Broncos vs. Falcons: Keys to the Game for Atlanta
Much has changed for both teams since their last head-to-head game in 2008 when Jay Cutler led the Broncos to a 24-20 road win.
Here are five keys to the game for the Falcons.
Keep Peyton off the Field
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Peyton Manning is known to lead an offense that opponents simply can't stop, no matter the defense.
That's why Matt Ryan has an extra responsibility this week: Keep Manning off the field.
It's a plan that almost worked for the Steelers in Week 1 and one the Falcons should focus on, too.
The biggest factor will be establishing a dominant running game. The Falcons will have to be rolling on all cylinders for that to happen, as good ball protection, successful running from Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, and consistent success on third downs are required.
But if they successfully achieve the above, the pressure will be on Manning, not Ryan, to score on every possession.
Stop Demaryius Thomas
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The Falcons won't be able to keep Manning off the field forever; he's going to get on eventually.
And that's when stopping Demaryius Thomas comes into play.
The Broncos' electric third-year receiver caught just 32 passes last season, but recorded a whopping 17.2 yards-per-catch average.
It was much of the same for him in Week 1 of this season, when he caught five passes for 110 yards and 22 yards a catch.
Manning has a strong relationship with his tight ends, but it's Thomas who has the most big-play ability for Denver's offense; take him out of the game, and defending Manning becomes a much more feasible task.
That won't be easy with top Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes lost for the season, but the Falcons can count on Asante Samuel to get the job done.
The Screen Pass
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Elvis Dumervil, Von Miller, Derek Wolfe.
All dominant pass-rushers. All starters on the Denver defense.
The three combined for three of the Broncos' five sacks and countless other quarterback hits and pressures on Ben Roethlisberger last week. They can't wait to do the same to Matt Ryan.
That puts the pressure squarely on Atlanta's offensive line, which had the fortune of facing a rather tame pass-rush against the Chiefs.
"Chaotic" better describes the one it'll will be facing Monday night, which should put the screen pass front and center in Atlanta's arsenal.
Successful screen passes on the outside to Julio Jones and out of the backfield to Jacquizz Rodgers and Michael Turner will force Denver's aggressive pass-rush to think twice before shooting upfield.
The result will be a few more seconds for Ryan in the pocket. He'll need every single one.
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The Falcons scored on eight possessions against the Chiefs, but only four of them went for touchdowns.
They'll have to do better than that against the Broncos.
Peyton Manning will be looking to set the tone early with his no-huddle offense, which could quickly turn this game into a shootout.
If the Falcons will want to keep up, it's imperative they keep Matt Bryant, for all his kicking prowess, off the field. He may be virtually automatic (4-for-4 last week, 27-for-29 in 2011), but drives ending with three points won't be of much help if Denver's end with six.
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Historically, the Falcons haven't fared particularly well on Monday night. Atlanta has lost 24 of its 33 Monday night games, the most recent of which was a 45-16 thrashing by New Orleans Saints (but that last game took place in the Superdome).
This one's in the Georgia Dome, where Matt Ryan happens to be 26-4.
You can bet a favorable crowd plays a big part in that success, and something that will come into play this Monday night as well.
A low noise level when Ryan's on the field will allow him to operate his offense flawlessly. A deafening atmosphere when Peyton Manning is on the field is sure to make communication and composure an issue for him and his own offense.
For Falcons fans, that just means only one thing is expected of them: Rise up.