Falcons vs. Bills: Breaking Down Atlanta's Game Plan

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Falcons vs. Bills:  Breaking Down Atlanta's Game Plan
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The Atlanta Falcons take their 2-9 show on the road this week to face a Buffalo Bills squad that is probably more dangerous than its 4-7 record may suggest.

The Falcons are 0-3 against AFC East opponents this year, and they're one of two teams in the league who have yet to win a game away from home. 

Let's take a closer look at the Buffalo Bills before breaking down some of the key matchups for the Falcons on offense, defense and special teams as Atlanta looks to earn its first road victory and snap a five-game losing streak with a win over Buffalo on Sunday.

 

STATE OF THE BUFFALO BILLS

The Bills find themselves sitting at 4-7 in head coach Doug Marrone's first season, but injuries have forced them to start three different quarterbacks this season. 

Despite their issues at the quarterback, the Bills have managed to double Atlanta's win total and beat three of the teams who have beaten the Falcons largely because of their ability to rush the passer. 

The Bills front seven is headlined by defensive end Mario Williams, nose tackle Kyle Williams and linebacker Kiko Alonso, and those three players are a large part of the reason why the Bills are leading the league in sacks.

Buffalo is coming off of its bye week, so they've had a little extra time to prepare for the Falcons.

 

WHEN ATLANTA HAS THE BALL:  FALCONS OFFENSE VS. BILLS DEFENSE

THREE KEY MATCHUPS:

 

C Joe Hawley vs. NT Kyle Williams

Like so many of Atlanta's games this season, Sunday's matchup with the Bills will probably be won or lost in the trenches.  LSU product Kyle Williams is one of the NFL's most underrated defensive linemen, and he's a key cog in a Buffalo defense who knows how to collapse the pocket around opposing quarterbacks.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Center Joe Hawley will play a key role in blocking Williams and helping the rest of the Falcons offensive linemen identify the multiple fronts that Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine employs to confuse offenses and free up defenders up front.

As Falcons head coach Mike Smith has noted, Pettine's defense will look a lot like the defense that the Falcons saw against the Jets.  Peter Konz had a rough outing against New York, so if the Falcons want a different result against Buffalo they'll need Joe Hawley to perform well.

 

LT Lamar Holmes vs. DE Mario Williams

Lamar Holmes had been playing pretty well before he struggled a bit last week against the Saints.  Atlanta needs Holmes to rebound this week because he'll likely draw the task of blocking Bills defensive end Mario Williams, who leads Buffalo with 11 sacks.

If Holmes doesn't look like he's up to doing the job against Williams, don't be surprised if the Falcons give rookie undrafted free agent Ryan Schraeder an opportunity to show what he can do.

Either way, it's going to be a long afternoon for the Falcons if they can't keep Mario Williams off of Matt Ryan.

 

TE Tony Gonzalez vs. MLB Kiko Alonso

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

2013 second-round pick Kiko Alonso leads the Bills in tackles and is making a pretty decent case for defensive rookie of the year.  He's a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who has shown that he's athletic enough to make an impact in pass coverage as well since he's netted four interceptions.

Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly had a nice battle against Gonzalez a few weeks ago, and Alonso will probably be looking to matchup against Gonzalez in a similar function this week.

Gonzalez may not practice much this week, but he's played in Atlanta's last two games after being limited in practice.

 

WHEN BUFFALO HAS THE BALL:  BILLS OFFENSE VS. FALCONS OFFENSE

THREE KEY MATCHUPS:

 

CB Desmond Trufant vs. WR Stevie Johnson

All three of the players who have started games at quarterback for the Bills have looked to get the ball to Johnson, so don't expect that to change on Sunday.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Look for Desmond Trufant to draw the assignment against Johnson.  The Falcons have been ripped apart by big plays in the passing game this season, and they'll need to stop that trend against the Bills if they want to get out of Toronto with a win.

Given that Johnson is Buffalo's biggest threat on the outside, whoever the Falcons decide to put on him will have to keep their eyes out of the backfield and not fall for double moves.

Falcons Linebackers vs. RB C.J. Spiller

If Stevie Johnson is Buffalo's biggest threat on the outside, running back C.J. Spiller is Buffalo's best overall big-play weapon.  The former Clemson star is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball because of his ability to navigate through traffic and to the outside.

“Spiller, you look at his speed, he’s able to take the ball inside if need be, but he can also get to the sideline real quick and take it up for a big gain,” linebacker Paul Worrilow said via AtlantaFalcons.com. “That’s definitely something with him you have to watch, his big-play capability.”

Worrilow and the rest of Atlanta's linebackers are going to have to take good tackling angles and make sure they set the edge so that Spiller can't get loose on Sunday.

DE Osi Umenyiora vs. LT Cordy Glenn

Four of Osi Umenyiora's team-leading 6.5 sacks have come in games when the Falcons were facing rookie quarterbacks.  Atlanta's defense will have a much easier job on Sunday if Umenyiora can continue his dominance over inexperienced passers.

Many Falcons fans wanted ex-UGA lineman and Atlanta product Cordy Glenn to end up with the Falcons in the 2012 draft, and Glenn's matchup with Umenyiora will be a crucial one this week.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Bills rookie Marquise Goodwin turned some heads at the combine with his 40-yard dash time, and he's since landed a role with the Bills as a sub-package receiver and kick returner. 

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Goodwin is averaging a modest 23.4 yards per return this year, but it's really going to be important for Atlanta's kick coverage units to maintain their lanes and be cognizant of the fact that Goodwin has enough speed to take it to the house even if he only has a slight crease.

 

OUTLOOK

Given that Atlanta's remaining schedule features matchups against the Packers, 49ers and Panthers, it's easy to understand why many observers feel as though Sunday's contest may be Atlanta's best chance to win another game this season.

Nevertheless, we haven't seen much go according to plan for this year's Falcons team, and that trend could continue on Sunday in Toronto against Buffalo.

The Bills can rush the passer and the Falcons have a hard time protecting Matt Ryan.  Buffalo has battled injuries and inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball all season, but E.J. Manuel is healthy now and he'll have Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods to throw to.

If Atlanta can't protect Matt Ryan any better than it has during the first 11 weeks, this team may be 2-10 heading into next week's contest at Lambeau Field.

 

 

ALL STATS ARE VIA ESPN.COM

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