Friday, December 4, 2009

Strategy and Matchups - ATL


This really is a huge game for both teams. ATL desperately needs to win to stay above water in the Wildcard race. We need it to tighten our grip in the WC race and to stay right on the heels of Dallas in the hunt for the NFC East title (or Red October, whichever comes first).

The initial response is to relax because Matt Ryan is out and Michael Turner is either out or playing really banged up. The Falcons have 4 blue chip players. That's 2 of them. Roddy White and John Abraham are the blue chippers, but they don't deliver the same kind of impact as Ryan and Turner. Starting WR Michael Jenkins and RG Harvey Dahl are also expected to miss the game. This is a huge advantage for us.

That said, you should always be nervous playing a desperate team. If Atlanta loses this game they will have a brutally hard time of making the playoffs. They would be 6-6 and have a poor conference record of 5-5. Us and GB would clearly be ahead of them. The Giants beat them head to head and would be in front of the Falcons. A win against us would change things dramatically. That gets them to 7-5 and gives them the tie-breaker with us. The Falcons would then be on a 2-game winning streak and they've got another couple of home games left (they've much better at home).

Missing key players can go 1 of 2 ways. The players on the team have a sense of doom and play accordingly. The players on the team pick up their level of play to make up for the missing guys. ATL seems pretty high character so I don't expect them to fold just because Matt Ryan is sitting out.

Chris Redman is an unknown commodity. He's started some, but you hate to base a gameplan on something a guy did back in 2007. He played for a different coach and in a different system. You'd like to know what he'll do in the current set-up. We can study last week's tape, but that was Redman coming off the bench to execute a gameplan designed for Ryan.

The key to ATL is their running game. They are 10th in the NFL in attempts. They run the ball a lot. They're patient. They'll stick with the run even when it isn't fully clicking (interesting idea, huh?). We must play good run defense.

Last year we beat the Falcons in Philly, 27-14. We played very good run defense. They ran 24 times for just 77 yards. Bunk and Patt did a very good job of controlling the middle of of the line. We played good on the edges. Chris Gocong had his best game of the year vs ATL. We need to duplicate that effort on Sunday.

Bunk and Patt can still win the middle. Bunk played really well last year. I expect him to win this matchup again. Patt will deal with a backup RG. That should give him an advantage. The OLBs need to play well. Gocong hasn't played a top flight game so far this year. He's due. Spoon should be fine on the other side. MLB is more of a question mark. Disco Stew had 4 tackles and played okay last year, but didn't have a standout game. We'll have Trot at MLB most of the time. Joe Mays will get some snaps as well.

I'm sure ATL will try to burn Trot with some play-action passes. They'd also love to get him matched up on Jerious Norwood in space. That would be big trouble for us. Young Trot wasn't a good matchup for Norwood. I'm sure Sean McDermott will have a plan for trying to cover Trot's lack of speed. Let's hope it's a good plan.

The Falcons have a pair of passing targets we'll have to deal with. I know Eagles fans are worried about Tony Gonzalez. He actually doesn't concern me that much. Tony is still an outstanding player, but I don't see him dominating the game. The guy I'm nervous about is Roddy White. He's the player that hurt us last year and has the ability to make a catch turn into a big play. Tony will move the chains. We can live with that. We need to focus on him in the Red Zone. Roddy is the guy who we need to gameplan for. He'll blow by Sheldon if his hammie is still a problem. Roddy can also get Samuel to bite on a move and get behind him. The Safeties must know where Roddy is at all times. I do think Spoon will do an okay job on Gonzalez. We're not gonna shut him down. Just slowing him down should be good enough.

The Falcons OL is built to run block, not pass protect. We must get pressure on Redman. I expect Trent Cole to get pressure, but we need someone else to step up. I don't really care who it is. Clemons might be the guy to use more in this game. ATL plays in a dome on a good surface. Clemons should be able to fly off the edge and get around Tyson Clabo. I also like Victor Abiamiri in the Nickel against the backup RG.

I feel good about our offense in this game. The Falcons have struggled when facing effective passing attacks.

34 points to NYG
35 points to NO
37 points to DAL
26 points to NE

They've fared much better vs primarily running teams. SF scored just 10. MIA only put up 7 points. Tampa had 17 offensive points last week, but one score was set up by a blocked punt that gave them the ball at the 8-yard line.

Coach Mike Smith loves for his DL to rush the QB so he can play zone and limit big plays. That hasn't worked at all this year. The DL isn't getting ideal pressure. The back seven isn't doing a good job in coverage. The middle of the field has been wide open in multiple games.

The Falcons don't have a speedy trio of LBs. They don't have great Safeties. The players they do have are aggressive and will get out of position at times. ATL is ranked 27th in total defense. Big plays are a major part of the problem. The Falcons have given up more plays of 20 or more yards than any other team. I'm sure Andy and Marty have made note of this fact.

The interesting thing is that we ran the ball really well against them last year (32-192). Westy had a big day. Will we remember that and try to get Shady/Weaveer loose?

I expect the gameplan to be throwing to get the lead and then running. We have run the ball in the 1st half the last couple of weeks so we won't ignore it, but you know that Marty / Andy will be aggressive with the offense.

DeSean will miss the game. That means extra PT for Reggie Brown and Jason Avant. I know some people will want Avant to get as much extra time as possible. That's a complicated situation. Jason is a very good slot receiver. That is very different from playing on the outside. You need more than quickness out wide. Speed is very important out there. I do hope we get to see Jason play outside. I want to see how good he looks. Maybe he'll surprise us and handle it with no problem. This is a big game for Jason. He's coming to the end of his rookie contract. I'm sure he knows that a good game could really help his cause to be paid like a starting receiver. If he struggles, then he's clearly "just" a slot guy. That doesn't mean that Jason isn't a key player for us. We've seen the last few weeks just how valuable he is.

