The Atlanta Falcons offense has been able to move the ball very well in 2012. They’ve looked very sharp against some very good defenses, and one not so great defense. The Falcons will face a defense in the Redskins that had the potential to be a top-5 defense coming into 2012, but so far has done little to slow down opponents.
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Washington Redskins rank 29th in the NFL in total defense, surrendering over 1600 total yards. That includes an absolutely shocking 326.3 yards per game through the air. Teams aren’t having a very difficult time throwing the ball on the Washington defense. While they have only surrendered 89 yards per game on the ground, you would see that their personnel has more or less ensured they can play the run well, but not be so great against the pass.
Washington runs a 3-4 defense. That means that they have three behemoth defensive linemen up front who eat up as many blocks as possible, and then allow their linebacking unit to make tackles in the run game, as well as rushing the passer. The majority of the pass-rush is generated from outside linebackers benefiting from good matchups.
The defensive line for Washington is the same. They have one of the greatest inside linebackers of all time in London Fletcher, who makes every tackle under the sun and really stops the run very well. As a matter of fact, all of their linebackers are strong in that department. But it is from a pass rush perspective that things are lacking. And that whole plan of eating up blocks up front isn’t going quite as planned coming into the season.
The Redskins defense has lost two very important players to injury, two players who are really cornerstone defenders. The first is defensive end Adam Carriker, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn quadriceps tendon. Other players from the depth chart are required to step up to take his spot, but it’s really difficult to replace a player who is as important to what you are trying to do up front as Carriker is to what the Redskins are trying to do.
The second and most crucial injury, however, is the one to OLB Brian Orakpo. Orakpo suffered a torn pectoral muscle and will miss the rest of the season dealing with the injury. Orakpo isn’t the entire Washington pass-rush, but he is an important cog who registered 9 sacks on the season. Defenses must split their attention when protecting the passer between Orakpo and the other OLB Ryan Kerrigan.
Kerrigan had 7.5 sacks last season, but that was with Orakpo lined up opposite him. When that happened, the pair was certainly when getting after the quarterback. Even when they didn’t get sacks, they knocked the QB around a good bit.
The key here is that Orakpo, their undisputed best pass-rusher, is out for the season, but most importantly out for this matchup. The Falcons will still have to account for Rob Jackson, the OLB filling in for Orakpo, but he certainly won’t present the same challenge. And that gives the Falcons offensive line a huge boost. They don’t have to account for nearly the quality of players that Washington presented pre-injury streak. Atlanta will be able to put more receivers out to run routes, block the same number of defenders with fewer linemen and/or backs in for pass protection, or both. The Atlanta front will be more effective, and give Matt Ryan much more time to operate in the pocket. And we all know Ryan can pick apart defenses when he has a bundle of time to work in the pocket.
The final component is Washington’s secondary. It is suspect to say the least. Their best corner is DeAngelo Hall, the former Falcon, and we all know that he is prone to lapses in coverage. He’s a great athlete and has remarkable speed, but he is inconsistent. None of the other corners are much to write home about either, and it doesn’t say too much when your best corner is Hall. The safety position is much downgraded than it was last season when LaRon Landry was patrolling deep. Madieu Williams and DeJon Gomes aren’t particularly strong in coverage, and the Falcons should be able to take advantage of it.
Atlanta should be able to move the ball very well. I’m not sure how well they will run the ball, because even missing some players the Redskins are very stout against the run. The Falcons haven’t run blocked particularly well this season, so this might not be the best matchup in the world. We might all be surprised and continue our great run success. Whatever happens though, I don’t think there’s any doubt the Falcons will run the ball just enough and just effectively enough to set up the play action and keep some of the pass rush off of Matt Ryan.
With some of the rush off of Ryan due to effective running or poor pass rush, I don’t see a way that Atlanta’s receiving corps don’t have a big day. Between Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez, the Redskins can defend one or two, but certainly not all three. As we saw against the Panthers, a team may completely take away one receiver (as the Panthers did to Julio Jones), but another receiver will step up big time (like Roddy White who had 169 yards and 2 TDs). And since the receivers are going to be running wild, I expect Ryan to have yet another big day against a struggling Washington Redskins pass defense.