Written by: Joe Carlino @joecarlino14
Sunday afternoon, the 1-3 Atlanta Falcons travel west for the first of two consecutive road games. Their first opponent? The 2-2 Houston Texans, who now welcome in another NFC South opponent after losing to the Carolina Panthers on their turf last week. Atlanta is looking to rebound quickly after dropping a second straight game to the Texans’ division rival, the Tennessee Titans, and now reside in last place in the NFC South. This game is a reunion of sorts, as Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson grew up in nearby Gainesville, Georgia and was a ball boy for the Falcons throughout high school.
Both teams need to come out of Week Five with a win, but neither squad needs it more than Atlanta. For them to get the victory that has eluded them since the Week Two SNF contest against Philadelphia, here are five areas I think they need to address:
Get going early. In the first quarter of the season, the Falcons have been outscored by their opponents by a whopping 38-10 margin. When adding in the first half, that margin increases to 71-20. This is one of the most dynamic offenses in the league, yet they sit at 17.5 PPG and continuously find ways to backtrack themselves, whether it be a critical holding penalty on a big play or Matt Ryan uncharacteristically throwing an interception in the red area. It doesn’t assist the team that their offensive line is battered on every level, or that the Texans boast an incredible duo of J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus to try and throw Ryan off his game in the pocket. For the Falcons to waltz into Houston and win, they need to put their foot on the gas pedal early and never let up, despite having a reputation of playing down to inferior competition.
Find pressure off the edge. Against the Titans last week, who surrendered 17 sacks coming into that game, the Falcons didn’t register a single hit against Marcus Mariota. That said, the Falcons apparently are really good at generating pass rush success, winning on 60% of their attempts (second only to the Buccaneers at 64%). This is the second straight week the Falcons play an inferior offensive line, and with the way Watson’s been thrown around with these guys, it doesn’t look like an end is in sight. However, if Atlanta can’t do it on Tennessee, how will they fare against Houston?
Keep wide receivers in front. The Falcons predominantly utilize a soft Cover 3 defensive look to prevent the big plays from happening on them. That said, against the Titans, their defense struggled in man coverage, being beaten by rookie receiver AJ Brown twice on short throws (though the first could’ve been stopped if better angles were taken) and Corey Davis, who shrugged off Isaiah Oliver to score. With guys like DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills, and Will Fuller, this could prove difficult, especially with Nuk being held in check since the opener. We’ll just have to wait and see what sort of look the Texans bring to the table.
Finish strong in both halves. As previously mentioned, Atlanta has struggled to score in the first half of contests. However, their real weakness defensively in recent years has been during the two-minute drill, more precisely in preventing opponents from scoring. Against Indianapolis two weeks ago, there was a critical 26-yard run surrendered to Marlon Mack late (though Quentin Nelson was huge on the blocking there) and, on a fourth-down play in Atlanta territory, the defense bit on a play fake, and Zach Pascal was left wide open for the clinching reception. Because Watson can beat teams not just with his arm but his legs, it provides more of an opportunity for Houston to get into position to score. Atlanta needs to tighten up in this retrospect if they want to give their offense a chance to shine.
Forget two years ago. This game is being contested in NRG Stadium. Why is this significant, you may ask? Well, unless you’ve forgotten or have been living under a rock, this location is where it all went south for the team against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I get it, it’s tough to lose a game like that in the way they did, and as a supporter of the organization, I know that this question has been brought up in the media to DQ (it’s even been made into a meme, apparently). But Quinn had a great answer about this contest, and the team echoed his sentiment: “We’re focused on beating Houston”. If the team can forget that for three hours, maybe this game will be the turning point for their 2019 season.