Oakland Raiders vs. Atlanta Falcons: 10 Keys to the Game for the Falcons
Matt Ryan Has to Stay Efficient and Effective
Matt Ryan has been a tremendous field general all season. The fifth-year quarterback is facing a defense that hasn't gotten any pressure all season. Oakland's is tied with the Jaguars for a league worst three sacks all season.
To make matters worse for their defense, Ryan has Gonzalez, Jones and White healthy heading into a matchup that will put pressure on strong safety-turned-No. 1 corner, Michael Huff. Expect this to be a non-issue as long as Ryan gets protection, which he should.
Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez Have ToKeep Catching Clutch Passes
Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White make up the best three-man combination of receivers in the NFL. All three men are on pace for seasons over 80 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. They also do something that great players have to do: make clutch third-down receptions.
The best way to beat the Raiders is to come out to a big lead and just continue pounding. If the receivers can extend drives—especially early—expect the Falcons to take the Raiders down pretty easily.
The Offensive Line Has to Continue to Block Well
The Falcons offensive line has been much improved in 2012. Outside of the Carolina game, it has allowed just four sacks, three knockdowns and 28 pressures in 173 drop-backs. The Carolina game was completely uncharacteristic of how well the pass-blocking has improved.
It shouldn't face much of a challenge though. Oakland has been terrible getting after the passer. They have just three sacks, 14 hits and 28 hurries in four games. According to the metrics that Pro Football Focus uses, that's just bad enough to be in last place for the entire NFL.
The Running Game Should Close It Out
Michael Turner has finally found his sea legs. And for how bad the Oakland pass defense is, its run defense is just as bad as it has allowed 128.5 yards per game through their first four games. This is great news for Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers.
The Falcons should be able to get out to a lead quickly. Then they should ride the running game the same way they did against the Chargers. The passing game will open up the lanes for the run, and this should be a great chance to work on the running game.
Run Defense Needs to Step Up Its Game
The biggest weakness of the Falcons right now is their run defense. Oakland has the potential for a very talented running game with its oversized offensive line and one of the best backs in football. However, Darren McFadden hasn't been able to get going this year.
As a team, the Raiders are last in the NFL in rushing yards per game at just 60.8. Atlanta's run defense so far this year is tied for 27th in the NFL, and this could be a good breather for them before it gets Corey Peters back from injury after the bye week.
Pass Rush Should Fluster Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer is having a bounce-back year this year for the Raiders. However, despite his passer rating currently being 86.0 and him having five touchdowns to his two interceptions, the best way to affect Palmer and force bad plays is to throw pressure on him.
The Falcons have been doing an amazing job with their pass rush this year. They are currently averaging one sack, hit or hurry every 2.5 snaps off the ball. This is an amazing feat considering they weren't able to get as much pressure last season. Against Oakland, expect the Falcons to put in a defense similar to what they confused Peyton Manning with.
Pass Defense Will Have to Continue Their Great Coverage
Speaking of the passing game, the Falcons pass coverage unit has been tremendous this season. They currently have nine interceptions—which is good for second best in the NFL—and 31 pass deflections. That means on 183 passing plays against the Falcons, they are getting their hands on an astonishing 22 percent of the passes.
But it's not just the deflections that have the Falcons defense looking pretty. They are allowing just 6.49 yards per attempt. That stat looks even better when you take out the one coverage breakdown to Santana Moss for 77 yards and the 203 yards per game is good for seventh-best in the NFL. They just have to continue covering the receivers well and making plays on the ball this week.
Special Teams Will Maintain Field Position
Matt Bosher has been booting his kickoffs an average of 5.7 yards deep into the end zone. This has led to 18 of his 32 kicks downed for a touchback and the returns that have been allowed have only been returned to the 23-yard line on average.
When it comes to punting, there is more of the same from Bosher. He has had 10 punts kicked within the 20-yard line or that have been touched back. The average starting position for Falcons opponents has been between their 20- and 30-yard line this season.
Dominique Franks Needs to Return the Ball Smarter
Dominique Franks has been a solid punt returner this season. However, for every explosive return, he has one that just looks terrible. Against the Raiders, he will have to make sure that he doesn't hurt the Falcons field position by letting punts get by him and downed within the Falcons own 20-yard line.
Once he does that, he should start worrying about getting better yardage on the returns he does take back. Franks has a natural ability to find holes when the ball is in his hand. His average punt return is just 7.3 yards, and that's a lot lower than what the Falcons are used to from Eric Weems.
The Coaching Has to Stay Aggressive
Over the first five weeks of the season, the coaching calls have been nothing but aggressive on both offense and defense. The conservative play calling of Brian Van Gorder and Mike Mularkey hasn't been missed and the Falcons finally look like they are using their natural talent to their advantage.
However, if the Falcons want to go 6-0 for the first time in franchise history, the coaching staff will have to continue these aggressive ways. The team is playing hungry right now and if they can keep it up, Oakland should be like a Bill Goldberg squash match from the old WCW.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.
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