Falcons vs. Texans: Silencing J.J. Watt and five key matchups


1. Devonta Freeman vs. Texans run defense — The Texans run defense is ranked 19th in the NFL, and Freeman is coming off the back of a 30-carry, 141-yard and three-touchdown performance against Dallas. Houston only allowed 57 rushing yards to Tampa Bay last week, but a much tougher test faces them this week with a much-improved Atlanta run game.

Freeman is on this week’s injury report with a toe injury and has been limited in practice, but offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has said he will be ready to go Sunday.

2. Ryan Schraeder vs. J.J. Watt — J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in football, but so far he’s yet to match last season’s incredible numbers. He’s been the focus of a number of double teams, and we can expect the Falcons to use a similar strategy against him. Schraeder has made a good start to the season, but he will see a lot of Watt on Sunday. He’s yet to allow a sack on Matt Ryan and has conceded just one quarterback hit and one hurry.

Sep 27, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

3. Defensive line vs. Texans run game — With or without star running back Arian Foster, the Texans will enter the Georgia Dome trying to establish their ground game. They will want to control the clock and keep the high-flying Falcons offense off the field. Not to mention, their quarterback play has been questionable to put it kindly.

Even if Foster is out, Alfred Blue needs to be taken care of. He ran for 139 yards and a touchdown a week ago. It’s important for Atlanta to shut up shop against the run early and force the game into Ryan Mallett‘s hands. Once they did this against Brandon Weeden a week ago, there was only one winner.

4. Pass rush vs. Texans offensive line — And that brings us perfectly onto this point. Put Mallett under pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, Mallett has completed just 26.9 percent of his throws when under pressure. Vic Beasley will play a huge role in closing the pocket and forcing the passer into bad throws.

5. Julio Jones vs. Johnathan Joseph — Julio Jones will likely see a lot of Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph in this game. Whether there is any corner capable of keeping Julio quiet is yet to be seen, but it’s important the receiver wins this battle more often than not, as Ryan is going to be under pressure from a tough front seven. Getting open early and often will be key.

Next: NFL Power Rankings: Week 4 standings

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