and has good speed, even though his longest catch this year has been only been 45 yards. With Atlanta’s secondary allowing big plays on a weekly basis, this might be his week to break out.
Atlanta has some momentum coming off a hard fought loss against New Orleans. The defense made some huge third down stops, while Matt Ryan played an efficient game. If he doesn’t turn the ball over and the defense doesn’t get completely gashed by Buffalo’s running attack, they have a chance to win.
Still this is going to be a tall order and Buffalo is well rested off the bye. Buffalo’s pass rush will be too much to handle, while Jackson or Spiller will eventually break out a long run. As long as Manuel doesn’t get reckless, they should be able to win here. I’m going with Buffalo to win 23-16 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
You can follow me on twitter at @Allen_Strk