I think Jason would be an interesting matchup vs CB Christopher Owens. He'll be making his first start at CB. Jason's ability to run good routes could be a problem for Owens. If Jason sells a fake well enough, maybe he could deliver a long TD in place of DeSean. Reggie Brown will also get some of DeSean's reps. Reggie is faster than Jason and has been a successful outside receiver. Reggie has got to be jonesing to catch some passes. He also is a good route runner and could give Owens problems.

Brent Celek had a bad game last week, hopefully due to the hand injury. He'll be playing Sunday so I'm assuming he caught the ball well in practice. Brent did block well last week. We could use another game like that to help the running game. Last year we manhandled the ATL front seven. Runyan had his best game of the year. Winston Justice isn't as big or physical, but has developed into a good run blocker. Jason and Todd have a chance to really control the left side. I think we can run the ball on these guys.

The Falcons DL is small, but they are quick and fast. We need to control DT Jonathan Babineaux. Todd and JJ should do okay with him, but Nick will occasionally struggle with quick DTs. I would think ATL will move John Abraham around to try and get him singled up with our OTs. He's the kind of player that can make the one big play on defense that turns a game around. He's got 87.5 career sacks and 31 FFs. He's a master of the strip-sack.

I'm sure we'll use bunch formations, chip blocks, and TEs to help control the edges. It would also be wise to run at the Falcons and get them on their heels. We have a big size advantage. Might not be a bad idea to actually use that. I could see Leonard Weaver busting a good run. If we can get them cleanly blocked and he can hit a seam...that will go for a good distance. We better run the ball in the Red Zone. This is the kind of game where the big OL needs to win the LOS so the runners can score TDs.

Last year Donovan started 5 of 14 vs ATL and the offense got off to a real slow start. He finished 14 of 20 and ran 6 times. That's when the offense came alive. Donnie hasn't had the same kind of real slow starts this year. I'd love to see us attack them early and get a lead. That would put the game on Chris Redman and should play into our hands. You know what this might be a good time for? Flea-flicker. Have Shady toss the ball back to Donnie on a run fake and he can hit Reggie Brown for a long score. We're way behind in our flea-flicker quota this season.

I do feel pretty good about this game. I think the matchups favor us. The injury situation hurts them more. We've won consecutive close games. We're due to play a complete game. I know the Georgia Dome can be a tough place to play. That's only a factor as long as the game stays close. If we get a good lead that advantage goes out the window. As for the return of Mike Vick...yawn. Who cares?


There were some good comments on defense and the LB situation. I'll get into that stuff on Saturday.


Cliff said...

Continuation from last thread...

Right of the bat, a good example of Bill Simmons vs. Tommy Lawlor. I like Tommy's writing because he threw in the Red October reference. Love the movie, especially at 1:30AM when I've maxed out on Diet Pepsi and Viverin. Tommy ended it there.

Simmons, however, would've continued with another page of "The Red October Principle Theory" on how teams chase other teams for a Playoff spot. Andy Reid would've been compared to Sean Connery and McNabb would be James Earl Jones. It would be funny, until 5 years from now, Simmons was still referencing the "Red October Principle Theory" for every playoff chase.

OK! Last Simmons mention.

Baloophi said...

I was just thinking about the old flea-flicker last night and how the protection works - obviously you need both a regular pocket as well as a secondary pocket so the RB doesn't get hit flipping the ball back. How does it work? There are usually two receivers running routes, right?

Cliff said...

Yeah. I was just thinking we haven't ran a flea flicker in a while, too.

Just like I was starting to wonder why we hadn't tried a surprise onside kick in a while either...

Anyway, the offense better execute the flea flicker well or else we'll be hearing about how dumb Reid is for the call all day Sunday.

Stephen said...

If we can have success running the ball on the Falcons I'd love to see us start out doing that, then work the middle routes because I've seen the Falcons blow so many coverages in the middle area of the defense this year whenever I've watched them its ridiculous. The Giants were absolutely carving them up in the 15-25 yard route range, recievers without anyone within 15 yards of them.

Lets let our big guys pound on their little guys for a while and wear them out.

Joe said...

DONOVAN, if the scramble is there take it!!!
Why won't he listen.

Myron said...

Joe: Week 1 @ Carolina. Donnie is once bitten, twice shy now.

Edward said...

Akers ruined his chance at a new Franchise record!

Edward said...

I'm struggling without a gameday thread. Nowhere to vent!

I'm pretty sure the Falcons fans cheered when Vick scored..

Cliff said...

I forget who, but last weekend somebody mentioned that we weren't a legitimate playoff team because we couldn't beat the Redskins like the Saints would...

The Football Gods are now refuting that argument. For at least one half, the Skins are giving it to the Saints and we are dominating a Falcons team that the Saints only beat by a TD (35-27).

T_S_O_P said...

I'm crossing my fingers for an early Christmas present for you Tommy.


Cliff said...

Shhhhhh! You just jinxed it.

Cliff said...


Edward said...

That must have been the most frustrating shutout denial in the history of the game! Had our DB not touched it that was incomplete!

Oh well, 34-7!

Edward said...

Oh man the Redskins have had some tough breaks these last 3 weeks!

Cliff said...

Pittsburgh loses to Oakland.

New England loses to Miami.

The Saints escape death in DC.

I like our blow out win. Haha.

Edward said...

I wonder where Tommy has run off to this week?

Stephen said...

This win felt almost too easy. The Redskins FG kicker should be looking for a new job, first he botches the Dallas game and now this? a 23 yarder to clinch the game should have been routine.

Cliff said...

Whoa. Artis Hicks sighting during the Minny-Arizona game. I forgot he played for the Vikes.