Within each football game, there are several battles within the game that a team must win to be successful. The Atlanta Falcons have a couple matchups that they must absolutely win if they are to have a shot at winning the game. Here are some of the matchups:
Falcons Offensive Line vs. Broncos pass rush: By far, bar none, this is my #1 most important matchup for the Falcons to win. The offensive line looked really good against the Chiefs in Week 1; a Chiefs team that was missing some key players, and played poorly in week 2 as well. If the o-line can provide a push for runs between the tackles, something they will be able to do with success against Denver, they will have an easier time protecting Matt Ryan when he drops back to pass. In particular, Tyson Clabo needs to play well, and Sam Baker needs to continue his outstanding effort from last week. If they can keep Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller off of Ryan for the most part and afford him time to deliver uncontested passes from the pocket, Ryan can pick apart just about any defense.
Falcons Receivers vs. CBs Champ Bailey & Tracy Porter: Aside from what Denver does up front, the Broncos have two very good corners in the secondary. Champ Bailey is 34, but he has 50 career interceptions, and his career resume as a top corner stand for itself. He is extremely smart. Porter isn’t nearly as good as Bailey, and he can be beaten at times, but he is opportunistic and can come up with the big play if Ryan were to make a poor throw. The good thing is both Roddy White and Julio Jones have the size, strength, athleticism, and chemistry with Ryan to make things happen, but they will have to use all of their tools to be consistently productive against these corners. Healthy doses of Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez might be what it takes to open up passes to the two outside receivers. If so, the Falcons are certainly capable of winning matchups down the field.
Atlanta CB Chris Owens vs. Whichever Bronco receiver he covers: Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson will cover the receivers lined up on the outside. I don’t know that they will perform like ‘shutdown’ corners, but they will be solid at their spots. The real wildcard is Chris Owens, who the Falcons will line up against the Broncos slot receiver. The last time we saw Owens line up against the slot, he got roasted by Green Bay. Owens is extremely fast, and very athletic, but struggles at times in coverage. It doesn’t help that he will be facing Peyton Manning, one of the most talented and smart quarterbacks of all time. The Broncos will pick on Owens a good bit, and Owens will surrender some catches. The key will be if Owens can surprise Manning by breaking up a couple third-down passes, or even picking off a pass. If either of those things happens, he will have had a productive game. If not, the Falcons will get torched.
Falcons defensive front vs. Broncos o-line: Perhaps the matchup that is most important for the Falcons to win defensively, is also the one that I think is least likely for Atlanta to win. The Broncos not only have a good line that is capable of protecting their quarterback, but they also have Peyton Manning who is smart and very good at moving in the pocket. The Falcons weren’t able to generate much pressure on Matt Cassel of the Chiefs last week until the second half, when they got a strip-sack and two interceptions. Manning will probably not be bullied into that many turnovers, but if John Abraham, Ray Edwards, and Sean Weatherspoon can hit Manning and hit him, hurry him, throw their hands up and deflect his passes, things may loosen up a little. I’m not counting on this, but it is certainly a matchup to keep an eye on.