The Atlanta Falcons need some huge week 4 performances from X-factors—guys who aren't huge names, like Matt Ryan or Julio Jones. Jason Snelling, Joplo Bartu and Corey Peters will be the X-factors for a potential Atlanta victory this week.
While everyone focuses on the big named guys, key games from Snelling, Bartu and Peters will make the difference for Atlanta against one of the best teams in the NFL. And it's no coincidence that Snelling and Bartu are injury replacements for two of Atlanta's best players, either.
Sean Weatherspoon is out until late in the season and is being replaced by Bartu. Snelling is replacing the power game that Steven Jackson provides when he isn't battling a nagging hamstring injury. But how exactly will these three guys give Atlanta a huge week?
RB Jason Snelling
With Steven Jackson out for the foreseeable future, the seventh year running back will have to make his impact felt again this week. When Jason Snelling touches the ball, good things happen. And Snelling probably should have started at running back last year, too.
To prove that good things happen when Snelling touches the ball, he had 11 runs for 53 yards and four catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. That means on the 15 times he touched the ball all game, he gained 101 yards for an average of 6.73 yards per touch.
That's a great number for someone who is the Falcons' third option at running back behind Jackson and the diminutive Jacquizz Rodgers. Snelling will get another shot this week to provide a power complement to Rodgers and should thrive in that role again.
He'll have to carry the short yardage for the Falcons, and hopefully this week he can get that yard on a 3rd-and-1 that the team was unable to get the first three games of the season.
LB Joplo Bartu
While Sean Weatherspoon is out, it's on Joplo Bartu to be the main linebacker featured in the Falcons defense. Bartu has already earned the starting role at strong-side linebacker over the aging Stephen Nicholas with his athletic play in coverage and instinctual talents in coverage.
Currently, Bartu is the only linebacker that is rated positively by Pro Football Focus with a cumulative plus-2.2 grade. In fact, the only grade that's negative for Bartu is his pass rushing grade at -0.2, but he has a 0.5 sack and a hurry to balance that out.
The real benefit that Bartu brings is his ability to cover tight ends. Against the Rams and Dolphins, he only had two real lapses in coverage where a tight end beat him. The first was a 17-yard reception allowed to Lance Kendricks against St. Louis and a 21-yard deep pass to Charles Clay against Miami.
For someone who's seen 84 coverage snaps as an undrafted rookie, Bartu has proven to be the Falcons best coverage linebacker this season. And he's only going to get better. He has a real challenge this week if Rob Gronkowski comes back from injury.
But Bartu has all the tools to stop the Gronk. For a man who goes by @whoisjoplo on twitter, he may end up having a national following with a great week covering arguably the best tight end in the league.
DT Corey Peters
Corey Peters already has one sack this season. However, he could be in line for a big day as a pass-rusher going against Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell as the Falcons nose tackle this week. The 1-technique specialist normally makes his bones by taking multiple double teams every game.
But this week, expect Peters to have more of an impact on the stat sheet due to how poor Conolly and Wendell have been in pass protection. Through three games, they have allowed a combined four sacks, three quarterback hits and 11 quarterback hurries for a total of 18 disruptions.
And while Jonathan Babineaux is normally considered the Falcons' main threat as an interior pass-rusher, Peters should have the better game as the Patriots key on Babineaux with the double teams. Peters is also one of the league's best run defenders on the inside.
Through three games, he's tied for fourth place among all defensive tackles with a plus-3.7 grade against the run and is leading the NFL in stops at or behind the line of scrimmage with 10. Combining that with his ability as a pass-rusher will allow the Falcons to have an x-factor on the interior of the defensive line.
They'll need it against Tom Brady and the Patriots this week. As the only way to truly beat the Patriots is to force Brady into bad decisions.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!