The Atlanta Falcons are 5-0, and they are looking to extend their excellent start to the season to 6-0. But the one roadblock standing in their way is the 1-3 Oakland Raiders.
The first thing that the Falcons need to do to defeat the Raiders is stop Darren McFadden. Everything hinges on the Falcons stopping the run. Unfortunately, to this point the Falcons are 27th in the league against the run, giving up just over 140 yards per game against the run. They will have to be a lot better against the run than they have been for the first five weeks. Atlanta has the talent to do so, they just need to execute against the run better.
One reason for the Falcons struggles is that in the last two weeks they have faced two terrific running quarterbacks, two teams who use the option to run the ball, and a great zone run attack. Atlanta gave up a lot of yardage to both teams, but played well on third down (at least against Washington) to limit whatever yardage their opponents had gained.
Even if the Falcons do give up some significant yardage, they can’t allow Oakland to enter the end-zone on the ground. They can afford to allow some yardage in the middle of the field, but they absolutely must get Oakland into as many 3rd & long situations as possible. If those situations are on the Atlanta side of the field, that’s a whole lot better than giving up big touchdown plays.
The reason it’s better? Oakland is only converting 28% of its third down opportunities. Good teams convert 40% or higher. Oakland isn’t even close. They have only converted 14 times all season long. That’s not good. Carson Palmer has been ok, but he’s not close to elite, and he hasn’t really been getting the job done. Obviously, the Raiders are 1-3. It has to do with inconsistent run game, and the passing game not developing very well. I don’t have many doubt about the Falcons defending the pass pretty well just as long as they stop the run. Oakland isn’t very good throwing the ball if they can’t play action off of it. The Falcons defensive line is solid, but can get after the quarterback through scheme and also individual players. Oakland’s offensive line is pretty darn bad on top of it.
Now to the other side of the ball. The Falcons are the 7th rated passing attack, and while they are 21st in the league in running the ball, they are also averaging nearly 100 yard per game on the ground. Oakland is 28th against the pass and 24th against the run defensively. They aren’t a very good unit. Their pass rush isn’t very good either. Through four games they only have three sacks. You’d think that they would have happened upon a couple more sacks. But whatever might happen, it’s not a good situation defensively for the Raiders.
Oakland doesn’t have many, if any defensive play-makers. In the secondary, a unit that the Falcons receivers stretch even its best opponents to its limits, the Raiders have been so decimated and struggling at cornerback that safety Michael Huff has been pressed into service at that position. To say that the Oakland secondary isn’t very good would be an understatement.
Up front the Raiders have defensive tackle Richard Seymour, a great veteran presence, and defensive end Matt Shaughnessy who is leading the Raiders with 1.5 sacks. But to say that Shaughnessy is an outstanding talent would be inaccurate.
As stated before, the Raiders have only gotten 3 sacks so far on the season. That’s not a whole lot of pressure on opponents. The best way to beat the Falcons, at least historically, is to pressure Matt Ryan. As the Falcons proved against the Carolina Panthers, Ryan can win ball games and move the team up and down the field even when getting hit. Imagine what he can do when he isn’t being hit very much or hardly at all? Given the Raiders struggles up front and in the secondary, the Falcons offense has the potential to do the same thing to the Raiders that they did to the Kansas City Chiefs. And that’s blow them out.
Things rarely go as planned in the NFL. If it’s predicted to be a blowout, its typically a tight ballgame or even an upset. And since the Falcons have a bye in week 7, this is a classic example of a trap game. A game against a struggling opponent, players looking ahead to a vacation the next week, it’s got all the designs and trimmings. The Falcons need to take this game completely and totally seriously, and not underestimate the Oakland Raiders. This is certainly a team that they can beat. They are also playing them at home. It’s a game they should win, and are expected to win. But the Falcons need to continue working very, very hard all week long in preparations. On any given Sunday, any team can win. The Falcons need not let the Raiders have an opportunity to win.