After watching Peyton Manning prove he hasn't lost a step (or arm strength) against the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, I won't bet against the Denver Broncos quarterback putting up big numbers against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.
But I will doubt that will be enough to beat the Falcons.
The Broncos ran the ball more than they passed against the Steelers (27 rushes to 26 passes), but they were hardly effective in that regard. The team rushed for just 94 yards and, more importantly, had 10 fewer minutes of possession than the Steelers.
Plus, they put up 31 points against a Steelers defense that was without Ryan Clark and James Harrison. I think putting up 31 points against these Steelers was slightly less impressive than it seems.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Who cares? They won the freaking game. All those long drives by the Steelers didn't really matter since Manning and the Broncos moved the ball down the field with ease.
That's true. But that type of success isn't sustainable for the Broncos; especially not against the Falcons.
For one, Atlanta has more weapons on offense and are very good at home (20-5 in the Georgia Dome over the past three years). If the Falcons are given 35 minutes of possession, they'll score more than 17 points.
And while the Falcons proved in Week 1 that they can attack teams through the air, they'll look to reestablish the running game against the Broncos.
Not only does it make sense to keep themselves out of long third-down situations with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil rushing the quarterback, head coach Mike Smith basically said the team will re-focus on the running game moving forward (via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution):
We’ve got to run it more effectively and more efficiently than we did [Sunday]. We have to sustain our blocks. We missed some blocks. We missed some cuts. I think it was a group effort. That is something that we want to make sure we address in the next couple of days because we want to be able to run the ball effectively. Going into the game plan this week, it wasn’t the main thing that we wanted to get accomplished.”
If Denver can't run the ball effectively and mix in some ball control along with the no-huddle attack, the Falcons will wear out the Denver defense. And if the team becomes too heavy in the passing game, they leave Manning vulnerable to take a number of big shots.
And if anything happens to Manning, well, the Broncos are in trouble. Big trouble.
Any way you slice this, I think the Falcons come out on top. They have the weapons to win a shootout. They have the ability to play a ball-control game and keep the ball out of Manning's hands. They certainly have a better offensive line than the Steelers' units that allowed five sacks a week ago.
Manning will probably have another big game. Fantasy owners should start him. But ultimately, it won't matter in a Week 2 loss for the Broncos.
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